Nowadays, everyone can be an entrepreneur; it seems like the ability to develop a business has been dramatically democratized over the past years. That said, some industries are much harder to crack into, and the field of medicine is most certainly one of them. In their early twenties, buddies-turned-business partners Rick Arlow and Zach Bloom have created a more efficient and faster method to open airways for individuals in an emergency situation. The 60-seconds-or-less procedure, with a product design based on that of viper’s fang, has the potential to save lives and provide a vital alternative anywhere outside of the operating room. Now, the two Lehigh graduates are embarking on yet another journey as they try to get the medical community onboard and to raise the necessary funds to introduce their product into the marketplace.
An entrepreneur is someone who sees something missing in society and does something to fill that gap. What was missing when you started LifeServe Innovations?
Rick: The main driving force behind Lifeserve was a clear lack of confidence in regards to surgical management in an emergency setting. Around 70% of those procedures that occur in the pre-hospital field lead to complications for the patient.
Zach: Exactly. There were no strong designs for people who are using these products and who aren’t specialist surgeons. Our goal was always to generate good ergonomics for end-users.
LifeServe truly is a mix of business, academic research, and practical medicine. How do you walk the line between your objective and being profitable?
Rick: At the end of the day, I think that any business has to be economically sound. With medicine, it’s pretty hard to get an innovative product on the market. The process is very complex.
Rick: You obtain some leeway if you can really prove that your product or procedure has value or benefit to it. When that’s done, you can raise funding to bring it out through different grants that are available. Finally, the product has to be mass-produced and delivered so that hospitals can purchase it.
Most of our readers probably have limited knowledge when it comes to medical care. Please explain in the simplest terms what SMART airways are.
Zach: Essentially, there are two different surgical airway procedures: one that is conducted in a non-emergency setting – which is harder – and another conducted in an emergency-setting – which is easier but with high rates of complications. We wondered, “How can we transfer this non-emergency procedure that is only conducted by a handful of surgical experts into an easier process that more people can have access to in an emergency setting, where patients need it the most?” We’ve made the emergency kit better and directly applicable.
What makes it better and different?
Rick: This has been the culmination of many cycles of innovation in order to obtain the correct procedural aspect of the device. We started by reducing the number of components and the amount of steps on the kit, and conducted studies tovi figure out the relevant anatomy of the population at large, so that the airway will fit better into the necks of more individuals.
Zach: It all gets down to one basic idea: developing a device based on the design of a viper’s fang that would open airways in 60 seconds or less under non-ideal conditions: outside of operating rooms, on battlefields, in the back of a helicopter, in the emergency room, or in an ICU setting. In addition to saving the patients, we want to ensure that they have a higher quality of life after the procedure.
You were able to raise $100,000 in grants and prizes from business plan competitions and you have a bunch of partners working with you. How did that work?
Zach: As of now, we don’t have a product being sold on the market. Our one concern is to expose individuals who might be able to work with us to what we’re doing and build relationships with investors, manufacturing partners, and advisors. We go to conferences and industry networking events, which has worked to our advantage so far.
Rich: We’ve had good responses, but we learn the most from the bad ones; if someone tells us that this one feature doesn’t work, that’s extremely valuable. Being a young entrepreneur, you have to be really open to the advice of others. We’ve gotten this far because of our tenacity, dedication, and willingness to listen – and that’s exactly what we’re going to keep on doing.
It might sound generic, but what keeps you going? This process sounds so complex, so where does the drive to succeed come from?
Zach: Caffeine! [laughs] What keeps me going is the prospect of fulfilling my own personal aspirations and the thrill that I get when I wake up in the morning and develop my own company. I know it will be tremendously successful in the long run, and that we’re doing things that are worthy of time and effort. We truly are improving the quality of people’s lives.
Rick: Personally, after doing this for so long, I feel connected to the product and the idea behind it. It’s been – and still is – an extraordinary learning experience, and it allows me to constantly better myself to prepare for the even larger products I want to do develop after this.
What can we look forward to in the future? What are your hopes for LifeServe?
Zach: Our main goal foremost is funding – realistically, you need half a million dollars to get a product like this on the marketplace, and it’ll take more money to commercialize it. We also will be challenged to convince the medical community that our product is one of quality. If you ask me, that process is even more difficult. [laughs] You have to defend all of your claims in front of academics.
How can our readers contribute to your success?
Rick: We want to find individuals with specialty knowledge to serve as advisors for us. If potential investors are interested, we’d also like to hear from them. Additionally, a lot of what we’re doing is trying to raise government funding, which requires building credibility – so make sure to spread the word and participate in this mini-revolution!