Tampa Bay Area entrepreneurs, makers get creative to do what they can to helpCOVID-19 response keeps on coming

Tough times almost always bring out the best in entrepreneurs, creatives, makers, and doers. The nation's war against coronavirus is no exception.

Many folks in the Tampa Bay Area who are willing and able are finding strength, satisfaction, and gratification in pursuing solutions to support first-responders, medical personnel, law enforcement officials, home healthcare providers, educators, and others on the front lines.

Here are a few in Tampa we've chosen to highlight as role models and inspiration for others.

Lüfka

Nearly everyone knows by now that traditional cleaning products are flying off the grocery store shelves due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But you might not know that smaller retailers like Tampa's zero-waste shop, Lüfka, have hard-to-find items like hand sanitizer and all-purpose cleaners in stock. Not only are they readily available, but they are also eco-friendly.

Lüfka, focused on the reduce, reuse, refill lifestyle, always carried the sanitizer as a refill option for customers. When traditional retailers started quickly selling out of the product last month, Lüfka had the supplies in their storeroom to mass produce the item.

"We have had nurses, teachers, doctors, office workers, postmasters, business owners, and nursing home staff come to our shop in need of hand sanitizer," says owner Kelly Hawaii.
 
To meet ongoing demand, Lüfka produces small batches (between 5 to 10 gallons) daily.

Hawaii says that they will continue to make the hand sanitizer as long as they can procure raw ingredients from their distributors, which gets harder to come by each day.

"Our demand for this product has been extremely high because people simply cannot find hand sanitizer anywhere," Hawaii says.

Lüfka's hand sanitizer contains at least 60 percent alcohol, which complies with the Center for Disease Control recommendation. The spray moisturizes as it protects your skin.

"Our recipe will not dry out your skin because we do not use isopropyl alcohol or other harsh ingredients like propylene glycol, which are skin irritants if applied too frequently."

Commercially produced hand sanitizers often emit a distinctive alcohol scent. Lüfka's sanitizer has a clean scent with hints of aloe and green clover. It is a light spray, not a sticky gel, and contains organic vegetable glycerin, fractionated coconut oil, and aloe vera oil to protect your skin from drying or cracking.

"We do not make it in a gel form because it does not have as many applications as a spray," says Hawaii. "In these strange circumstances, it is important to spray down everything that could have been touched by the public, and this is impossible to do with a gel."

The non-toxic, fast-drying product can be used to sanitize surfaces like cars, countertops, office desks. It is safe for kids and pets, too.
 
Lüfka's other products include refillable bath, body, kitchen, cleaning, and laundry products that are free of single-use plastic packaging and free of toxic chemicals.

"Our customers can reduce, reuse, and refill products that they need to their modern lives," Hawaii says.

Hawaii and her husband, Parosh, decided to set up shop in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa because it's a close-knit community, and word travels fast.

"We rely on word-of-mouth marketing because we do not spend money on advertising and marketing," says Hawaii. "We want to be able to invest all of our budget into the quality of our products and ingredients. We love the community of Seminole Heights and Tampa. Every day, we feel like we are in a very special place."

Opened last fall, the company was named after its first zero-waste product, an antibacterial washcloth that was first made out of willow tree branch fibers handcrafted by Kurdish women in Northern Iraq. Hawaii met Parosh in Northern Iraq in 2013, where they witnessed women knitting lüfkas out of willow bark tree branches.
 
"We bought some from them, and when I took my lüfka home and used it, I absolutely fell in love," says Hawaii. "After a few weeks, all of my skin issues were gone. I was completely amazed, and that is how the idea of our company was born. Lüfka represents social responsibility, sustainability, and simplicity."
 
To comply with sheltering in place, Lüfka uses an online ordering and delivery system. All Lüfka products are available on their website.

University of Tampa 3D printers to the rescue
 
Emma Quintana, a lecturer at the University of Tampa, has been hard at work making personal protective equipment (PPE) in the form of face shields since late-March.
 
The shields act as an additional protective layer to respirators and are created based on National Institutes of Health guidelines using the 3D printers and a laser cutter at UT's FabLab, where Quintana is a coordinator.
 
When she first started, Quintana estimates she made about 500 shields. Using feedback from healthcare workers who were wearing the guards, she experimented with various designs, made adjustments, and has finally streamlined the process.
 
From start to finish, it takes about six hours to construct and assemble a single shield, and Quintana can make about 10 a day. She has been utilizing all four of FabLab's printers to keep the process moving along.
 
Wearing a mask and gloves to prevent contamination, Quintana prints the headband on a 3D printer. The headband supports the protective plastic, which she forms using a laser cutter.
 
Quintana is not only thankful for the medical professionals on the frontlines but also the people behind the local Facebook group, Print the Curve Flat. FabLab (digital fabrication laboratory) was running short of supplies for the shields, and she reached out to Print the Curve Flat, which donated the plastic she needed.

"They are doing a fantastic job for the Tampa Bay Area," Quintana says. "The group is troubleshooting print issues, posting info about which materials are NIH-approved and sharing resources."

FabLab has donated hundreds of PPEs to the Moffitt Cancer Center, John Hopkins Children's Hospital, Tampa General Hospital, and two local COVID-19 testing sites.

While Quintana works tirelessly to fabricate the face shields, Tampa-based biotech firm, Tampa innovator SynDaver, is manufacturing respirator masks.

SynDaver
 
SynDaver, a manufacturer of artificial human and animal bodies for use in science and medical education, recently repurposed its resources to mass-produce 3D printer masks.
 
SynDaver's mask is a sealed system that protects against virus-carrying particles, bacteria, and allergens. It serves as a high-quality alternative to handmade cloth masks or loose-fitting surgical masks. It offers protection to those on the frontlines who are dealing with individuals potentially infected with COVID-19.

The firm is currently prioritizing orders for law enforcement, first responders, health care institutions, and businesses that have personnel interacting daily with the public.

The respiratory mask, which can be purchased online, is both cleanable and sterilizable and includes one filter.

For more stories, check out our COVID-19 tabIf your local Tampa Bay Area company is similarly manufacturing, designing, sewing, creating, or otherwise coming up with a solution as part of the COVID-19 response, please share in the comments space below.

Read more articles by Allison Koehler.

Allison Koehler is a Cleveland-area native who now lives in Tampa by way of Detroit. She resides in Seminole Heights with her partner, Phil, and three children -- one human and two cats. When she isn't writing, she's watching pro football, listening to music, or streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime. 
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