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Ann Arbor Spark

March 30, 2020

SISU Shifts Production from Mouthguards to PPE to Protect against COVID-19

Updated:
April 2, 2020
8:30 a.m.

The Ann Arbor T-shirt Company heard about Akervall Technologies’s efforts to produce face shields and offered to cover production costs and donate 25,000 shields.

Owner Jerry Kozak reached out to Akervall with the generous proposal. In addition to covering production costs, he and his business partner Ricky Winowiecki also had an empty factory and a furloughed staff of 72 workers eager to help with the assembly, shaving weeks off the delivery time to local hospitals and nursing homes in desperate need.  Fun fact: both companies received Ann Arbor SPARK FastTrack Awards — Akervall in 2017 and 2018, Ann Arbor T-Shirt Company in 2019.

SISU mouthguard manufacturer Akervall Technologies Inc. has shifted from making dental protection for medical, athletic, and military markets to protective face shields for the medical community in desperate need of supplies to keep safe as they fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

When the spring athletic seasons came to a global halt, and orders during the busiest season dried up, Akervall faced layoffs and the possibility of having to close Michigan’s best small business of the year. But CEO Sassa Akervall and Dr. Jan Akervall had a different plan in mind. The idea, championed by their COO and the ATI production team, was to find a way to help by producing medical shields that protect people on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.

“Just waiting for things to change isn’t going to change anything. Reach out to your local and state agencies to find out what is needed and how you can help,” said Sassa.

Related: University of Michigan Surveys Manufactures for PPE Support

Akervall Technologies currently has a prototype and is ready to start producing an initial 50,000 face shields. They are expected to be distributed to Michigan hospitals to start, beginning the first week of April.

“I cannot express how proud I am with my team. The fact that they are able to keep good spirits up, even though we are facing some real hardships really defines us as a company,” Sassa said. “Sisu is a Finnish word for perseverance and tenacity. We chose this many years ago because that is what you need as an athlete. Today, it’s really at the heart of the entire organization. It’s who we are. Our temporary manufacturing shift shows that.”

The medical shields are being produced at ATI headquarters in Saline, Michigan. Ann Arbor SPARK supported Akervall Technologies early on, with funding as well as incubation and business acceleration services in the organization’s formative years. Since then, SPARK has continued to provide support through its business referral and talent initiatives.