Devising Entrepreneurial Methods to Protect the Most Vulnerable
By Anna Peele (GAL ’10)
It’s difficult to hear Grant Fox, a leading member of NYU’s COVID-19 Task Force. Because he is calling from a park where there are other people—and because we’re in the middle of a pandemic—he’s wearing a mask. Fox has spent the last several months developing solutions to personal protective equipment shortages and other COVID-related crises. Though innovation will be critical in getting through the crisis, Fox’s solution is simpler: model good behavior.
Fox has performed that role since he was a teen. He joined the US Navy after high school, then after eight years of service, he left to earn a degree in finance from California State University. Fox later worked at hedge funds and an energy infrastructure project.
Eventually, he decided that working in the world of money wasn’t working for him. In 2011, Fox earned an MS in global affairs with a concentration in environment/energy policy at the School of Professional Studies Center for Global Affairs and began teaching graduate courses there on topics including clean energy entrepreneurship. It was this teaching experience that made apparent to Fox what he calls his new path: “trying to be supportive of entrepreneurs.” In early 2020, he took over as director of the Tandon School of Engineering’s Veterans Future Lab, where he works with vets, their partners, and Department of Defense affiliates to incubate new businesses.
When the university shifted to remote learning in March because of COVID, a prototyping space manager at the lab expressed a wish to return to the shop and build PPE, which was in woefully short supply. Fox figured out a way to reopen the lab, procuring funding and using equipment including 3D printers that bridged the “gap between the needs of the hospital workers and the supply chain to provide them,” he says. With local manufacturers and in-house volunteers, they designed and made desperately needed items such as face shields and parts to split ventilators so they could be used on more than one patient.
Now that what Fox calls New York City’s triage phase is over, he and the lab can consider a bigger picture: controlling airflow to contain the droplets that transport pathogens, disseminating schematics for their creations, and using human nature to solve problems. “There has to be a lot of patience and forgiveness at the same time,” says Fox. “I believe that people are given to do the right thing, especially collectively, but are easily swayed.”