How a central Ohio manufacturer is pivoting breathable air for health care professionals
Typically, Hilliard startup Nanofiber Solutions focuses its energy on the regenerative power of nanofiber technology, manufacturing tech that saves lives and supports research efforts. But in the midst of a global pandemic, the company’s priorities have shifted on a dime. In Mid-March, CEO and founder Ross Kayuha was watching one of Governor Mike DeWine’s daily broadcasts on the coronavirus and realized that it was his company’s turn to step up.
“At one of those press conferences, there was an emphasis on manufacturing companies switching production — they compared it to a wartime effort and that really resonated,” he said. “We sat down and talked about it and decided that, with the process we have in place, we can make filters for masks through our electrospinning process, which is ideal for manufacturing these devices. We knew we could make these filters and get them certified.”
The company decided to shift its entire manufacturing process to create the filters, which are in dire need in hospitals. Now, instead of products that allow the body to heal organs and tissues, they’re in the process of building an entirely new type of technology — the much-needed filter. Shortly after deciding to dip their toes into the new approach, Kayuha said his team began realizing that the project was going to be far more than just a brief supplement to their manufacturing.
“Originally, we put two of our six engineers on it, but as things slowly got more and more intense, we decided that this is what we needed to be focusing on and switching to,” said Kayuha. “We knew we would have the capacity moving forward, so we put five of our six engineers on this and we started to reach out with different groups that we knew had needs for this technology. Now, we’ve talked to the Cleveland Clinic, Adena Health System, Nationwide Children’s and other organizations.”
The Nanofiber team has found that each organization and application has its own set of needs. For the Cleveland Clinic, Kayuha said his team is building a filter that could be used in masks and thrown away after use, allowing the hospital to continue using their masks while keeping workers safe. And whether it’s that project or the countless others fighting back against COVID-19 across the state, Nanofiber Solutions is just one organization doing its part.
“I think everyone wants to help in any way that they can,” said Kayuha. “We’re fortunate to be in a position where we can help. With some companies and industries, there’s really nothing they can do right now for the overall good of everyone, so we’re lucky. And that’s the primary factor in this — trying to help everyone fight. Even if they don’t have someone in their family, everyone knows someone on the front lines, and the more we can do to help them the better. But I also want to keep my staff working, and that’s another driver moving this forward.”
The team is still working through the approval and partnership process, but expects to start producing and distributing the filters soon, becoming one of the many Ohio companies to use innovation to fight back against coronavirus. One lesson Kayuha has learned since the pandemic began is how deep Ohio’s business connections run. Since he and Nanofiber Solutions got involved, he said he’s found plenty of new connections, and all of them have the best intentions in mind.
“I’ve been really impressed with the number of small companies I’ve never heard of that are getting actively involved and the number of people who have reached out to me to introduce me to these small companies,” said Kayuha. “And it’s coming both within the state government and from individuals that I know working throughout Ohio. They’re reaching to everyone they know and trying to make connections to tackle the problems we’re facing around the state.”