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Inside the Patient Entrepreneur's Mind

Inside the Patient Entrepreneurs Mind: Johnnie Refvik

Entrepreneur Series Questions- Lyfebulb Entrepreneur Circle Program 2018 + Introduction

What motivated you to create a business addressing a disease you know so well?  

My journey with diabetes started in 2009 when my mother’s last request was for me to get a physical shortly after her last days of battling cancer. I had spent the last few months of her illness driving to upstate New York from Brooklyn as often as possible, fueling up with soda, coffee, and candy. I wasn’t sleeping enough and the effects from stress were obvious. A physical, I reasoned, would probably do me well, even though I expected a clean bill of health.

I had always known diabetes was in my future; I had part of my pancreas removed as a teen from a sporting accident. I just hadn’t expected to get the diagnosis so quickly and so young in my 30s. Nor did I expect that I would be handed a blood glucose testing kit and a two-page “instruction” pamphlet at the hospital and then released. I thought my life was over. I didn’t understand what was happening and why it was happening to me.

Feeling sad, frustrated and unhappy I found myself frequently calling my doctor to learn more about coping with the disease. Throughout the learning process, I did my own research, met with countless diabetics experiencing the same issue and continued trying multiple products at the local pharmacy. None of these items made life any easier! They were too bulky, they didn’t always give accurate readings and I felt all of them were too expensive.

That’s when The SugarCube came to life! 

What are some of the hurdles you perceive exist for people with your disease?

Being Type 1 diabetic I know firsthand the struggles that people go through daily.  The struggle is real, and it’s difficult. Especially at the beginning, right after your diagnosis. The lack of information some Primary Care Doctors give you about your disease is scary.  You are instructed on how to take insulin and monitor your BG and sent on your way.  It’s the lack of knowledge and information that really hurts people.  The information is out there, but once you are told you are diabetic or could be, you kind of go numb.  You need your physician/clinician, to kind of hold your hand in understanding this new way of life especially in changing your dietary needs, activities, and stress level. This is very important to all of us.

Who are some of your role models in your space?  

My role models are the people I meet day to day that struggle and survive the obstacles of dealing with diabetes. My inspiration are the people who are pushing themselves physically and emotionally to show the world diabetes will not stand in their way of progress and their goals.

What is your goal beyond creating a successful business?  

Success is measured upon how much you yourself feel confident and proud of. I work daily to achieve a small goal every day, even if it is just taking a light jog during the winter in NY. It seems hard, but it is all about what you allow your mind and body to do. Business is the same, you do something small every day, have a strategy, attach your strategy to your passion and success is endless. I strive for my fellow diabetics to live longer and live happier.  I want to be able to help diabetics truly manage their condition through technology. Having a glucometer, insulin, supplies, a journal, and two big kits isn’t the way to do it anymore.  We need a change, and we plan to help with that.

What does Lyfebulb mean to you? How can we support you better? What are some of the biggest gaps today for a “young” entrepreneur?

To me, Lyfebulb is a group of likeminded individuals who share a common goal.  It’s a place to further develop the unmet needs of the medical space. Lyfebulb is a place that promotes innovation from the ground up.  Having platforms like Lyfebulb allows innovators to innovate. I am a member because inspiration helps drive me forward.

We are in hopes that our partnership with Lyfebulb will open up additional doors in terms of networking and partnerships. We love building on the foundation of our networks.  Looking to navigate the medical and financial niches in NYC alone is like looking for a unicorn.

I think some of the biggest gaps for a young Entrepreneur are networks and getting your voice heard.  Without an advocate supporting you it’s hard to make it beyond the idea phase.

How do you stay healthy and motivated to deliver?

I quickly learned the potential downfalls and complications with not managing my BG daily.   When I was diagnosed, my A1C was over 13.  My eyes and feet were tingly and it scared me.  I quickly changed my diet, started exercising and did ample research on what diabetes actually means. After 6 months I was down to an A1C of 6.2 and have maintained that level to present day.  I’m not going to lie, I am a little OCD with my glucose readings. I actually started to make it a game for myself, to have a better reading than the day before. This is one key component to The SugarCube App, allowing yourself to see yourself be better each day/week/month and get rewarded.  

My motivation comes in a variety of forms.  I have family members and friends with diabetes.  Wanting to provide them a way to live healthier lives has always been on the top of my list.  That drives me to jump head first into development.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Having the ability to work with mentors/advisors over the years have added great value not only to our start up, but personally as well.  I think looking at things from others perspective is key. I’ve been fortunate to have great mentors who were willing to take a chance on me and provide opportunities for growth. They have not just taught me what is important both personally and professionally; they have also given me several opportunities to shine. I know that I wouldn’t be in the position I am today if it weren’t for the impact and guidance of my mentors.

How can we draw more attention to user-driven innovation?  

That’s the question of the day. By getting the user to be involved with development. It’s much more effective if the user feels like you are listening to there needs.

How do you maintain work/life balance?

Balance?  What balance?  LOL…  Just kidding. Honestly, I’m a workaholic who must constantly remember that there is a great big beautiful world out there just waiting for me to engage with, so a regimen is in need. My day to day schedule starts with my morning breakfast (I love to cook), reading the news (mostly about the new tech coming out or inspirational stories), begin my work day-plugging away, hit the gym, back home to have dinner with my wife and discuss the craziness that transpired that day. Before bed I practice a light meditation and then prep for my next day. Sticking to a regimen is the best way to balance work and life, also having a solid structure of family and friends keeps you balanced.

If you had three wishes, what would they be?

I am about to have my first child, a little girl, and I wish and pray is she is born healthy and strong and grows up to be a beautiful and magnificent human being. (this maybe a 2 for 1)!

That my mother was still alive, to be here to see my progress with The SugarCube.  I know she would be very proud.   A day doesn’t go by where I don’t miss her.

It breaks my heart to watch children with diabetes, I wish to find a cure for them.

What is your favorite song that gets you motivated?

There are so many. I guess

#1 would be: “Am I wrong” – Nico & Vinz

Even though my wife laughs at me when I play it.  It still moves my soul.   


#InsidethePatientEntrepreneursMind is a weekly blog series that highlights members of Lyfebulb’s Patient-Entrepreneur Circle. The Entrepreneur Circle is an educational and inspirational platform for all people living with, or affected by chronic disease. Existing entrepreneurs will be available to educate new dreamers through the website and through live events. Check out last week’s featuring Sigurjón Lýðsson. To read more or to apply to join the Entrepreneur Circle click here.

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