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If you had told me at the beginning of the year that I would become as deeply ingrained in the world of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) as I am now, I never would have believed you. Frankly, I didn’t know what PPE stood for back in February. I don’t come from a supply-chain background, nor did I have direct connections to PPE manufacturers. My, how the times have changed!

I now find myself spending every waking minute running two separate businesses, both focusing on helping to fix some of Canada’s PPE supply-chain issues.

I have never been happier or more excited to go to work.

Many months ago, I was innocently looped into a conversation with business colleague David Chilton about wanting to do more to support our local hospitals as the COVID-19 crisis loomed large. PPE was the hot topic.

As Managing Partner of Catalyst Capital, a firm focusing on tech and other innovative investments in the Waterloo Region, I’m lucky to have a far-reaching network. After hearing growing concerns about the disastrous global PPE shortage, I began mining my network for connections to alternative supply-chain resources. I started working closely with our region’s hospitals and Ontario Health (Ontario West), learning as much as I could about all things PPE.

What started out as placing a few “feeler” calls has turned into a full-time passion project.

I initially developed a not-for-profit, PPE Access Canada, to address the supply shortages felt acutely at the community level. PPE Access uses a co-operative model, where once-fragmented groups of community healthcare practitioners, charitable organizations, and regional agencies (fire, police, EMS, public health) are able to benefit from a cohesive purchasing group. With grant funding from the Canadian Medical Association and phenomenal support from Ontario Health, Mohawk Medbuy, Stevens, Deloitte, Gowlings, Communitech, and Canadian manufacturers such as The Canadian Shield, PPE Access members were able to leverage the power and efficiency of an organized buying group. 

While this was an excellent solution for eligible community practitioners, the problem of providing reliable PPE channels for private business remained; private business cannot benefit from hospital-pricing contracts. After business owners repeatedly reached out for help, I knew we needed to design a solution for them.

Time and time again, I have heard from business owners trying to re-open safely who tell me that they have no idea where to purchase the PPE and equipment they need. The PPE/COVID-business market is so fragmented and fraught with counterfeit/substandard products that companies spend hours doing research. They are forced to visit multiple sites in efforts to navigate this ever-evolving, convoluted landscape. Compounding things, there is limited information on return-to-work protocols, so businesses remain unclear as to how to re-open safely.

On the flip side, I have been very fortunate to connect and work closely with a number of great Canadian PPE manufacturers. For many of them, providing PPE is a new business: They answered the government’s call for help and pivoted to create better, homegrown PPE solutions. The problem: Because producing PPE was not their traditional calling, many do not have efficient sales and marketing channels in place. This means that, thus far, distribution and reach have been limited to their particular regions. They have amazing quality, Canadian-made PPE, but they didn’t have efficient distribution channels to get supply to the businesses who need it!

This is how Supply+Protect was born. S+P is an online marketplace that connects Canadian manufacturers and distributors of PPE and COVID-business solutions with Canadian businesses looking to re-open. Vendors win by efficiently increasing their reach, as well as benefitting from cross-product marketing and education. Our heavy emphasis on supporting Canadian manufacturing helps to ensure that our national supply chain becomes more sustainable. I continue to be inspired by the response from the manufacturing sector. Over 30 Canadian makers and distributors are already on the S+P platform, with more joining us every week.

Buyers win on a number of fronts. S+P is literally a “one-stop-shop,” where a business can find everything it needs to re-open, with limited legwork. Our trusted vendors must provide appropriate certifications and licenses, helping to cut out the sea of counterfeit and substandard products. No price gouging is allowed on the platform! Further pricing efficiencies are created by a buyer’s ability to compare multiple vendors simultaneously.

S+P also offers a Concierge Service for larger entities (volume discounts) and businesses requiring customized solutions, such as logos on cloth masks, sanitizer bottles, signage and decals. Additionally, we are working with a number of partners to create great content about how various businesses are undertaking re-opening, sharing protocols and strategies that you can apply to your own business.

As both initiatives continued to grow, we discovered many synergies existed between the two entities.  The whole premise for both PPE Access and Supply+Protect has always been to HELP:  To provide supply access for as many organizations as possible.  Excitingly, we are working on combining the two organizations into one amazing not-for-profit.  Re-branding as one NFP entity will allow Supply+Protect to have the greatest reach and impact through strong partnerships and industry association channels.  As one cohesive entity, Supply+Protect will:

  • Support Canada’s incredible manufacturers
  • Support all businesses by providing easy access to high quality, vetted, locally-made supply
  • Support our community frontline workers (physicians, charities, regional agencies), with additional supply discounts across multiple product lines

Looking back, the last couple of months have been a total blur. Truthfully, I still catch myself shaking my head at how I went from Googling the term “PPE” to spending the majority of my time running a PPE-related business. I could only do it with incredible support. I have never worked so hard in my life, but find myself perpetually energized as I strive towards our vital end-goal.

The best part? Supply+Protect is just one of many incredible COVID-related initiatives happening all across our country. I am so, so lucky to be part of a nation where everyone pulls together for the benefit of all.

Amber French
Chief Executive Officer, Supply+Protect

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