Sitting at a socially distancing restaurant in Sea Girt, NJ, John Schwind, 58, sports the tanned look of the avid sailor and paddle surfer that he is. But then he effortlessly applies his mask, and you discover a product that has been a driving force in his life for more than 20 years.
Schwind, CEO, Global Safety First and co-inventor of the ReadiMask, has been waging war against industry inertia, explaining that safety masks have remained virtually unchanged since WWII. The first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 sparked his idea that an improved mask could help people with contaminants—dust, smoke, viruses—circulating in the air.
“I thought about all those people trying to escape from the smoke and chaos and decided there has to be a way to improve a mask that safeguards people from most contaminants,” Schwind said. His response was to invent, with a partner, the ReadiMask.
Like many inventors and entrepreneurs, he found his journey littered with obstacles. Industry giants already entrenched, a slow-moving bureaucracy and a pandemic that offered market opportunities. Add to that, any manufacturer with a sewing machine making masks, flooding the market with billions of substandard or useless masks and face coverings.
Just excuses from the guy who thinks his design is the only one in the world that actually works?
“It’s about the seal, dummy,” Schwind said, repurposing a line from political strategist James Carville. “Look at masks, and it’s obvious they cannot seal. Why do you think your glasses fog up? Leaks allow harmful particles in to invade through the mouth and nose, a perfect entry for viruses like the coronavirus.” The ReadiMask has a medical standard adhesive that completely seals the mask to the face. The added benefit of using adhesive is it eliminates the uncomfortable straps and metal nose piece.
Schwind, a wannabe engineer with an IT background, worked on several startups while refining the ReadiMask.
His first and arguably most crucial battle was gaining N95 certification from the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH). “Before coronavirus started, the public didn’t care about safety masks or ratings,” Schwind said. “Now, everyone is an expert, demanding an N95 rating.
“The N95 mask is the gold standard in the mask industry, and if NIOSH didn’t certify your mask, throw it away and get one that is”, Schwind said. His irritation is evident when talking about millions of earloop KN95 Chinese imports that lack U.S. certification. “Our masks are made in Maryland and Ohio,” he said proudly.
Going through the government bureaucracy and certification forces inventors to jump through hoops, he explained. “Earning certification is lengthy, laborious and costly. We persisted for more than ten years before earning that coveted certification.”
Several recent contracts catapulted Global Safety First to the big leagues. He forged a strategic partnership with Fortune 400 company Avery Denison and the Defense Logistics Agency. He has signed deals with the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. State Department – Diplomatic Security, Federal Bureau of Prisons and Boston Medical Center.
Schwind also sells his N95 mask with an integrated eye shield that is so effective, you can be hit with an entire can of pepper spray without feeling the effects. YouTube videos (ReadiMask) capture wearers (not actors) remaining immune to the pepper spray, including corrections officers in a simulated prison riot.
Schwind has shifted his marketing from solo efforts to a distributor model. “We have an impressive client list but feel that with a distributor base in our industry, we would have more opportunity to reach a broader audience,” Schwind said. “Now I’m spending time looking for distributors.
“What continues to drive me is the belief and the feedback that the ReadiMask is not only an evolutionary improvement but reliable enough to offer Americans even more protection. Unfortunately, the coronavirus proved me right, and we’ll still be here when the next pandemic strikes.”
While Schwind appreciates ReadiMask’s “sudden” success, he recognizes that it represents a trickle of the demand instead of the expected avalanche. It leads him to the inevitable question every entrepreneur confronts: What continues to be the biggest frustration just as you begin to make headway?
“I built the better mousetrap, and I’m still trying to get wider attention for it,” Schwind said. “It has a perfect seal, government N95 approval, and the small size model fits women and children.
“If you try it on just once, you’ll understand immediately.”