Bounce Innovation Hub pivots programs to virtual world, makes PPE for local hospitals

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By Sue Walton, Crain’s Akron Business
April 21, 2020
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While Akron’s Bounce Innovation Hub has been closed to the public for weeks, it’s been anything but quiet.

The business incubator and accelerator hasn’t skipped much of a beat in terms of its programs, with most companies and advisers meeting online. Plus, the incubator’s workshop and makerspace have been humming with activity, busy making personal protective equipment for frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19.

Jeanine Black, Bounce’s chief marketing officer, said the hub has been able to pivot well to the new virtual world we’re all living in and might even look at continuing the use of things like video meetings even after constraints of the pandemic lift.

Advisers and entrepreneurs in residence continue to meet with tech incubator companies online or by phone, she said.

Bounce’s GROW (Generating Real Opportunity and Wealth) program — which serves nontech entrepreneurs and businesses, with a focus on minorities and women — consists of three tracks. The Aspiring Entrepreneur Program, which only had two weeks left when the state’s stay-at-home order was put in place, moved online, Black said, and the Next Level incubator is operating through one-on-one phone meetings and online.

Mortar at Bounce, the newest accelerator program, is on hold, however, Black said.ADVERTISING

“It’s imperative for this program that it be in person,” Black said in an email. “So we’re holding on for now and developing plans B and C.”

The program is an effort between Bounce and Mortar, a Cincinnati group that works with historically marginalized entrepreneurs. The first cohort, whose members Bounce announced last month, had been set to begin April 7.

“Constant communication with all of our entrepreneurs (and) companies is the priority right now,” Black said.

In fact, she added, many of the advisers have reported that they’ve been able to be much more productive because meetings can be more conveniently arranged via phone or online. It’s something Bounce could continue as an option going forward, she said.

Bounce’s workshop — which has 3D printers, sewing machines and a laser cutter — in the hub’s first-floor Generator space has been busy as well, making PPE for use at local hospitals during the pandemic.

Bounce workshop manager Jeff Smith has utilized the hub’s 3D printers to manufacture 150 face shields, according to Rose Saborse, the hub’s director of community and partnerships.

Bounce, which used its own funds for those shields, collaborated with Bridgestone Americas on the design and production of the shields, Saborse said. Bridgestone has stepped up to donate more materials, and the two entities are working together on a prototype of an N95-like “stopgap” mask that can be 3D-printed.

Saborse said Bounce also has 3D-printed 70 ear-guard savers with donated filament from Fila-Mint, an additive manufacturing company in Chesterland, and is working on sewing cloth masks.

About 100 pieces of PPE went to Summa Health Center last week, Black said.

Bounce has raised $650 through a Facebook fundraiser, but officials would love more donations so they can make more PPE, Saborse noted. The hub, which can provide materials, also is seeking people who can sew to make cloth masks at home (the workshop’s machines are not conducive to social distancing).

Those interested in helping sew can contact Saborse at rsaborse@bouncehub.org.