Back in February, when it became increasingly clear that Covid-19 was going to be a global problem, SG Blocks CEO Paul Galvin saw an opportunity for the company, which repurposes shipping containers for a host of purposes, to contribute. Galvin had already been collaborating with Transcend, a medical staffing solutions company, to create container-based pop-up medical clinics to offer on-site care at offices and depots. So when the pandemic hit, they were able to hit the ground running with a new product.
“We realized that hospitals were ill-prepared for this, not just in terms of capacity, but the way they were oriented,” he says, noting that hospitals across the country were forced to shut down all non-emergent and elective surgeries and treatment in part because they had no way to deliver that care in a safe, secure way. “And then things like chemo and people getting ready to give birth—they had to go into buildings that were treating Covid patients,” adds Galvin. “So what we did is we put a lot of our time and attention into creating a specific product line that could supplement the existing infrastructure.” On March 19th, when most manufacturers were still reeling from lockdown, SG Blocks announced a new product line of health and safety modules designed to help the medical community cope with the pandemic.
Galvin then struck a deal with OSANG Healthcare Co., which makes medical-grade Covid tests that offer results in 120 minutes, giving SG Blocks the rights to sell, market and distribute the tests. “So we were able to, first, have a preexisting product line to be able to create something for the moment; and second, we were able to integrate the combination of deploying staff and tests in a way that made it easier for people to say yes to the buildings, easier to say yes to the staffing and easier to say yes to the tests,” says Galvin. “In life, people like end-to-end solutions. So we were able to pivot and be decisive and kind of just keep marching forward to help provide a solution to a problem that we believe is not going away anytime soon.”
With the help of architecture firm Grimshaw, SG Blocks unveiled a design for eco-friendly medical pop-up clinics and Covid testing facilities that could potentially be placed anywhere. “So with this ‘lab in a box,’ you could be testing people and within two hours giving them clearance to get into the airport or into the stadium or through customs, etc.”
Galvin sees another use for his container-based solutions in another setting: America’s schools. President Trump last week threatened to cut federal funding for schools that fail to reopen in the fall—which could put testing facilities like SG Block’s in high demand. Galvin notes that discussions are continuing on that front, while the company has landed a new $4 million contract to manufacture a development of 24 hospitality units—effectively, standalone hotel rooms—in South Florida. Because the containers each weigh 8,000 pounds—empty—they’re ideal for hurricane-prone regions, says Galvin.
He adds that SG Blocks has been able to continue without losing much ground in part because they did not have to spend any time getting employees set up virtually. “We’ve operated since inception as a virtual company,” he says. “That allowed us to take full advantage of the opportunities that were available to us because it was business as usual.”
And no employees have been furloughed, adds Galvin, who, prior to founding SG Blocks, ran a homeless charity in New York for 20 years. “We feel absolutely terrible and sick over all the people that have lost their jobs permanently or even temporarily, and our hearts go out to all the people who find themselves for no fault of their own getting kind of blindsided,” he says. “So we want to keep growing our business and creating jobs, both in the company and in the economy and in the manufacturing and in the supply chain. That’s the best thing we can do to help them, too.”