As a friend and mentor of ours once said, “In order to succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to fall in love with the problem, not your solution.”
Put in context, for anyone building a business, especially a “disruptive” one, it is easy to lose sight of the true nature of the problem that we are addressing. In the world of business competitions, fundraising rounds, and development deadlines, the danger lies in becoming too infatuated with our solution – our “secret sauce.” How often do companies fail because they overlook certain User Need ‘X’ or forget to account for Functional Requirement ‘Y’? How often do companies shy away from a necessary pivot in their development process due to cost or time constraints? What percent of these products never make it to market or worse, are recalled due to flaws?
Over the past two months, we have had the opportunity to take time and revisit the clinical problem behind our solution by partaking in the intrepid I-Corps Program through the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago.
First and foremost, the program provided us with a time-tested, reliable framework for building a business model. By asking ourselves key questions such as What is the Problem we are addressing? What are our Customer Segments? Who are our key influencers? and more, we allowed ourselves the time to go back to the basics in structuring our business model.
The second concrete benefit of the program was that it allowed us to take a couple trips to rediscover the core of our problem. First was to the Acute Kidney Injury and Continuous Renal Replacement Therapy (AKI/CRRT) Conference in San Diego. Filled with nephrologists and other renal experts, this conference represents the culmination of a year of research on AKI, renal replacement therapy, and contingent clinical topics. Second was the Society of Critical Care Medicine Congress in Orlando. Many times the size of the more niche AKI/CRRT, the SCCM represents the latest developments and hot topics in the care of critically ill patients.
These conferences provided us the opportunity to realign our mission and envisioned product with the problem of manual methods of Urine Output measurement. We took the time to speak with physicians and researchers to confirm our core principles and also gauge where the greatest opportunities for impact lie. Through these discussions it became clear that effective clinical care requires an amalgamation of various data points. For renal care and AKI diagnosis, these data points include urinary biomarkers in real-time, instant readings of serum markers, and robust urine output measurements, among others.
Additionally, much of the research that was presented at these conferences directly or indirectly emphasized the necessity of innovative tools and collaborative protocols for more timely diagnoses and interventions and also the importance of “big data” which will serve as a focal point for meeting increasingly high standards of medicine.
Another component of our core problem is the feasibility of such a device in the ICU. At first glance, developing an automated solution to UO measurements might appear to be a breeze. However, no solutions could be termed a success to date. Why is this the case? To start, UO can be a tricky thing to measure. The variation of flow rates is immense which prevents many types of technical solutions from performing well. Furthermore, urine is non-homogenous, especially in the critical care patient population. Hematuria and hyper/hypovolemia, for example, can significantly alter the constitution of urine. An ideal device solves these problems, while remaining low-profile in the often-crowded ICU. A device cannot create an interruption to the normal workflow, but rather it should help enhance it. These essential issues, among others, were enumerated to us in person and continue to be key design considerations moving forward.
Looking back on our experience with the I-Corps program, one of the largest lessons of emphasis is that successful innovation derives from truly adequately-addressed problems and needs. For us, the problem at hand is that current UO measurement and AKI diagnostic methods are not acceptable, and past devices have failed to address the challenges of developing such a device. By jumping at the chance to speak with experts in these fields of AKI and critical care medicine, we have strengthened our value proposition and made some great connections along the way. And if these two conferences are any indication of things to come, then the state of innovation in healthcare is strong.