Engineering alumni startup Nanoleaf to source more than one million masks amid COVID-19 shortages

Nanoleaf co-founder and CEO Gimmy Chu (ElecE 0T6) announced last week that the company is shifting its operations to providing masks, goggles and gloves to address shortages in Canadian and U.S. hospitals.

Two weeks ago they were making light panels. Today they’re sourcing medical equipment. 

 The COVID-19 outbreak has led to reports of shortages of life-saving personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line health workers, including in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).  

Nanoleaf, a company founded by U of T Engineering alumni, has signed up to help in providing medical masks, gloves and goggles. To start, Nanoleaf has committed to donating 50,000 surgical masks to hospitals in Canada, the U.S. “or to the places in need,” says co-founder and CEO Gimmy Chu (ElecE 0T6). 

Chu says they’re also working on fulfilling an order of 1.1 million masks to a hospital in Toronto that will be provided at cost. 

Nanoleaf — launched by Chu and fellow alumni Tom Rodinger (IBBME PhD 0T7) and Christian Yan (ElecE 0T6) — normally manufactures energy-efficient light panels that integrate with smart home assistants such as Siri, Google and Alexa.  

“But as everyone in our company started working from home, everything was shutting down, our team were left relatively idle,” says Chu. “So we thought, why don’t we use our resources to get critical products flowing into hospitals. It just made sense to join the battle in any way we can.” 

Using manufacturing connections in China, Nanoleaf has pivoted their efforts towards sourcing PPE that will then get air freighted to North American hospitals as early as this week. The company’s team in China will also check the quality of the products to ensure they meet federal guidelines in Canada and the U.S. 

And they’re hoping to do much more. The company has created GoFundMe campaigns in both Canada and the U.S., each with a goal of $1 million. That money will enable them to provide two million pieces of equipment — masks, gloves and goggles. It would also allow them to expand their efforts into distributing disposable medical coveralls. 

 Chu says the company’s focus will be on sourcing critical PPE for the foreseeable future and encourages any hospitals in need of supplies to reach out.  

“This is a global fight against a crisis and there’s no time,” he says. “Our company, along with other companies, decided to adapt and use whatever resources and connections we have to act immediately.” 

On May 27, 2020, Gimmy Chu will be part of a live U of T Engineering alumni panel discussion on engineering solutions for the COVID-19 pandemic. Register today: