First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Elikem Tettey-Tamaklo: We are all doing great, all things considered. It’s been a year of great loss, but also a chance to realign and one’s values and goals. For all of this, I am grateful.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Therapeutic Innovations.
Elikem Tettey-Tamaklo: My career started in Boston, in the healthcare space. I have always taken a keen interest in improving quality and access to healthcare for people, especially those underprivileged and underrepresented groups. During my time in college, I networked and worked with a group of ambitious, like-minded entrepreneurs, which would eventually lead to starting our company, Therapeutic Innovations (TI).
The company’s inception was inspired by a trip to Ghana, where our CEO and cofounder, Solomon, noticed the lack of affordable, quality respiratory devices available to preterm babies. Brainstorming ways to address this, he formed a team that is now Therapeutic Innovations.
Countless lives are lost yearly due to preventable diseases like infant respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), which plagues low to middle-income countries (LMICs) significantly more. Being one of the highest killers of preterm infants, RDS is a problem that needs urgent attention. Fortunately, RDS can be prevented by providing infants the necessary respiratory aid when they need it most. It is for this reason Therapeutic Innovation set out to build the AirBaby, a high quality, affordable respiratory assistant for preterm babies in LMICs.
How does Therapeutic Innovations innovate?
Elikem Tettey-Tamaklo: From the years we spent building this company, many lessons have been learned. One of the more profound ones is that innovation directly results from the quality of people one works with. The way TI innovates is by engaging the very rich perspectives of an interdisciplinary team that is goal-oriented and focused on solving the issue of access to medical devices and healthcare. By avoiding echo chambers, the team considers each person’s ideas as well as critiques. The need to create a working device for this market segment, combined with this rich perspective, provides the driving force for TI’s innovative approach.
Additionally, the company emphasizes the value of the consumer story. Market research and market validation studies have provided the necessary information to build a truly innovative product. Unlike our competitors that create devices for Western medical facilities and expect them to address the needs of LMICs, TI engages LMICs to determine their exact pain points.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Elikem Tettey-Tamaklo: The pandemic has definitely been a setback in many ways. It has not only affected the timelines of project releases but also impacted our customer validation studies by restricting movement. Additionally, it has been more difficult to conduct testing and continuous improvement studies as it is not always possible to be physically present. But the company is blessed to have a great team that is dedicated to problem-solving and adapting to uncertain situations. The team copes by relying on each other, as well as our extensive network of mentors and partners organization to navigate these murky waters.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Elikem Tettey-Tamaklo: Yes, many difficult choices needed to be made to adjust to this year. Operating extremely lean has never been more important than it was this year. Reducing overhead costs by getting rid of fringe expenses (even ones that we once deemed necessary) was instrumental in keeping the company afloat in these turbid times. Thankfully, the great people in this organization have played their part in these efforts, making those decisions less difficult. Out of the many lessons learned, it is important to be highly adaptable. Otherwise, you risk the possibility of obsolescence.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Therapeutic Innovations in the future?
Elikem Tettey-Tamaklo: Stress and anxiety are difficult and yet an unavoidable part of business and life. Rather than viewing these as a problem to be dealt with, I have often thought of ways to channel this energy into productive activities. When I start to feel stressed at work, I channel that energy into music, art, sports, and family time. A little time away from work can have a great effect on your psyche, pushing you to be more productive in the long term.
In the future, I project the TI family will grow much bigger, bringing on people not merely for talent but also character. There is no doubt we’ll continue to face challenges, but those challenges feel a little more bearable when you have the right people around.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Elikem Tettey-Tamaklo: Our competitors range from small and medium-sized companies such as Pumani, East Meets West Foundation (in partnership with General Electric) to large companies such as Philips Healthcare and Fisher & Paykel. Despite their varying products and price points, none of their devices seem to cater to the unique needs of LMICs and are still quite unaffordable. TI’s AirBaby respiratory device addresses most, if not all, the pain points of medical care in an emerging economy. With attention paid to transportability, modular assembly, inexpensive consumables, and the ability to interface with various power sources (AC from the grid, as well as DC from car batteries), the AirBaby device ensures that the key needs of the market are met, and at a price point far below the closest competitor.
Your final thoughts?
Elikem Tettey-Tamaklo: Access to healthcare still remains at the helm of TI’s business. By creating better quality, affordable medical devices that are tailored towards the needs of the market, TI is directly improving access to life-saving equipment. Equipment that people would otherwise not be able to afford. The hope is that TI grows in number and influence in order to provide more value to the people it aims most to serve.
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