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March Wrap-Up: Waterloo takes on COVID-19

A round-up of business and investment news stories from Waterloo, Canada in March 2020

This year is becoming history in real-time.

In Waterloo Region, March is when everyday life shifted from business-as-usual to a once-in-a-lifetime crisis. There was no lack of headlines, even when you remove the health element of COVID-19. We cancelled events and closed offices, just like everywhere else.

That isn’t what this wrap-up will focus on. Instead, this wrap-up will look at what we’re doing to meet the challenge of COVID-19. From community leaders stepping up to advocate for local businesses and workers, to companies deploying their expertise to help tackle the virus itself, this post is a celebration of the collaboration and problem solving that makes Waterloo Region so special.

Here’s how COVID-19 brought out the best of us in March 2020:

1. Local leaders come together to advocate for businesses and workers

Waterloo Region’s civic leaders, along with Waterloo EDC and other local partners, have created the Business and Economic Support Team of Waterloo Region (BESTWR) to help businesses of all types and sizes address COVID-19-related challenges. The first official action of BESTWR was to release an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, followed with an editorial in the Waterloo Region Record.

2. A community rolls up its sleeves to “get sh!t done”

In addition to ensuring that governments deliver useful support to businesses and workers, community leaders – from universities, health authorities, municipal governments and tech hubs – have come together to form ad hoc “departments” to assist with the community’s response to COVID-19. From faster Health Canada approvals for new entrants looking to build personal protection equipment (PPE) to simplifying the process for donating to hospitals, these efforts reflect a community that lives and breathes a “get sh!t done” mentality.

3. Waterloo Region companies donate truckloads of PPE

One of the biggest needs among local health practitioners is access to personal protective equipment, and the Waterloo Region has responded emphatically. Organizations across the community have brought 100,000+ gloves, 10,000+ N95 masks and hundreds of surgical gowns to Westmount Golf & Country Club, which is serving as an ad hoc community warehouse.

4. Conestoga College donates $2 million in medical supplies and equipment

Already committed to sharing its ventilators, hospital and long term care beds, stretchers and mattresses – normally used to train students – through the provincial distribution system, Conestoga College is now providing $2 million worth of N95 masks, gloves and other protective equipment to Waterloo Region hospitals.

5. Creating open-source artificial intelligence software to diagnose COVID-19

An artificial intelligence startup that has already grabbed headlines for its work with Audi, DarwinAI is seeking alternate methods to test patients for COVID-19. Working with researchers from the University of Waterloo, the DarwinAI team is developing a neural network that can detect COVID-19 from x-rays to augment swab tests, which are in short supply. Their work isn’t yet complete, but they’ve made the model available on GitHub for others looking to help develop it.

6. Trusscore gets a shout-out from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

As COVID-19 concerns descended on Waterloo Region, Trusscore – a local sustainable building material company – began prototyping large panels that create more physical separation between people in hospital emergency departments. After a quick trial with local hospitals, the company started manufacturing the moveable walls on a larger scale and shipping them to hospitals across Canada. Their efforts attracted kudos from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in one of his daily press briefings.

7. InkSmith makes the ultimate pivot from educational programming to medical supplies

On a normal day, InkSmith helps educators around the world build hands-on, experiential learning opportunities to engage students in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math). In the last two weeks they’ve turned their incredible ingenuity toward addressing a shortage in personal protective equipment, producing face shields for health care workers using 3D printers and laser cutters, and they’re now hiring 100 additional staff members to meet demand.

8. Bonfire makes access to public procurement platform free

Only 5% of public sector procurement is done remotely, which means the push to work from home is putting unprecedented pressure on public procurement teams. Bonfire is providing free access to their Strategic Sourcing platform – which digitizes the entire procurement workflow – in order to help the transition to remote procurement take place as seamlessly as possible. For more coverage, check out Communitech’s story.

9. More businesses that just didn’t make headlines

While DarwinAI, InkSmith, Trusscore and Bonfire are four great stories, they just scratch the surface of what the Waterloo Region business community has done to support clients, customers, individuals, communities and more over the last few weeks. From free internal communications platforms to breweries making hand sanitizer, this community of problem solvers is doing everything it can to help the world cope with COVID-19.

Do you want to learn more about what makes the Waterloo community so resilient?