From Puppy Pads To Medical Masks: How A ‘Shark Tank’ Entrepreneur Is Helping Fresno Hospitals

Apr 8, 2020

Even before the coronavirus, Tiffani Quinto had some experience with pandemics.

“You know I lived through H1N1,” she said. “I was a buyer at the time at Valley Children’s. And it’s similar to that.”  

Now she’s the supply chain management contract coordinator for Community Medical Centers in Fresno. She says medical supply distributors operate on an allocation system based on a hospital’s previous purchase history.

“So let’s say Community Medical Centers would order 500,000 masks a month, and that was maybe our steady amount, that’s what we would be allotted now,” she said. 

The benefit of the system is that everyone at least gets something, unlike during the H1N1 pandemic, Quinto said. That’s when “a lot of facilities [were] bulk buying as many masks as they possibly could, so then that left a lot of healthcare systems without anything,” she added.

But it also means Quinto has to figure out other ways to boost product supply during a pandemic. “And that’s where these third party suppliers like Alan Cook come in,” she said. 

 

Alan Cook lives in Chicago. He didn’t know a thing about medical masks before COVID-19.

“So we make pet products,” he said. And not just any pet product. 

A small dog uses Brilliant Pad.
Credit Alan Cook

Cook landed a $500,000 deal in 2017 on the ABC TV show Shark Tank for his electronic, self-cleaning indoor dog potty called Brilliant Pad. It uses puppy pads that small dogs can pee or poop on when their owners are away. And it automatically rolls up the used one and rolls out a fresh one.   

These puppy pad rolls are made at a factory in China that also makes diapers and hygiene products. And Cook has a good relationship with his supplier. 

“So they called us a week or two ago saying there was a knock at their door,” Cook said. 

The knock at the door? The Chinese government, telling the factory to repurpose some of its equipment to make medical masks. 

 

Alan Cook and his team at the factory in China that makes rolls of puppy pads and now, medical masks.
Credit Alan Cook

So, all of a sudden, Cook had this pipeline to masks. He reached out to some of his friends who work in healthcare just to see if they needed any. The response was so intense that Cook put his day job on hold. And he created a new company called Chicago PPE, which stands for personal protective equipment.  

“And instead of monitoring production of our stuff, we’ve temporarily paused it and we’re contributing resources to making these masks,” he said.  

The first day he put up his website, he processed orders for 170,000 masks. That was two weeks ago; now the orders have surpassed 2 million. 

“It’s just chaos. You can probably hear the phone in the background,” he said. “The phone is like ringing literally non-stop.”

And there’ve been plenty of complications. From banking challenges to Cook’s greatest source of stress: Transportation. 

There’s no cargo availability on passenger planes. UPS is backed up. And now Cook has shifted to shipping the masks out of Hong Kong using DHL. Well, at least for now. 

“I won’t be surprised if we’re talking a few days from now and I say there’s another method,” he said.  

 

Cook says he’s never worked so hard in his life. He’s enlisted family and friends to volunteer. Sometimes emotions run high. But, he says, everyone’s kind of taking a deep breath knowing...

“Whatever stress we’re experiencing is nothing compared to what the people in the hospitals in front of patients are dealing with,” he said.

Alan Cook wears one of the medical masks he's now sourcing to hospitals in the U.S. including Community Medical Centers.
Credit Alan Cook

Including doctors and nurses back at Community Medical Centers where Tiffani Quinto works.  When Cook reached out to his friends in healthcare, well one of them was in Fresno. That’s how Quinto even found out about him.   

So Quinto started the vetting process. The first requirement is FDA certification. 

“Then I send it over to our Covid-19 command center,” Quinto said. 

Doctors reviewed the samples last week. And it turns out, the masks that came from a factory in China via a SharkTank entrepreneur who makes a puppy pad product? Well an order was just placed for about 250,000. The first shipment should arrive in about a week.

If you would like to donate medical masks or other vital supplies, please contact the CMC Foundation at (559) 459-4040.