With the live events and ticketing at a virtual standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic, TicketNetwork CEO Don Vaccaro has launched a new – and drastically different – company. The longtime secondary ticketing leader and entrepreneur recently launched Connecticut Biotech, which licenses and manufactures custom 3D printed Secure Fit mask frames developed by scientists at the University of Connecticut. These frames fit over cloth or disposable face masks, holding them tight to the users face.
“It’s something simple that works,” says Vaccaro, CEO of the company which began manufacturing masks in July and launched to the public with an official press conference this month attended by Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, UConn President Thomas Katzsouleas, and other local officials.
The Secure Fit mask frame was developed by Dr. Cato Laurencin and his team of researchers at the Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering. By providing a better seal around the mouth and nose, the frame forces air to travel through the mask rather than around its edges, which studies have shown dramatically increases the filtration of particles such as viruses. In practice, this technology is believed to make disposable and cloth masks available to non-medical personnel much more effective, hopefully reducing the demand for medical-grade masks like N95 that should be going to facilities in need for that higher level of Personal Protective Equipment amid the pandemic.
At the press conference, Sen. Blumenthal, who is a co-sponsor of the BOSS Act along with Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), pointed out that there is no COVID-19 vaccine that has been approved for use in the United States, and likely won’t be one for months.
“In the meantime, we’re going to be relying on masks, physical distancing, hand washing, and staying at home for the most vulnerable people who are at risk,” he said. “Masks are our future.”
While Connecticut Biotech operates as a company independent of TicketNetwork, the frames are being manufactured in a sterile environment at the company’s South Windsor headquarters, which has been largely empty since March due to employees working remotely as COVID-19 cases spiked in the northeast.
Despite being customized to each user, the Secure Fit frames do not require any in-person fitting to be manufactured. Users submit a pair of photos – one straight on, another in profile – with a reference object such as a ruler or dollar bill in the frame. From that, engineers can model the contours using computers and set the printing process. Each mask takes approximately three hours to produce.
Vaccaro says the company currently faces a backlog of orders, but is ramping up capacity rapidly to meet demand as schools, restaurants, and other organizations look to protect workers in frequent contact with the public.
“Those teachers will feel safer. Those students will feel safer. And you’re not taking away those N95 masks from the healthcare workers,” he added.
Vaccaro first learned of the exoskeleton design frames soon after their development in April, where they were quickly put into use at the University of Connecticut Medical Center. With tens of thousands of feet of space available at his company HQ, the conversation was quickly started about how such a useful product might be brought to market, with Connecticut Biotech formed in short order. And, while a biomedical device operation may seem a strange bedfellow for a longtime operator in the secondary ticketing world, it’s not such a stretch to consider the development of technology that dramatically improves the efficacy of face masks to have a possible tangential benefit of bringing back live events as well.
“We saw in these masks a great opportunity to play our part in bringing the coronavirus under control and helping people get back to safely being in public with one another,” Vaccaro says. “Until we have a safe and reliable vaccine, things like this are what will allow folks to go out and do so safely.”
Secure Fit mask frames retail for $39.99 and are available for order now.