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Inside the Patient Entrepreneur’s Mind: John Wilcox

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 John Wilcox 5k racerun 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.

 

 

Inside the Patient Entrepreneur’s Mind: Gitte Pedersen

 

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

My parents got diagnosed with lung cancer and I knew if we followed standard of care they were facing an evidenced based death. Understanding genomics and cancer made my brother and I believe that there were better options looking into clinical trials for eg immune therapies. The question became which trial and due to the 1000 of trials available it was overwhelming. We also understood that cancer is a very heterogeneous diseases thus we needed a tool that could identify the unique features in the tumor that could be interrogated by drugs either approved or in development. We developed that tool, and named it OneRNA™ unfortunately not in time for our parents to benefit from it, however we have 2 newly diagnosed cancer patients in the family so the next generation is benefitting.

 

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

It is overwhelming and difficult to navigate various treatment options without an effective tool which can reduce the number of options to something more manageable e.g. OneRNA™ typically identifies 5 already approved drugs and shortlist 30 clinical trials. By combining various liquid biopsy strategies after treatment selection it is now possible to quickly find out of you benefit from a treatment and with more than 1 option and the potential of combining drugs e.g. a tumor antigen with a checkpoint inhibitor, the treatment can be completely personalized to the patient.

 

Who are some of your role models in your space?

I believe that Foundation Medicine is a 1.0 version of this idea. I also believe that Genomic Health is a 0.5 version demonstrating the utility of RNA in treatment selection in breast cancer more specifically avoiding chemo when its not necessary. OneRNA™ is a 2.0 version c combining those strategies into one product.

 

What is your goal beyond creating a successful business?

The “standard of care” paradigm must change in oncology to a completely “personalized  treatment” paradigm, and my personal goal is to provide THE platfrom that enables this shift. We will not cure cancer by continuing developing drugs that only work in 20% of the patients and subjecting the other 80% to harsh and sometimes deadly side effects with no benefits, to me that is barbaric and unnecessary. My ultimate bottom line is make cancer a chronic manageable disease that you survive by choosing the right treatment.

 

What does being a patient entrepreneur mean to you?

It means that you are personally invested in the success of your technology in solving a significant medical problem. It also means that you are not going to give up even facing significant hurdles such as a payer system that in general overpay for drugs and under pay for diagnostics. We are innovating outside the lab in how we address those hurdles developing novel business models.

 

How do you stay healthy and motivated to deliver?

I read an amazing amount of literature every week and I am very knowledgeable about how to eat healthy and live healthy. I done that for my whole life. My parents did not have that knowledge and they made some very poor decisions early in their lives (smoking). Their life was shortened and more importantly the quality of life in their last decade was reduced because of those choices. I saw their decline and I made a conscious decision to live a healthy and long life: I exercise every day. I am a true believer in data and love my Apple health app. I also love Chronometer to monitor the quality of my food intake. You can’t cheat when the data is there.

 

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

I was fortunate to have a great mentor while working for Novo Nordisk. He encouraged me to read “A road less travelled”, in short enjoy the trip rather than focus on the arrival. I believe my parents instilled in me a great sense of purpose and the belief that I could accomplish what I wanted. They both played a very significant role. I have great investors that I get feedback from on a regular basis, same situation with by board in addition to a mentor who works with the North Shore InnoVenture – our incubator. The latter is a great independant voice.

 

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

Create personal success stories and get media coverage. That is already part of our media plan. The problem does get more real than when its your problem.

 

How do you maintain work/life balance?

I had days where I worked for 24 hrs (not healthy) but I did it because it was important for me to wake up with my kids in the morning. I sign out after 6 pm most days. If I need to go back its after my family goes to bed. I also work early in the day in the weekends and I stop when the family wakes up. I love my family, my time with them is very precious.

 

What is your favorite song that gets you motivated?

Nina Simone, Feeling Good

 

What are some of your favorite social activities?

I love cooking and eating dinner with friends and my family. I also love traveling, skiing and surfing with friends and family.

What three things would you take if stranded on an island?

My iPhone  with solar charger, a bikini and sun screen

 

Personal/Company Twitter handle: @dnabarcode

Inside the Patient Entrepreneurs Mind: Dana Donofree

Having a chronic illness can be challenging, and running your own business can be hard. No matter where you fit on the spectrum, we could all use a little motivation.  Our #InsidethePatientEntrepreneursMind blog series gives you insight and lifehacks on how to stay motivated from some of the most innovative patient entrepreneurs in the world.

