Last March, when Covid-19 began to hit the country hard, Arnold Thorstad’s mother told her serial entrepreneur son about a severe shortage of N95 masks at the Chicago hospital where she worked. “It really scared me,” says Thorstad. So he decided to use his entrepreneurial skills, as well as his global supply chain relationships, and do something about it.
Thorstad and a business partner were able to find reputable suppliers for his mother’s hospital – and a few more. In fact, as the news broke and demand increased, he formed an Ft. Lauderdale-based Medivico (Medical Visionary Company) sells its products to other institutions and retailers. “What we thought was a one-off, helping a local hospital, suddenly became a business people could count on,” he says.
Thorstad began his work in the flavor industry where he learned how to negotiate with global suppliers and other useful skills. In 2012 he co-founded an iced tea company in Brazil, learned Portuguese and traveled the country. He also got to know the country’s problems in finding high-quality coconut water. So he worked with a partner who had developed new drying technologies and started supplying Brazil with coconut water from India. (The latter is a major exporter of coconuts).
From these efforts a holding company called Invico Worldwide was created that sells coconut water, coconut milk, coconut sugar, coconut oil, Amazon fruits and salmon ingredients with the aim of developing sustainable food ingredient supply chains and technologies around the world.
Tapping on its supply chain connections
Thorstad was diligently involved in running his businesses when Covid hit and his mother raised the alarm. Thorstad’s business partner, Roberto Delli, had a family in Italy who ran a Milan-based trading company that worked on an urgent mission for the Italian government: to find and qualify trusted PPE suppliers. With this in mind, Thorstad began to think: Couldn’t they piggyback these supplies to provide hospitals with protective equipment? And couldn’t they use Invico’s knowledge of global trade and the connections they had made?
To this end, Thorstad and his business partners turned to PPE suppliers in Asia and supplied equipment to his mother’s hospital. Then it became popular – and health care providers desperate for reliable PPE contacted him in droves. “So many of them were burned. Airlines were popping up everywhere, ”he says. “It snowed more than we could have imagined.”
According to Thorstad, only a few large dealers and manufacturers have been controlling the supply of medical masks and robes for years. Still, they were unable to cope with the sudden surge in demand caused by the pandemic. “It opened holes in an industry that so few people control,” he says. “The main suppliers did not have backup plans to meet the demands that were overwhelming the healthcare system.”
Millions of masks
But the combination of Thorstad’s import expertise and supply chain connections and know-how gave him an unusual advantage. And he soon realized that in his determination to help his mother he had made a promising deal without wanting to. Shortly afterwards, he decided to start a company to sell masks and other PPE to hospitals, retailers, and other places in the United States
To date, he says, the company has shipped “millions” of masks, dresses, gloves, and the like, and has stocked products in Invico’s 30,000 to 300,000 square foot warehouses in LA, Chicago, and New Jersey, where it normally stores its grocery products. “That’s the added value of already being in the retail industry,” he says.