Let’s start with hearing a bit about your background, how did you end up here?
I was in mechanical engineering all through school. I was at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for two years and was about to graduate with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. I thought I would go to General Motors where I was interning during my summers, but then I took a class in medical design out of which spun the idea of wound care. I think that this medical design class really opened up the opportunity to further pursue this idea. I used to want to be a medical doctor but I realized I actually don’t like blood. So I began to think about other ways I can be involved in medical care. I had also never been to a developing country before, and was interested in exploring the developing world and Haiti, which is where I first tested the product. Before this experience I had no clue about what poverty actually was.
What drew you to mechanical engineering?
I liked math and physics in high school. I remember my physics teacher in high school very well. He said I could become a physicist on an underground particle accelerator in France. But that did not sound that appealing to me so I began to look into mechanical engineering which also involves physics and math. I went to Penn State undergrad. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and at Penn State I owned a bicycle messenger business. I’ve always enjoyed entrepreneurship and I took a lot of entrepreneurship classes while at Penn State. When I had to graduate, I looked for a job and for grad school opportunities. I applied and got into MIT and received a fellowship in mechanical engineering.
I took Alex Solcum’s medical design class sponsored by Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT) under Mass General Hospital (MGH). How the class works is that MGH gets thirty doctors to pitch their medical device ideas to the class and each student gets to work with whichever product they want to using a $5,000 budget. And so after taking that class, I went to Alex’s lab and told him I was interested in continuing with that wound device. He suggested that he should be my advisor, so I switched my lab. Once I started working on medical devices I realized I wanted to stay and found the passion that everyone else at MIT had. So I stayed for my PhD.
I started a new project at the Children’s Hospital where I was designing technologies for MRI and cardiac implants, and was doing the wound pump on the side. At first I would wear the device around for three days to try and get the device to work on my body.
So how did WiCare evolve out of this wound device?
There was a doctor from Harvard Medical School who worked in Rwanda, Dr. Riviello. He worked in Rwanda, where 70 – 90 % of their wards are wound care. He said we could really empty these wards and make more room for surgery if we had negative pressure. He got connected with me, and within a month we had it on a patient in Rwanda. He put it on a man who would lose his leg if the device didn’t work. It worked and we felt like it was a miracle! We got a grant almost immediately to do a trial in Rwanda. There was a lot of buzz because of this successful case.
Three months later Haiti was hit by that devastating earthquake. Three million electrical devices were donated, but Haiti didn’t have widespread electricity access. We got 400 devices donated, and we formed a team of four clinicians, and were down there about one and a half months after the earthquake hit.
We treated about 300 patients with wound care and about six with my device. Because of certain restrictions we could not put it on infections. What we found is that with our six patients, within our two-week deployment, they were transferred out of the hospital.
It was an opportune time to switch my PhD project so I applied for a fellowship. Once I got to Rwanda, we were really able to design on the ground with the local clinicians. We were in the actual environment and that really made us able to design our product to fulfill all their needs. I see a lot of these projects where a university will send something to a developing country to see if it works, and normally there are things wrong and it never fits completely into the system. I really feel that developing countries can use our product because we overcame a lot of barriers by designing this product on the ground.
Nine months after switching to the wound care product I graduated the PhD program. Upon graduation, I launched WiCare. I received a Camtech award through MGH and was granted $100,000 for an innovation award to do a trial in Africa. That gave me the funding to pursue manufacturing.
What were some milestones for you along the way of starting your business?
One milestone was meeting Jim. He came from corporate America and really cares about the patients. He stuck with me and helped me along the way with marketing and business strategy. He’s a business partner on the commercialization side of things. He’s always been a consultant, full time.
Another milestone was meeting an investor who was ready to support our work. I actually met her a while before she started investing. And then I reconnected with her at one point in Boston, and she was so interested in the company, and things fell into place. I happened to run into her at the right time.
What are some of your next steps?
The FDA approval – we plan on submitting our 510K and getting our FDA approval this fall. We also plan on getting the CEMark, which is the European approval, so we can sell both in the U.S. and Europe. We plan on launching in the U.S. first. Europe is more difficult because of the different regulatory laws, so we do not want to enter Europe until we are more established.
Once we get that, we will be able to submit for regulatory approval in India, Brazil, and countries in East Africa. Most countries require at-home FDA approval before you submit to their countries.
Can you tell me more about your U.S. launch?
We are looking to launch in five metropolitan areas that really drive wound care. I think that the home care and nursing home market is where we will see the largest uptake because the portability and lack of noise of our device really go well with what that markets’ needs are. So we plan on doing that first and ramping up from there. We also need to focus on raising money. We have enough interest that would fill about half of our goal. We are looking to raise $2.5 - $3 million.
How would you describe your long term vision for WiCare?
We are looking to have a company that spans three different areas – wound care, surgical instruments, and maternal care. We really want to be the company that is providing affordable care options in those sectors. We are not necessarily looking to invent new technologies, rather we are looking to bringing these technologies to markets that previously did not have access to them. We are looking to span both developing and developed markets. This may require a few design changes but it will never sacrifice the quality and level of care.
We are also looking to work with local manufacturing distribution cells in these local markets to provide an economic benefit to these countries. This allows for them to have a local interest and therefore more of a collaboration with us.
In the long term, we want to increase global access to care. Medical education has come a long way in these countries. You see a lot of trained surgeons in these contexts, but they don’t have the tools needed to provide care. We want to provide the tools in a sustainable and affordable way directly to their hands. We also want to drive down healthcare costs globally, which is a greater challenge.
Who is your favorite entrepreneur?
I really admire people like Dr. Sheraton, who originally came to the class with the idea for negative pressure, from Honduras. Looking at him in general – the ability to work in these countries and come to the U.S., and the ability to see what technologies are needed – this takes a very creative mind and that is very inspiring to me.
Dr. Riviello and Dr. Gita Mody who ran the clinical trials in Haiti were also huge inspirations to me. I have never seen a harder working or more motivated group. Those types of people – medical doctors that really understand innovation are really the people and doctors that I want to work with.
Also, the D-Lab at MIT is filled with so many people doing intersectional work. Personally I’ve been most affected by the doctors I work with.
What drew you to the Social Innovation Forum?
I like the focus on social for-profit enterprises. You don’t often see that. I also like that SIF is fulfilling the need of a later stage company. I think that those two things for accelerators are very niche and important. I think that the mentoring system also ensures that the needs of the entrepreneur can be met.