Researching Partners for N-95 Filters | RTI Innovation Advisors

Late on a Thursday, RTI Innovation Advisors received a call from the Milwaukee MaskForce, a grassroots coalition of over 25 Milwaukee-based manufacturers, hospitals and healthcare organizations and universities. Maskforce members were working to address the shortage of PPE during COVID-19 by rapidly designing and building reusable, medical-grade N95-style respirators for frontline medical workers.

MaskForce had designed and built a prototype of a reusable mask with a filter insert; the group was struggling to find a good source for the filter media. Traditional filter suppliers were maxed out. The client was familiar with our ability to research and validate candidates that met required specifications and connect producers with buyers. They asked us to find companies capable of producing N95-spec filter material.

Less than 24 hours after the first call, we organized a team, set our goal to have a list of companies by Monday and ran a design sprint. We applied our technical and regulatory understanding of filters and related matters to create a search profile and worked through the weekend applying creative thinking methods, examining alternatives and reviewing filtration research.

By Monday we had identified dozens of companies, conducted due diligence to ensure a fit and a pathway to impact and compiled a list of 80 companies to contact. We ran the list by the MaskForce team to ensure no duplication of effort. They gave us the all-clear, and we started contacting companies.

That same day, the team identified a potential partner. A company in Arizona had developed a new N95-spec material, was ramping up production and wanted to donate their materials. Our team connected them to the MaskForce team.

Five days after we received the call we discovered six additional companies that were scaling up production of N95-spec materials and could accept new customers. Collectively, these six had capacity to produce millions of masks. Not one was a traditional mask filter company, yet each recognized the need and invested the effort to adapt their materials and production lines to manufacture this much-needed material.

Maskforce is working on three potential designs that will be tested to verify safety, comfort, and performance requirements. When the designs are approved, Maskforce will use the filtration material from companies we identified and validated.

Originally published at

RTI Innovation Advisors helps clients turn insights into new products, services & technologies that have meaningful human and business impact. Feed of RTI Int’l