From a personal story! The novel COVID-19 became a challenge especially when Uganda went onto a total lockdown, prices for especially personal protective wear including even the basic, a face mask which shot from $1 to $5 per piece. From my personal story, a few days I had been robbed and beaten by thugs who broke my nose and had a successful minor nose surgery, I struggled with the expensive single-use masks due to the pandemic until one morning I decided to use a handkerchief to cover my nose, I found out that I could breathe even better than while using the expensive single-use masks. That’s when I began to explore opportunities to explore especially those around affordable face masks to explore. This was inspired by CottonX, ultrasonic fabric-finishing technology, invented by two Bar-Ilan University chemistry professors, mechanically infuses antiviral, antimicrobial zinc, silver and copper oxide nanoparticles into textiles for the reusable face masks and that's how the Ecomask idea came about.
What it does
Ecomasks are made from a proprietary cotton X embedded with accelerated copper oxide particles, and a nanofiber textile that blocks pathogens. EcoMask’s ultrasonic fabric-finishing technology, invented by two Bar-Ilan University chemistry professors, mechanically infuses antiviral, antimicrobial zinc and copper oxide nanoparticles into textiles for the reusable facemasks. The pores of the nanofiber pad are so small that bacteria cannot go through it — nor a droplet that contains a live virus –and our EPA-approved 100% CottonX fibers destroy the pathogens that come in contact with it. The mask not only blocks the virus but kills the viruses going both to the wearer and away from the wearer in case the wearer is infected.
How we built it
Ecomask has three layers; Front layer: Treated African fabric, Cotton X for different designs and colors. The fabric kills germs that get in contact with the mask. Middle Layer :( nanofiber pad) Filters the air and ensures breathing easily! .Inner Layer: (Contact with the face) - Special fabric to filter air impurities, impermeable to airborne particles. Elastic Cord: Fixing and adjusting the mask on your face
Challenges we ran into
Total Lockdown in my country: In Uganda, we are in a total rockdown, no public and private transport is accepted apart from motor cycles.and vans. They are also not allowed to carry passengers. This now presents another challenge for logistics which we have to deal with moving forward.
Funding and fundraising: Funding is one of our biggest challenges since everything is fueled by money. We are spending sparing part of the Ecoplastile money which we have to pay back. Our initial project cost was $13,000+. But after piloting, I see that more funding will be needed if this project is to sustain itself even post the pandemic without suffocating Ecoplastile. We are there currently seeking for a USD $50,000 to be spent on machinery and instruments at $10,000, Facility expansion at $5,000, Delivery truck at $6,000 and operations at $29,000
Approval by our Government. I have not yet received any certification from the government though our products are already on the market. There is no law that was stopping us from producing the masks and saving the lives we could save. However, after the lockdown, we will immediately file an application for certification from the government and from the president’s national address where he was encouraging local innovators to find solutions locally. We have over 90+ of getting the certification very quickly.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
In just 5 days, we have reached the following milestones to date; Core business concept defined, Prototype/MVP built, mini processing workshop be established, First, external users on the products acquired, have 50 paying customers, and a crowdfunding campaign to be launched. We have been selected by Young Sustainable Impact under solutions for COVID-19. We have so far been able to sell 500 pcs of the masks within only 5 days of production and have pending orders.
What we learned
Initially, our plan was to make an N95 mask and sanitizers. But due to the lockdown where we could not be allowed to move and the urgent need for affordable alternatives, we quickly developed a reusable, washable, and biodegradable facemask with a special piece of fabric treated to prevent millions from airborne particles. We have learned also that if we are to save lives through masks, then affordability should be one important thing to put into consideration especially for developing countries. From my interaction with customers, they can at least afford a mask between $1 up to $2. However, currently on the market, especially in Uganda, masks for up $5. So I realize that to make an impact our masks must remain as cheap as possible.
What's next for Ecomasks
Moving forward, in the next 1 week, we are launching a crowdfunding campaign to help us raise money. We are there currently seeking a USD $50,000 to be spent on machinery and instruments at $10,000, Facility expansion at $5,000, Delivery truck at $6,000 and operations at $29,000. We will be producing 50,00 to 10,000 per day after this investment, and this should by the end of April.
With our model, we hope to work with 100+ women and youths tailors across the country to enable us to produce masks massively, thus prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, and create livelihood alternatives for these marginalized groups and save the planet from single-use masks.
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