Architecture alumni ease ear pain caused by long-term mask wear.
Architecture alumni Kevin Ryan and Matthew Fisher—inseparable friends since their freshmen year in 2010—launched a small laser-cutting business earlier this year. And like many entrepreneurs, the two saw the COVID-19 pandemic crush any projected profits for their venture Craftcrew.
“Nobody is purchasing favors for their weddings or personalized monogrammed things now,” Ryan says. “However, we have all this infrastructure, and we’re ready to produce. It would be silly—and almost irresponsible—to not use this setup to focus on more philanthropic efforts.”
Ryan’s sister, a nurse at a North Jersey hospital, recently contracted COVID-19. She only suffers mild symptoms, fortunately, but before she went into quarantine, she made a request to her older brother.
“She told me, ‘Our ears have a band pulled across them for at least eight hours a day from the masks—they’re bleeding,’” Ryan recalls. “‘I know you don’t have the medical skills to work on the frontline, but can use your skills to help us.’
“It became personal,” explains Ryan, also an architecture professor at Jefferson. “Something had to happen.”
With that inspiration, the two 2015 Jefferson grads retooled their business plan to produce “ear savers,” flexible bands that healthcare providers’ can wear behind their heads to relieve the pain and pressure caused by long-term mask use.
The pair spent $120 on an 8-by-4-foot piece of acrylic (a durable and easy-to-clean material) and began prototyping. Once they settled a few designs, they posted photos on Craftcrew’s Facebook page to gauge interest and ask for “signal boosting” to get the word out.
“In 10 to 12 hours, they were all spoken for,” says Ryan, noting a fellow alum pitched in to cover the cost of shipping. “We mailed them out a couple of hours later.”
They sent the first round of 1,000 ear savers to facilities up and down the East Coast last week, going as far south as Florida. Locally, they went to providers at Jefferson Health, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, as well as a few nursing homes.
With the pandemic far from over, the alumni anticipate their unexpected mission to grow exponentially in the days and weeks ahead.
“It’s really needed,” Fisher says. “Anything you can do—even something as small as this—can help.”
“Never underestimate the ways you can respond to a global crisis,” Ryan adds.