How Waterloo Region’s Entrepreneurs Are Combating COVID-19


The relationship between government and business is an interesting balance act. The government’s relationship with business revolves around the policies they create that form the environment for doing business. Businesses, on the other hand, partly fund the government through the taxes they pay. Businesses are also the economic engines of a country and are responsible for a great deal of innovation.

It’s a fairly consistent and predictable relationship…until a crisis hits.

In the case we’re in with COVID-19, the economy has slowed, an unprecedented number of people have lost their job, and we’re facing a unique challenge in healthcare as the demand for critical medical supplies cannot be met by the current supply.

Governments are doing their best to step up, but they can’t do it alone.

That’s where savvy Waterloo Region entrepreneurs stepped up to help.

woman making COVID-19 masks in Waterloo Region

Pivoting business in a time of need

The supply of certified medical masks for frontline medical workers and first responders has been shrinking. Shipments from overseas are delayed and take time. Worse yet, some of the masks we’ve received in Canada have been faulty.

Cue the entrepreneurial spirit.

Kevin Puloski, President of Pund-IT Technology, Director with Mountain Valley MD (CSE: MVMD) Life Sciences, and member of the Entrepreneurs Organization Southwest Ontario (EO SWO), saw a need for locally sourced materials, and locally manufactured masks.

He researched material specifications for an Ontario-based manufacturing setup and contacted one of his clients: Steve Wagner of Barbarian Sports Wear Inc., and Salus Marine Inc. Steve’s company is a world-renowned manufacturer of sports and safety equipment.

A man making COVID-19 masks.

A man and a woman making COVID-19 masks in Waterloo Region

In the past, Steve has worked with leading manufacturing companies like Cooper, Bauer, and Nike. He saw this as an opportunity to work with Kevin to transfer his manufacturing experience to the world of medical supplies.

While they started out trying to solve the problem of getting an N95 equivalent type mask to the front line, they quickly realized that there needed to be much more testing and buy-in from the medical community.

So they pivoted and created an innovative 3-Ply mask with similar design and specifications as the N95.

Not only are the materials locally sourced and made, but they have also added designs on the external shell.

The goal of this is to create masks that appear friendlier compared to the look of the medical masks, while protecting the public. As an added bonus, their masks are reusable, not disposable.

The company, Barbarian Medical, was created in 3 days. Manufacturing began within one week. And today, they’re working with the Ontario Medical Joint Task Force and McMaster University and are testing to see if these reusable masks are effective and safe enough to be used in the healthcare industry.

Amazingly, the new mask-making company had about 5000 units ordered on the first day.

Local solutions to global problems

A sample of the masks that were made.By creating a supply chain for these masks in the Waterloo Region, lead times for Canadian orders of masks will drop dramatically. Medical teams can be confident with the certifications of the product, and Canada can become more self-reliant in serving the needs of the heroes that make up front line medical staff and first responders.

Barbarian Sports Wear continues to explore other personal protective equipment (PPE) items such as gowns, barrier curtains, and body bags.

“We’re all in this together, it’s time for everyone to help where they can.” said Puloski.

Necessity is the mother of invention and the spirit of entrepreneurs is stronger than ever in the Region of Waterloo.

Are you interested in the work these Waterloo entrepreneurs are doing? Please contact Barbarian Sports Wear for more information.

Is your business looking to add e-commerce in light of COVID-19? We’re here to help.

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