When necessity truly is the mother of invention
The idea for a new business can be sparked by any number of things, but one of the most powerful triggers is finding a gap in the market through personal experience. Those driven to starting a business in these circumstances generally do so with a sense of urgency and considerable insight into how the gap needs to be filled.
It was the experience of being rushed to hospital in a diabetic coma that convinced John Hughes that there had to be a better way of keeping tabs on his insulin injections than the traditional method of recording each jab in a notebook.
“I need insulin several times a day, and sometimes you forget to record it and you inject again. That’s potentially very angerous and something diabetics live in constant fear of,” he says. “I’ve spent my working life in IT and it seemed logical that there should be an IT solution to this problem.”
Hughes collaborated with colleague William Cirillo and diabetic consultant Dr Brendan Kinsley of Dublin’s Mater hospital to develop InsulCheck, a small timer device that attaches to the pen used to inject insulin.
“The key was that it had to be automatic, otherwise it wouldn’t be any better than manual recording,” Hughes says. “With our device, the timer automatically starts when the injection is finished. It provides safety and certainty, and the feedback from the diabetic community has been phenomenal, even though the product has only been available for a few months.
“We are constantly getting emails from people telling us how much having this product means to them – it’s a huge weight off their minds.
“What helped us hit the spot from the outset is that I came to the project with an insider’s knowledge of diabetes and, with the help of Dr Kinsley, we were able to decide what sort of functionality the pen needed and to offer that immediately.
“What makes InsulCheck different to the other business start-ups I’ve been involved with is that, this time, I feel I’m a flag carrier in terms of trying to make life easier for those with diabetes.”
Having inside knowledge can be a big advantage as it allows entrepreneurs cut to the chase in terms of product design and development. However, it can also pile on the pressure to succeed.
Stroke at 50
When Aviva Cohen’s husband had a stroke at the age of 50, his ability to communicate was badly affected. Determined to help him, Cohen began researching what self-help tools were available. She quickly discovered they were limited, expensive and mainly aimed at children. The only option was to develop her own.
Cohen set up Neuro Hero in 2011 and is developing speech-rehabilitation programmes that will help not only those with a stroke, but also acquired brain injury, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
One of the more difficult commercial challenges she faces is balancing the development of a viable business with a desire to keep the cost of her products down. She says money is often very tight in families caring for someone with a long-term health problem.