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Collab in the Time of Corona

Last week, NYCEDC asked me to testify before New York City Council about the work we’ve been doing in partnership with the EDC, Einstein Medical, and Print Parts to produce Covid-19 test kits for New York. As I explained to the City Council in my testimony, converting Collab into a production facility for test kits has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career. But let me begin from the beginning.


About 10 weeks ago, while I was sitting in my apartment cleaning groceries with rubbing alcohol, in quarantine like the rest of the City, I got an email from the EDC. They told me that the City was contemplating making Covid-19 test kits in New York City, and wanted to know if I would be interested in discussing the idea. Test kits were hard to acquire through traditional sources, they said, and the City decided to set up the infrastructure to do it themselves. And not only do it themselves, but with enough capacity to produce the requisite number of kits to allow anyone in New York City who wanted to get tested the ability to get tested. What that meant in real world terms is the EDC was putting together a team of New Yorkers, and asking them to figure out how to produce more than 60,000 kits a week.

To give some sense of what producing 60,000 test kits per week represents, the entire state of New York administers 60,000 tests a day. What we were being asked to do is figure out how to produce 20 percent of all the tests being administered in the state of New York. And get it started in 7 days. In partnership with three groups who had never met, let alone produced a single swab, vial of VTM or completed test kit.


The mission was so grand that from the get go, all of the distractions that typically masquerade themselves as critical in a project were shoved to the side where they belong. The focus became singular. Produce Covid-19 test kits in New York City and send them to the Hospitals and Clinics that needed them most.

That’s it. That was the mission.

And that singular focus defined every action, every decision, every conversation from that point forward. From a non-existent enterprise, the partnership of EDC, Einstein Medical, Print Parts and us put together a fully operational medical supply company in 7 days. Four groups that had never worked together were now delivering 60,000 test kits a week.

To my knowledge, this has not been done anywhere else in the country.

Testing as we all know is critical. And yet building a medical supply company affords other benefits as well. At Collab, it allowed us to hire 24 of the City’s most hard hit workers directly from restaurants that had been shuttered because of the pandemic. And pay each person $1,000 a week for a 40-hour work week. So in addition to test kits, we were able to help keep the 24-people we hired and their families from further financial and emotional suffering as a result of the City shutting down because of the pandemic.

I’m really proud of the work EDC, Einstein Medical, Print Parts and we have been able to accomplish together. Not to mention the entire staff at Collab, who was hired and trained in 3 days, and who all stepped up and executed at the highest level.

This project has been the greatest example for me of what happens when a mission is critical, and getting the work done is all that matters.

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