From Idea to Awards
If Jessica Walsh is stung by a bee while jogging, she has about five minutes before anaphylactic shock sets in and her airway starts to close. She knows she should carry her EpiPen, but its eight-inch-long case doesn’t fit in any of her pockets.
She went on social media to find out what other runners were doing. “There was this huge groundswell of patient frustration, about the price, it’s so cumbersome. I found that moms are fighting with their kids about carrying it,” she said in an interview.
The inventor knows she is not the only person who leaves her EpiPen at home. According to her research, one out of every three children with anaphylaxis is bullied over their allergies and 40 million anaphylaxis sufferers do not carry epinephrine.
Not only is the EpiPen bulky, but Walsh also finds it confusing for the uninformed user; the end that looks like it holds the needle is not the end that holds the needle.
So in 2014, she started a company, RxBandz, in order to develop a more portable, less obtrusive solution.
That solution, the MiniJect, recently won the International Life Sciences Innovation award at the Redefining Early Stage Investments conference held in Vienna, Austria.
So, how do you take a company from idea to awards?
Sheer Dogged Determination
Walsh’s mother says her daughter has always been a leader. In elementary school, Jessica decided the Pee Wee football team should have cheerleaders. “In two weeks, there were cheerleaders,” Mrs. Walsh said. Jessica gathered her friends for a team and found a cheer coach. She went to the local sports shop and bought matching green sweatshirts for the squad. Mrs. Walsh found a pattern and sewed the girls’ twelve-gore white skirts. The team exists to this day.
Walsh discusses the technical, developmental and pharmaceutical details of autoinjectors like a medical professional, but in fact, her background lies in telecommunications project management. She has learned about medical devices from the experts on her team.
She’s also a single mother of two boys, and when she started researching the product she was still working full-time.
“If you really want to accomplish something, if you put your mind to it, you can pretty much accomplish anything,” Walsh said.
Surround Yourself with Experts and Trust Them
When she decided to create a new drug delivery device, Walsh started by Googling “Who makes the best autoinjectors?” She wound up using Google Translate to try to speak to Danish manufacturers, all of whom of course spoke perfect English.
“People always say the reasons why you can’t make the dream come true. One of the reasons was manufacturing. They said, ‘you’ll never be able to manufacture this, this is so difficult,” Walsh said. “So I figured out manufacturing.” The Danes were coming to New York for a conference; Walsh was able to meet with them and get their advice.
She brought in her first engineer for a bit of equity, who got RxBandz started with its initial design.
Walsh sought out specialists in all stages of device development and brought them onto her team. She works with allergists, engineers, manufacturing and licensing professionals from all over the United States. “Finding an epinephrine expert was like the point of the needle in the haystack,” she said. Her team is so experienced that they were able to write the company’s Federal Drug Administration application themselves, instead of paying a consultant hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“You can’t do everything yourself,” Walsh said; you need to find experts who will fill the holes in your knowledge.
Be Resilient to Setbacks
Walsh’s advice to budding entrepreneurs: “Nothing goes the way you expect it to go…. Be open to revising your design and be open to advice.”
Their initial design won RxBandz two grants from the New England Pediatric Device Consortium, but NEPDC then advised them to go back to the drawing board. RxBandz had to re-engineer the device almost back to the beginning. It was a challenging time for Walsh, a time she calls “the pivot.” Ultimately, she’s grateful for NEPDC’s advice, as the new design is smaller and easier to use.
They were able to use some of the technology from the first design in the second iteration, but at the time, Walsh was anxious. The initial design had been her vision and she had to let go of that part of her dream. She is thrilled with the new design: it’s more intuitive and has more portability options. Not only was the pivot the right move, but having to re-think everything and bring fresh eyes to the design improved the product.
RxBandz is currently raising funds to create prototypes to submit to the Federal Drug Administration for testing in an expedited approval process.
Walsh is hopeful that a two-pack of injectors loaded with epinephrine will retail under $200 (without insurance). The team is talking to pharmaceutical companies about licensing the technology. She envisions other drugs being delivered via the MiniJect, such as naloxone or insulin.
“It has the potential to help a lot of people,” Walsh said.