Necessity is the mother of invention, but Michael Bottlang and Steven Madey were already plenty inventive, even before necessity came calling.
The two inventors—an engineer and orthopedist, respectively—founded Legacy Health’s Biomechanics Laboratory in 1999, and have come up with innovations like rib plating and a biomechanical sling. More recently, they developed a new technology for bicycle helmets called WaveCel, which is purported to greatly reduce the risk of brain trauma in an accident.
But when they learned their hospital was running short on personal protective equipment, the duo turned their focus to another form of safety gear: high-quality, clear plastic face shields.
“We talked to nurses to see what we could do,” Bottlang says. “We designed shields in two days.”
WaveCel donated the first 1,000 shields to Legacy, then priced the shields at cost. As bicycle helmet sales fell at the outset of the pandemic, the pivot helped keep the staff at the company’s Wilsonville factory employed. And as helmet sales have recovered, it’s added 15 new hires to fulfill orders.
WaveCel has now sold over 100,000 shields to medical facilities as far away as Texas, and has even expanded into serving other industries. The slightly larger and more expensive Loupe Shield is designed for dentists. And WaveCel is now manufacturing smaller shields for students to wear when returning to classrooms. As Bottlang notes, because they can see each other’s faces, students and teachers should be able to interact far more effectively than if wearing masks.
He speaks from experience—in the months since WaveCel started producing the shields, Bottlang has become as familiar with the product as any of his customers. Not long ago, he was wearing one at a small pizza party. He’d become so accustomed to his newfangled pandemic equipment that he slapped the piece of pie into the plastic shield instead of his mouth.
“That got a good laugh from the team,” Bottlang says.
Click below to see more Best of Portland 2020: