Entrepreneurs constantly identify problems experienced in the world around them, and in the wake of COVID-19, 2019 award-winner Sarah Lee realized the Diamond Challenge community was leveraging the current environment to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. Inspired by 2020 semifinalist teams focusing on filtration, Sarah was determined to reignite the passion she and her team had when they developed their Diamond Challenge concept, RespirO2 Mask, last year.
RespirO2 Mask, now re-branded to 0-Gap Mask, was created to solve the problem of sustainable and optimized facial fit. As true young entrepreneurs, the team recognized the potential of their social venture, but was truly able to capitalize on the unique value proposition when the coronavirus began. According to Miru Jun, “Our concept is applicable to many people, from medical personnel to everyday care givers. But when the coronavirus hit, our team thought, ‘Well, this is an opportunity to really make an impact and truly be able to develop our mask’, and that is how we reconnected.”
As entrepreneurs know, in the wise words of Louis Pasteur, “Luck favors the prepared mind.”, and it is critical to do the hard work in order to achieve success. The team identified an impactful teacher and mentor who was able to support throughout the prototype development, fundraising, utility patent and design patent processes. Once the voracity of the pandemic subsided in South Korea, the team began to explore and research what fellow entrepreneurs were doing around the globe in order to combat the problem head on. Sarah considers, “I’ve seen other initiatives where teenagers in different countries are working to alleviate the spread of the virus through the distribution of their own masks and respiratory equipment. We thought, ‘Maybe we can help people in other countries as well with high infection rates?’ “, and the rest is history. The 0-Gap Mask team is currently focusing on supporting efforts in the United States and Brazil, countries with some of the highest infection rates.
Along with pivoting and scaling their efforts, the team strategically decided to change their name based on feedback received throughout the Diamond Challenge experience. Miru explains, “We received feedback that the name may not be as indicative of the special features our mask affords which is the mobility and replacement of the filters.”. Sarah echoes, “One of our mentors and a Diamond Challenge keynote speaker told us the original name RespirO2 Mask was a bit ambigous, too complicated and not as memorable. Taking the feedback seriously, our new and improved mask aims to maximize filtration abilities and minimize material leakage, so we thought that 0-Gap was representative of its unique features.”
In working with powerful mentors, the team recognized other problems end users may face. Sarah explains, “Since the mask tightly seals all gaps, there may be carbon dioxide buildup within the mask itself. We’re thinking about adding a respiratory valve that our users can open once in a while when they’re in a safe location.”.
To date, the team has experienced quite a few successes, including:
- Receiving a $10,000 scholarship
- Creating enough masks so that 80 people can have a solid source of respiratory protection for two months
- Curating three working prototypes for individuals with facial hair and no facial hair
- Successfully fusing the nose piece to a thermal plastic layer (conforming the mask to the face) with an iron after multiple iterations. The mask can be used when washed in the laundry or hand washed.
- Working with Diamond Challenge Community mentors in Nigeria and Sierra Leone
- Delivering masks to a charity organization in South Korea, Da-Il, for high-risk groups with COVID, including the elderly, homeless, low-income families and medical personnel at local hospitals
The team is currently working on growing the next phase of their venture as they create their website, identify mask needs, niches, fundraise and file a provisional patent. The 0-Gap Mask Team is still revisiting the written concept and social impact model they completed during the Diamond Challenge as a guideline for their future. We can’t wait to see all of the incredible things they accomplish in the future!
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