"I want the good guys to win:" Columbus native helping businesses connect during pandemic

Sarah Wood hasn’t slept much over the past two months.

Seventy-hour work schedules have consumed her weeks, as she and her team have donated their time to innovate the way businesses network.

In a society adhering to social distancing practices, the Columbus native is connecting all types of industries — from each corner of the United States — to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wood, a 2000 Columbus East graduate living in Asheville, North Carolina, and her team recently hatched an idea to link manufacturers to raw materials through a website service called Supply Connector.

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Manufacturers and material suppliers have been pivoting to meet the needs of essential providers during the coronavirus crisis, and Supply Connector hopes to link more businesses to meet demands.

The tool, which works as a directory, serves as a way to help connect materials, resources and manufacturers with health care systems.

Businesses submit their information as one which can “help” or someone who has a “need”… or both. Once submitted, the business is listed in the directory. Everyone can search the “haves” directory and the “needs” directory.

Those who use the website have the option to choose which state they want to access. If a state doesn’t offer the materials needed, businesses can open the search up to any other state.

Once the businesses have the materials they need, they can sell or donate their final products to those on the medical front lines.

The site launched on April 10, and has gained attention from small and large organizations alike.

The entire project came together quickly for Wood, who owns her own small business called Good Talk.

After leaving a job as vice president of operations at Industry Nine Componentry, a high-end cycling component manufacturer in North Carolina, in January, Wood started a business management firm: Good Talk. Good Talk helps companies with strategic planning, organizational design, leadership, communication, operations, setting up processes and helping with technical aspects such as managing inventory.

The idea to start Supply Connector originated from a conversation with a Good Talk client, Wood said.

“One of my clients asked me if I could find a ventilator manufacturer that they could make components for,” Wood recalled in a phone call Thursday. “They wanted to contribute. They had about 100 CNC machine shop that they were ready to put to good use. In trying to find those opportunities for them, I was really struggling to find the network that I expected to be out there. I expected there to be a place where I could go and say ‘I have a manufacturer ready to pivot and help this effort.’ I didn’t find it.

“I started tapping into my network across the country from Washington to Colorado, to Indiana to North Carolina. Each state and community had one or two organizations trying to gather that information, but they weren’t readily available to connect me to those opportunities, or had something I could search and do on my own.”

Frustrated with her findings, Wood contacted her friend Laurel Scherer to get involved. Scherer has been the owner/director of Status Forward for the past 15 years, a software company that specializes in digital marketing and website design.

“We coded the website in about 10 days,” Scherer said in an email Friday. “We usually follow our tried and proven approach to website design and development, which starts with identifying specific goals, then moves on to strategic planning, content creation, design, and development. This project dictated that we do things a little differently in a very accelerated manner in order to provide an immediate platform that would be useful to manufacturers, suppliers, and essential providers. Therefore, we started building functionality in parallel with creating content and working on design.”

While work commenced with Scherer, Wood assembled a team of advisers. The advisers, Amy Allison, Noah Wilson and Karen Johns, are all with the North Carolina Outdoor Recreation Coalition. Wood is board chair of the coalition, and the members are tightly connected to the outdoor industry throughout the state and country.

“When Sarah approached me, I immediately understood her vision for this and jumped right into the project with her knowing that we could build something simple and useful in short order,” Scherer said. “My first inclination was to keep our initial model as simple as possible to get it out there and test it. That was supported by others who advised us on the project, including (Wilson) and (Allison). It was an effective approach as the site began to gain traction very quickly.”

Scherer said the website traffic has been solid to start as notoriety has grown.

In the first two weeks there have been about 7,500 site visitors and about 100 entries.

“We’re starting to hear some success stories on matches that have been made,”Scherer said. “One surprise was the level of interest from government agencies and partnerships in various states in wanting to leverage this platform. I’m encouraged that we have some states interested in creating state specific sections on the site, and we’re working on building those now.”

Wood said a good example of the service’s use can be seen at SylvanSport, which is helping to make faceshields. SylvanSport has the means to create the personal protective equipment, but needed help with materials to assemble them.

While businesses range in size and industry, they’re working together to solve a common problem.

“We have some small cut and sew facilities working together to create a larger volume together. That effort is being coordinated through the Carolina textile district,” Wood said. “They have over 200 manufacturers in network. There are also large companies like Bissell out of Michigan. They have vacuum cleaning materials that can be used as filters. They wanted to donate them.”

Supply Connector is also working with the government to help healthcare professionals.

“We’re working directly with our manufacturing extension partnership group in the state, and also the emergency management, to share information and make sure the critical needs are being bought by the state first before they go out into the bigger marketplace,” Wood said. “It has really opened our eyes how this tool can continue to evolve and provide value after the COIVD crisis. It could be redeployed if something like that happens again.

In the future, Wood hopes that the service can continue to aid businesses. She sees the service as a useful tool to keep dollars flowing within the country, linking supply and demand in a quick, easy way. She said that the outdoor industry took a bold leap when pivoting to help early on in the pandemic, and that she admires small businesses still trying to make it.

“I want the good guys to win,” Wood said. “I want them to have a place at the table. If I can do something like this to help that, our economy will be better off for it. I’m always rooting for the underdog.”

Wood hopes to inspire others to get involved.

“While this might not have the impact we hope it will, we’re going to keep trying,” she said. “It has already made a valuable impact with the connections we’ve been able to make so far. I can rest easy knowing that it is working. At the end of the day, I think it’s important we don’t stop because we’re small. We don’t stop because we think someone else will take care of it. I just want to encourage everyone to do what they can when they can. Even a small impact is better than no impact. Who knows, maybe you could be the one that solves the problem? I hope we continue to be a part of the solution in a big way. I want this to be an example for folks, and maybe inspire them to get involved.”

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Columbus native Sarah Wood and her team have launched a website called Supply Connector. The website helps connect materials, resources and manufacturers with healthcare systems.

Businesses from across the country are getting involved with the service.

More information: supplyconnector.org