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Endeavor Entrepreneurs across the U.S. are stepping up to innovate through unprecedented challenges. The world stopped – our entrepreneurs didn’t.
Sassa Akervall and her husband, Dr. Jan Akervall, founded Akervall Technologies, Inc. (ATI) in 2005 to manufacturer ultra-thin, custom fit mouthguards for use in sports, healthcare and dental markets all over the world. Committed to cutting-edge dental protection technology, ATI mouthguards are made of a non-compressible thermoplastic polymer that is 30% stronger, yet thinner, than conventional mouthguards. In 2017, Sassa and Jan were named as Ernst & Young, Entrepreneurs of the year and, in 2018 ATI was named to the prestigious Inc. 5000 fastest-growing companies for the third time.
As of January 2020, the company had grown to 19 employees, including a General Manager in Europe, and over $5 million in sales. However, by March, the cancellation of schools, camps and athletic events during the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis caused ATI’s revenue to fall drastically. Sassa and Jan immediately identified that they could leverage their positioning with healthcare providers, while also leveraging their supplies of clear plastic, and their employees’ skills to create plastic face shields that protect those who are on the front line caring for people during the pandemic. After having to briefly furlough some of their staff to cut costs, the Akervalls repurposed their manufacturing facility, called everyone back, and started hiring. By May 2020, there were six times as many employees on payroll as there were eight weeks before, including a hundred new temporary employees who had been hired to keep pace with demand.
“Our brand is about safety, protection, and quality so we not only saw an opportunity to launch a new market category of face shields, but we are continuing to innovate,” says Sassa. By the mid-April the Akervalls had prototyped and filed provisional patents for two new types of face shields. One is a face shield that is placed on patients, meets the N95 standard, and has ports through which doctors and dentists can insert different instruments (such as intubation equipment) as they care for patients. The other one is an extendable and adjustable face shield that lets dentists and doctors comfortably use loupes under the shield.
“We realized that it was to do or to die – and we decided that there was no way we were going down that easily. But it turns out that trying to navigate a global pandemic as a small business whose largest cohort of customers abruptly determined that they weren’t going to buy any product for the next 6-12 months requires more than just the will to survive.”
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