What Amber French is doing is leveraging the power of more. What Amber French is additionally doing is carrying on a long Waterloo Region tradition – joining people and organizations together for mutual strength and protection.
Personal protection, in this case.
French is the newly minted president of a fledgling not-for-profit called the Community PPE Co-operative, or CPPEC.
CPPEC is a collective of doctors offices, hospices, group homes, homeless shelters and the like that all desperately need gowns, masks, face shields and other items in order to safely conduct operations in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The problem all of them face is that they fall outside the existing supply chain for the province’s hospitals, and don’t enjoy the massive buying clout the province’s health infrastructure provides.
As a result, acquiring said protective gear in the current environment is enormously fraught. Demand far outstrips supply. Manufacturers aren’t interested in dealing with a lone doctor’s office because the amounts are too small to bother with. And when PPE can be found, prices are through the stratosphere.
Hence, the creation of the CPPEC, which aims to do the buying on behalf of all those small organizations, reaping the benefit and clout of buying in bulk.
“So this is set up as a co-operative model where we’re just really trying to organize these fragmented groups into one cohesive buying group,” says French. “The more people we can get to participate, the better the unit economics become for everybody.”
On Tuesday, Waterloo Region councillors voted unanimously to grant CPPEC $50,000 in seed funding. French is now working to raise an initial capital infusion of $3 million to be used to place the organization’s first bulk order for protective gear.
“I’ve made a lot of inroads with manufacturers and distributors who have great PPE product,” says French. “And so [once the funding is in place] I’ll just place a bulk order. We’re going to be creating an ordering-and-distribution mechanism here in Waterloo Region, and with that we’ll be able to supply anyone from a single family practitioner office, all the way up to regional agencies like universities and city purchasing departments.”
French is the Managing Partner and co-founder at Catalyst Capital, a Kitchener-based investment and real estate firm based at the sprawling Catalyst137 maker facility on Glasgow Street. Her partner in Catalyst Capital is Kurtis McBride, CEO of Miovision, the internet-of-things and smart traffic management scaleup and additionally the anchor tenant at Catalyst137.
When the pandemic hit, French helped lead a highly successful, region-wide drive for PPE gear. The problem she faced was knowing that eventually all that gear would get used up.
“And so as soon as the drive was done, I really started to think well, how are we going to continue to provide for these groups on an ongoing basis? We really needed to do something in addition to the drive that was going to be a more sustainable solution.”
And, as has often unfolded in this community, dating back to the days when farmers would band together to build barns and form insurance collectives, local people and organizations began to step up to help: The University of Waterloo’s school of accounting and finance has offered bookkeeping and accounting; local law firm Gowling WLG is doing pro bono legal work; Stryve is chipping in with digital marketing and website creation; the Region of Waterloo, in addition to seed funding, is running purchase orders for its needs through the co-operative; Communitech has provided marketing support, connections and project management support.
“The level of interest in help on behalf of the community has been incredible,” says French. “The co-operative model really is a throwback to our farming heritage in Waterloo [Region]. And we just continue as the project goes on to get buy-in from so many community stakeholders. The support has been incredible.”
The organization already has a basic website set up where organizations in need of PPE can register and join. The mission now is to fundraise, and then acquire PPE.
“I think we’re going to be able to raise this [money] very, very quickly,” French says. “I think within one to two weeks I’m really hoping that we have it solidified and then I can place an order from that point.”
Not only will CPPEC help acquire PPE, it will promote and encourage local, home-grown manufacturing of protective equipment.
Communitech has additionally donated to the co-op a Health Canada-approved machine acquired via the National Research Council that can sterilize nearly 20,000 N95 masks per day, permitting their reuse. The machine will help extend the supply of masks acquired by the co-op. It is currently en route to Catalyst137, where it will be housed.
“And then as we start to receive orders through the community, we’re going to be able to track and analyze that data and play smarter orders going forward,” says French.
All thanks to the power of more. All because Waterloo Region knows the power of banding together in time of need.
Communitech is a partner of Startup HERE Toronto. This article originally appeared on their site.