Internet entrepreneur Marc Benioff told CNBC Monday that face masks have the potential to eradicate the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.
"Masks are so important," the Salesforce co-founder and chief executive told "Mad Money" host Jim Cramer. "If everyone in the United States wore a mask for 3 weeks — just 3 weeks — we would not have anymore coronavirus, because there would be no more spread, but people do not want to wear masks."
That issue is one that Benioff, a frequent guest on the evening stock investing show, and Cramer have teamed up to address as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread rapidly across the country. The two are sponsoring the Next-Gen Mask Challenge, a contest launched by the global pandemic response coalition XPRIZE Pandemic Alliance.
Evidence suggests that proper mask-wearing can reduce transmission of respiratory viruses, like coronavirus, but a Pew Research survey found one-in-three people in the U.S. reportedly do not wear the protective gear regularly. The Next-Gen Mask Challenge is offering a $1 million prize split to three teams that can design a face mask that the general public will adopt, according to a press release.
The initiative includes resources to mass produce the masks for widespread consumer use as communities try to restore their economies after a lockdown that threw the U.S. into recession. The competition seeks designs that will address the main reasons people refuse to wear masks.
"We expect hundreds, perhaps thousands, of submissions," said Peter Diamandis, founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation. "We're then going to take the top 25 of those and find out [if] they're manufacturable. Once we determine their manufacturability, we're going to take the top 10 of those and go out to influencers" to gauge acceptance.
The eight-month challenge invites young innovators, ages 15 to 24, around the globe to submit ideas that can change people's perspectives about facial masks. A panel of judges and industry professionals will select the grand prize winner, along with two other teams in a shark-tank themed event, Diamandis explained.
"We want masks that are culturally cool to wear, that say something about you, that are functional and then, finally, we're going to be — besides testing whether they're functional with our partners, for example at Honeywell, do they provide protection — we're then going to a shark tank," to select winners, he said. "The goal here is a new generation, next-generation masks that people wear because they want to wear them, not because they're being forced to wear them."