Entrepreneur Pivots Her Missouri-Grown Bamboo to Boost PPE during COVID-19
Sometimes, a company seems to magically be in the right place at the right time. But real-world magic isn’t automatic — it usually manifests after years of hard work. And for entrepreneur Iveth Jalinsky of Green Resources Consulting, 2020 would be when the magic she created could help thousands.
For years, Iveth and her team at GRC have been working with bamboo. They’ve found ways to grow the plant in Missouri and use the renewable resource to help offset humans’ carbon footprint. Her company had discovered that bamboo could be used in protective masks—and then COVID-19 hit.
Now, GRC’s technologies and masks are in high demand. The company has the potential to change how the United States sources protective gear. And it can also make a huge impact on the economy of Cleveland, Missouri, population 661.
A change in direction and a new business
Iveth was born in the country of Colombia and ended up working as an architect in Overland Park, Kansas.
“I never thought I’d become a manufacturer,” she says. “That wasn’t on my bucket list. But now it’s happening, and it’s beyond my dreams. I’ve very happy right now. We have to work very hard, but it’s worth it.”
Iveth’s entrepreneurial journey started when she got a little bit sick of the suburbs. She started looking for some land outside of the city. And then she got really sick. Physically sick.
“Doctors said I would be counting my days,” she says. “I went to different places in the world, and all doctors has a common denominator, and that was nature. If I could be in nature and detox myself, eat healthier, drink better water, breathe good air – then I could cure myself.”
Iveth found land outside of Cleveland, Missouri. The property was covered in trash, but you wouldn’t know it now. After 10 years of restoration, the property has a beautiful, clean creek. It’s also home to a lodge, the GRC facilities and more. Iveth enjoys good health – and is dedicated to helping balance consumption, production and displacement of natural resources.
“We’re trying to stop the damage to our planet,” she says. “Bamboo is a graminea tree that produces 1,400 plants in a lifetime. It regenerates, becomes sustainable and renewable. There are products out there that give you the beauty you’re used to but don’t damage our planet.”
GRC has been focused on finding ways to use bamboo and develop it as a raw manufacturing material.
“In January, we finally decoded six species of bamboo – these are the most important ones for the economy,” Iveth says. “Before, these species couldn’t grow in places like the Missouri climate. It’s very demanding, winters are cold, summers are extremely hot. But now, we can grow these bamboos here so we can make paper, plastics, biofuels – and masks.”
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Pre-pandemic, Iveth was developing a mask made of bamboo to address pollution. Since the company did work in China, the team also saw COVID-19 developing.
“We created this mask to make it extremely effective for dust and pollution,” Iveth says. “Dust are big particles and pollution are very small particles. … With COVID, we thought our mask could be an excellent answer to what is happening because the N95 mask, the surgical mask, it doesn’t protect you from pathogens that small.
“COVID-19 is .1 micron. It’s extremely small. A blood cell is 7 microns, so we’re talking about a huge difference. Then, we just change a layer in the mask and ramp up production.”
That new layer in the mask makes it a worthy opponent of COVID-19. But part of the mask was still manufactured in China – and vulnerable to delays, tariffs and more. So GRC is making changes to its facility so that it can produce every part of the mask in Missouri.
Grants from the Missouri Department of Economic Development are helping GRC revamp its factory.
“This means we can produce masks for our state, our community and those most exposed to COVID-19,” Iveth says.
Iveth says her team is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Environment Health Sciences because their new production in Missouri will be certified and one of the first pilot projects in the U.S.
GRC isn’t importing any more materials from China. Instead, Iveth and her team are concentrating on their facility here and are hoping to produce everything in the U.S. by November.
“The masks you see like 3M, all those are made in China – it’s a section that’s made in the United States,” Iveth says. “No one company in the U.S. makes the fabric, the textiles for this mask, for anything that is PPE [personal protective equipment]. We will be one of the first ones that will be able to produce nonwoven textiles to do gowns, isolation gowns, aprons, shoe covers, head covers, masks – all of those are nonwoven meltblown textiles.”
Help for a company that helps communities in need
The changes to GRC’s process and facility are the result of a team effort.
“The Missouri Department of Economic Development gave us a total turnaround, and the support we got from them is invaluable,” Iveth says. “This is not just GRC – this is a huge group working day and night, and some people I didn’t have the chance to meet in person yet. It’s unbelievable.”
This assistance isn’t just about helping a Missouri company. It’s about the ripple effect.
“The goal with our retooling is, of course, to be able to supply for our hospitals, for our government institutions,” Iveth says. “Fire fighters, police departments, we already have as our clients a lot of police departments. But we don’t have them all. A lot are still buying products made in China. This one, they’ll truly support the local community.”
Right now, GRC has about five employees and 35 contractors working at the facility outside of Cleveland, Missouri. But getting the revamped factory up and running at full capacity could mean more than 350 new jobs. And that enhanced capacity would enable GRC to donate more PPE, especially to small hospitals in rural areas.
Your business is like your kid
Iveth’s business is based on innovation. But the mother of eight gets back to basics when it comes to entrepreneurship.
“I decided to call GRC my last baby,” she says. “Approach your business as one of your kids – you can make it thrive and shine. When our children are born, we dedicate ourselves totally. So the business is going to require total dedication. But guess what? After two or three years, like a baby, you get a little bit of time for you. You regain your independence. It’s the same thing.”
Much like parenting, building a business requires support from the people around you, too. Iveth has gotten that from her loved ones as well as groups like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City.
“It’s very important to surround yourself with people who see the positive in the craziness. Normally, new ideas are seen as crazy,” Iveth says. “If people tell an entrepreneur it is too crazy, don’t let it go. Keep working. Because those are the greatest products that come to the market.
“Take Ring – according to ‘Shark Tank,’ it was a stupid idea. But they sold it to Amazon for I don’t know how many billions of dollars. So, don’t stop believing in yourself and if something puts fire in your heart, figure it out. Join chambers of commerce. Join entrepreneurial groups. Because somebody knows somebody, and then you can make it happen. You can’t be lazy. You have to give your heart 100%, and it will happen.”
Iveth is especially encouraging to people who might not fit the old stereotype of a business owner.
“For us minorities, there are so many opportunities; there are so many opportunities for people that come from different backgrounds,” she says. “As Americans, the opportunities in this country are endless. You just can’t let it pass by. Be a part of it. Be part of the change.