Managing a chronic illness is challenging, whether it is your own or a loved one’s. Starting and running a business also poses unique challenges. If you struggle with a chronic illness, have started a business, or want to start a business, this blog series can help guide you. “Inside the Patient Entrepreneur’s Mind” offers key insights into chronic disease and mission-driven entrepreneurship by some of the most innovative patient entrepreneurs in the world.
John Wilcox is the CEO & Co-Founder of Diatech Diabetic Technologies, Inc.
As a patient entrepreneur, can you describe your personal experience with diabetes from diagnosis through your current daily management and how this experience drove you to innovate the space?
In 2005, I was diagnosed on my ninth birthday. I figured the only way to come out on top was to make it a positive experience. Growing up, I really identified with the disease and now use it as an opportunity to empathize with others with chronic disease. I wanted to go to medical school, and still might, but this opportunity came up in college to develop intellectual property—what is SmartFusion today.
I took on the business full-time post college graduation of May 2019. My diagnosis gives me a leg up on how to develop technology to help diabetes patients. As a collective community, we can appreciate when someone with a disease can relate to us and effectively create change. My condition is something that I can share and allows me to connect to people and understand how other people are struggling—it is one of the best gifts that I could ever ask for. I don’t know what I would do with my career without this diagnosis because it has turned into a passion to help others and a lesson on how to make the best of situations.
What makes SmartFusion unique and how does it meet an unmet need of the diabetes community?
SmartFusion is a new infusion set that can more accurately tell you if insulin delivery is actually getting into your body. SmartFusion is unique in the fact that it helps patients understand if they are getting insulin. Insulin pumps on the market right now are not really meeting the standard of being able to tell patient users if their insulin delivery is effectively working. We noticed the issue of infusion set insulin delivery failures where pumps can have issues with insulin delivery efficacy.
Personally, I have had issues going into DKA because of insulin mis-delivery. I went to an endocrinologist in college who blamed me for poor A1C control rather than it being a technology/pump failure. I want to provide technology that can deliver alerts before hyperglycemia because it happened to me and it is very dangerous. Fixing this unmet need of pump reliability can take one thing off the list of what patients and caregivers go through regarding issues with diabetes care.
Are there any other unmet needs of the diabetes community that you think take priority in working to address? How are patient entrepreneurs well-suited to meet these needs?
In the future, I would love to focus on software for pumps. There has been great work on hardware that is safe and effective for patients with diabetes but a real gamechanger could be software that pairs any type of CGM with any type of pump. The diabetes “hacker” community is already pairing their own CGMs with pumps but are not following standards of the industry.
Additionally, there is a lot that needs to be addressed in education, especially how to learn to effectively use diabetes technology for parents of children with the disease.
Where do you draw your inspiration and motivation from to keep forging ahead as an entrepreneur in the healthcare industry?
My inspiration and motivation comes from talking to people who have the condition. I want to make sure the diabetes community is affected and impacted in a positive way. Stories from patients about issues with diabetes care like insulin mis-delivery keep me up at night.
Lastly, what do you do for fun to manage the stress of running a business as both a person with t1d and an entrepreneur? Do you have any similar advice on work-life-disease management balance to others out there thinking of starting a business to meet an unmet need of a chronic disease patient community?
I love to run whenever I can and I find it a very clearing activity. My goal is to run the Boston marathon for the JDRF. In terms of advice for other patient entrepreneurs, we have a disease that can help connect us to other people that have the same chronic illness. However, each patient story is unique so taking the time to recognize that is important. For example, my parents helped me get appropriate care at a young age by providing insurance coverage. How dare I compare my journey to patients I meet now, who are in their twenties, who are still without coverage to get insulin. In a nutshell, know that your story is unique and craft a connection to fellow patients based on that fact.