Penn GSE’s John Gamba joins forces with three other Penn alums to produce no-cost protective face shields for medical workers

April 8, 2020
Project SHIELD co-founders Evan Weinstein, Michael Wong, Tiffany Yau, and John Gamba.

While they are wearing cloth masks here, the team behind Project SHIELDS, from left, Evan Weinstein, Michael Wong, Tiffany Yau, and John Gamba, are working to 3D print 100,000  NIH-approved face shields for  medical workers. 

Last month, John Gamba, Catalyst @ Penn GSE Entrepreneur-in-Residence, and three Penn alums launched a start-up to create desperately needed protective face shields for medical workers caring for coronavirus patients across the region.

Since then, Gamba said Project SHIELDS has learned “there is no limit to the demand.”

Backed by donations and volunteers, Project SHIELDS is on track to deliver—at no cost to hospitals—more than 10,000 pieces of NIH-approved personal protective equipment (PPE) by the third week in April. Their larger goals is producing 100,000 shields in the coming months.

Gamba met two of his co-founders, Michael Wong and Tiffany Yau, through his Catalyst @ Penn GSE Entrepreneur-in-Residence office hours. As the COVID-19 crisis reached the United States, they joined with Evan Weinstein to design, 3D print, and deliver face shields.

Weinstein, founder of Cocoa Press, Wong, founder of InstaHub, and Yau, founder of FulPhil, have all put their businesses on hold to dedicate their time to Project SHIELDS. All donations go toward creating PPE.

We spoke to Gamba about what Project SHIELDS is doing, and how you can help.

Q: How did Project SHIELDS get started?

A: We looked at this with an entrepreneurial mindset: what is the problem, what is the solution, what could we do to come up with an MVP (minimal viable product) and start responding to the crisis based on the massive demand?

We need PPE fast. Soon after we launched, we received a request for 5,000 face shields. We knew we needed to scale up. That meant innovating production and raising money to produce more shields.

This is personal to all of us. I’m the son of a Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania nurse. Tiffany’s father is a family physician who is on call in California. We’ve sent PPE to him. Through our social media campaign, we’re getting calls from New York to Massachusetts to Florida. Colleagues, graduates, alums, friends of Penn, who are asking.

Q: A lot of people want to join in the fight against Covid-19, but they don’t know how. Are there ways they can get involved?

A: Any donation of time, talent, or treasure would be greatly appreciated.

If you are an engineer and you have insights we haven’t thought of, we’d love to hear them.

Hospitals are either picking up their orders at the Pennovation Center or volunteers are delivering them. We need volunteers to help with those and other logistical issues. And we’re taking every precaution we can to keep our volunteers safe. 

And if you can donate anything, it makes a huge difference. Even $20 allows us to create 20 pieces of PPE. As of noon April 8, we’ve raised almost $40,000 through a GoFundMe campaign toward our $100,000 goal. This will help us care for the real heroes who are caring for our community.

People can learn about all those opportunities through our website.

Q: And it’s rooted in the Penn community.

A: This is Penn interdisciplinary education and service as its finest.

Tiffany has a degree from Arts & Sciences and a Master’s in non-profit leadership. Michael has a degree from Wharton and grew InstaHub with a Penn President’s Innovation Award. Evan has a degree with Engineering and Applied Science. And I have a degree from the College of Arts and Sciences and I work for the Graduate School of Education.

To launch this so quickly, we had to apply everything we’ve learned. It’s been a huge engineering, organizational, and educational lift. But with our volunteers and donors, we’re doing what we can to help beat this thing.