Christina O’Dwyer CEO of Everywhere Medical says she is focused on developing the first leak proof ostomy appliance for the 10m people globally who rely on these appliances as a result of cancer, IBD, trauma and many illnesses treated through surgery.
You can contact Christina at firstname.lastname@example.org
How did you get the idea/ concept for Everywhere Medical?
There is widespread academic, clinical and industry research that accepts ostomy appliances fall short of the performance needed to ensure security and peace of mind for users. At Everywhere Medical we decided to look into this further and completed research across 11 countries and over 5000 users. We found that 90% of users worry about the security of their appliance and over 75% experience unpredictable weekly leakage which impacts their skin and therefore the ability to maintain a reliable seal. 65% reduce their participation in activity which leads to other health challenges. Once the research was complete there really was no option but to keep going.
Give a brief account of your education background.
I have a broad educational background starting with a Bachelor in Law, ScrumMaster certification and Masters qualifications spanning from Management to Business Continuity to Humanitarian Logistics.
Did you always know/ever think you would become an entrepreneur when you were younger?
I find I do best when I have the autonomy and responsibility to ensure the success of a project. I work well alongside my team and believe it’s important for people to fully own deliverables and be empowered to deliver them. The entrepreneurship route was inevitable for me but I certainly owe the confidence to take the jump to the experiences and mentorship that I have been afforded along the way.
Is entrepreneurship a common trait in your family?
A drive to contribute positively is one of the best traits of my family, in whatever form is needed. I have always listened to tales of entrepreneurial generations with a tint of romanticism so it is in our DNA somewhere.
Did you have prior knowledge of the industry before setting up your company?
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at 9 years of age and have had hospital stays along the way in excess of 6 months. This provided me with the opportunity to study this area in close quarters and become aware of the challenges for ostomates. These are a cohort of the strongest, most resilient people and I admire them immensely. Professionally, I have had exposure to medical device regulatory and operational procedures as well as quarterly reporting and performance management. This combination of experiences allow me to place the user at the center of the business and ensure all processes primarily work to support them.
What was your previous work experience (if any)? Do you think this gave you an advantage when setting up your business?
I have been lucky to work in a variety of roles across the business setting, from statistical and event forecasting, contract manufacturer management, strategic sourcing to ERP implementationprocess analysis and optimisation. These roles have exposed me to a variety of industries; finance, energy, agriculture, medical device, electronics and humanitarian. When you work in indigenous companies, startups, multinational companies and NGOs you become a strong communicator. I have also learned that success comes with understanding multifunctional priorities and roles to ensure the whole project moves together.
How did you initially fund your business? (self-funded, government funding, etc)
The initiative to date has been self-funded by founders. We were awarded the H2020 SME Phase 1 award scoring 14.2/15 on our first application. We are fundraising for €700,000 at the moment to complete our translational research of the prototype development phase. Until this phase is complete, we cannot approach Phase 2 of the H2020 so funding is critical to the continuation of the project.
Looking back, would you have changed the method of funding you chose?
Believing completely in the project is critical. I feel I can speak to every aspect of the initiative to promote it – I am very proud of that. I don’t believe this would be the same if we had prioritised the digital aspect first for funding as the critical issue of leakage for users would not be addressed.
What difficulties, if any, did you encounter when securing funding?
Ostomy care is particularly difficult to raise for, as it is not included in the remit of IBD and Cancer research despite it being a survivorship reality, and it is not a particularly sexy area for portfolios to highlight. However, it is a €4bn industry per annum.
Did you encounter any financial difficulties in the first year of operation? If yes, what did you do to surpass them?
We are a very lean operation. We utilise remote communication tools to our advantage to conduct most of our research online through interviews, focus groups and surveys. For me, the biggest challenge is needing finance upfront where the risk is. Failing fast does not work in medical device development and there is no minimum viable product when it comes to something like this. We are still working on this challenge. Strategic researching of potential funding avenues is essential. I can recommend Kingsley Aikins online fundraising course which really helped us structure, refine and focus our efforts very well.
What characteristics do you feel benefited you most when starting your business?
Optimism is one of my strongest traits. Having exposure to illness on a regular basis has both built perseverance and allows me to maintain perspective, compassion and drive. I really think companies should make it mandatory for employees to speak with users who depend on their product or service regularly. The ‘why’ is food for the soul.
To what do you attribute your company’s success/growth to?
We are an early stage start-up. I will come back to you in 5 years on this!
What is your opinion on the importance of a professional network for an entrepreneur?
It will cost fuel, time and a coffee to attend events but really the opportunity of chance from reaching out and asking for support far outweighs the cost. The WIBN and IIBN are focused on leverage and introductions and understand the currency of time and effort. I think finding a group, whatever it might be, that suits your initiative is one of the best investments an entrepreneur can make.
Do you think entrepreneurship has changed in recent years?
A small profitable company is as impressive as a MNC if it works with purpose, treats people well and has a sustainable approach. The pursuit of happiness is missed in the conversation a lot.
Would you ever consider starting another company or involving yourself in new start-ups again?
No doubt. I used to think not but now I understand more about what drives me. I could happily contribute to a start-up that I believed in. It wouldn’t have to be mine…. but I do like to have skin in the game.
If you had one piece of advice for a new entrepreneur, what would it be?
Back yourself. Read widely and listen.