11 March 2020: The World Health Organisation (WHO) qualified the global COVID-19 crisis, the new coronavirus identified in China in January 2020, as a pandemic. This extremely contagious virus can cause severe complications and lead to patients being hospitalised in intensive care units. Patients infected with the virus can require an average of between ten and twenty days of artificial ventilation.
Health systems around the world are under pressure from the influx of patients infected with COVID-19. There are not enough artificial ventilators to cope with the pandemic, especially given that some parts of the world have not yet reached a peak in the number of cases. With a growing number of patients infected by COVID-19 displaying respiratory distress, “the number of machines is the number one problem”, declared Martin Hirsch, Director General of AP-HP (Assistance publique – Hôpitaux de Paris) on 23 March.
Driven by the desire to solve the shortage of ventilators for caregivers and to help save lives, the Makers for Life collective was launched as a startup on 16 March 2020 by a group of entrepreneurs in Nantes. One of the key factors to the success of the project is the contribution from intensive care doctors, researchers and health professionals from the Nantes and Brest University Hospitals and the University of Nantes, who are the heart of the project.
The project is driven by a strong commitment to designing a medical quality ventilator (mechanical ventilator) that complies with the requirements of medical devices and health organisations (European MD directives and clinical research protocol under ANSM control).
The Makers for Life collective and project were founded by three entrepreneurs in Nantes. Quentin Adam (CEO Clever Cloud), Baptiste Jamin and Valérian Saliou (Co-founders Crisp), immediately joined by Emmanuel Feller (Developer Clever Cloud) and Professor Pierre-Antoine Gourraud, professor and researcher at the University of Nantes and a doctor at Nantes University Hospital. MedTech specialists Erik Huneker and Marc Julien from Diabeloop were also among some of the first active members to support the initiative.
Collective intelligence and spontaneity
By 8 April, more than 250 volunteers had joined the project. Organised into a dozen or so teams (including mechanical/code/electronic prototyping, regulations & quality, clinical trials, logistics, specific sourcing, industrialisation and communication), the collective has been built thanks to an incredible mobilisation of skills and networks.
This initiative is the collective strength of a project that has brought people together on the basis of solidarity and urgent action. A “Pro Bono” project during a time of crisis, and even more so during lockdown, has from the outset, broken down barriers and enabled the emergence of group intelligence.
“I’ve rarely experienced such a high level of collective commitment – the long hours, the weekends, the tiredness have never been an issue…”Clément Niclot Mechanical Engineer
During a period of lockdown, designing an industrial project in just a few weeks is an amazing achievement. What if MakAir contributed in its own way to the emergence of French industry for the 21st Century?
A result of the COVID-19 “crisis”, both the collective and the consortium were formed spontaneously and naturally, without ever imagining what they would be today. When your back is against the wall, you go with your instinct. Global industry has revealed its limits. Convictions are strong and consciousness is collective and immediate.
More than 250 strangers with a variety of skills, with their tools and their creativity have cooperated together, collaborating across boundaries. Starting from a seed that has grown into an elaborate collaborative project, the skills integrated into the MakAir project have been brought on board as needed, as each day comes. Today, the industrialists of the consortium have followed the same path by effectively adapting to the collective’s mode of operation. Just as the drone specialist contributes their expertise in developing motors, the automotive expert brings specialist knowledge of filters and industrialisation. The specialist in circuit boards is working with the CEA (French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission) to organise supplies and logistics.
What if this was the future of our industries?
What if this collective intelligence was the start of something new, the industry of tomorrow – rethinking our methods of production, using the expertise and specialities of our industries differently?
Communication and horizontal organisation, the use of collaborative documents via video conference or Slack – the project has borrowed tools and methods used by startups. The project is financed following these principals, without the heavy traditional and capitalistic methods. A demonstrator, a prototype and an MVP were quickly developed. At each stage, these key elements helped gain extra funding and demonstrated the relevance and credibility of MakAir.
Who would have imagined just a few weeks ago that in France this instinctive collective intelligence would be able to take up such a challenge– to create a software-controlled ventilator, prepare its industrialisation and its compliance with medical standards, all at the same time.
Costing 15 times cheaper than the market leader, this project demonstrates not only the power of the collective, but also that of our industries, capable of manufacturing products at a reasonable price without cutting corners on quality or compliance with medical standards.
Manufacturing can be flexible and local to be able to meet demands, whether during a crisis or in the long-term. Criticality should no longer be an issue, but simply a factor of anticipation for more collaborative and efficient industries.
Members of the Makers for Life collective: http://makersforlife.fr/