Dana Donofree is the Founder, CEO and Head Designer of AnaOno, a lingerie & loungewear line created specifically for those who’ve been affected by breast cancer and its related surgeries.

Dana sat down with Lyfebulb to tell us how she started the collection after being diagnosed with Infiltrative Ductal Carcinoma. Dana had a bilateral mastectomy with implant reconstruction. She was underwhelmed by the bra options for women in this category and devoted her recovery and career to creating a line that was functional and fashionable.

What motivated you to create a business addressing a disease you know so well?
Being a patient isn’t easy. But it’s not because of the doctor appointments, or the life disruption, or how to manage your loved ones, it’s because all you want is to feel like the person you were before it was interrupted. That is the part no one tells you about or explains how it will affect you on levels outside of the pain, sadness, or struggle you go through…it isn’t just physical, it’s incredibly mental. When I found myself lost, confused, and having no way to find the answers, the diagnosis started dictating parts of life that were never expected, like how I felt about myself, or how I wanted to express my individuality. It was then I woke up and realized I may not be the only facing these challenges. That I may not be alone. I needed to do something about it. For me, that was taking my experience, my background, and my talents and putting them to use. That guided me to launch AnaOno. I wanted to feel beautiful, I wanted to feel sexy, and pretty and it started with my foundation. The act of simply getting dressed in the morning became my most feared task of the day, that didn’t happen before my cancer.

What are some of the hurdles you perceive exist for people with your disease?
People hear breast cancer, they see Pink. Pink shows pretty, femininity, lightness. There is nothing about breast cancer that represents these words that pink is so easily associated with. There is destruction and darkness. These are the realities, they are not pink. They are not something to celebrate. I was diagnosed at 27 years old, my life was just beginning, the pink shower that fell upon me was completely unrelatable. Living as a patient is my reality. I have to constantly face the marketing reality that has been presented to everyone else, that is an everyday struggle.

Who are some of your role models in your space?
My role models are the mothers, sisters, friends, aunts, coworkers that are diagnosed every day. It isn’t our grandmother’s (or grandfather’s) disease anymore. Breast cancer does not discriminate. And although I am facing my 8th year as a patient advocate, I see too many friends and loved ones facing a new diagnosis. They give me strength, remembrance and hope that we will conquer this disease, but we cannot accept what has been done in the past, and we must pave our own path to ensure our future is a world in which we get one more day with the ones we love.

What is your goal beyond creating a successful business?
AnaOno is not just about selling bras. Yes, we sell bras, but it is more than that. It’s a community, a support system that you can rely on for important, tangible information. I don’t want anyone diagnosed with breast cancer to feel alone; that extends itself beyond providing solutions for your treatment, it’s about supporting and holding each other up when we feel like falling. AnaOno can help strengthen that community.

What does Lyfebulb mean to you? How can we support you better? what are some of the biggest gaps today for a “young” entrepreneur?
For Lyfebulb to take a focus on chronic disease, by not only supporting the patients living with it every day but supporting those that have the skills and background to help make a difference, is an important piece of development in our community. Like living day-to-day doesn’t challenge enough, taking the extra step to make those days just a little easier is the path many of us take after facing these unique challenges. I am so proud to be a part of the Lyfebulb family, so I can not only have their support but I can support others taking the path less traveled and adding on the challenge of launching a new business!

How do you stay healthy and motivated to deliver?
Staying healthy is always something I strive for but feel I often fall short. I know life is short. I want to make sure my body is treated in the best way possible, medical side effects can really take hold. Then add on top of that launching a business. I have to give myself time to unwind whenever possible. It may be dinner with my friends, it may be a moment of meditation or a walk through the park. Just a moment to let my mind rest, while my body may be tired. I hope to find my path to mental clarity on a daily basis. That is something I will always have to prioritize in my life.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
As a “young” entrepreneur, I know a lot, but I don’t know everything. Being open to criticism and feedback, using it to become stronger is very important in both personal and professional growth. It is also good to celebrate the wins or accomplishments. Great mentors will be there to celebrate with you!

How can we draw more attention to user-driven innovation?
Starting your own business, or inventing your own solution can be overwhelming, not to mention scary. Especially when you may not have all the skill sets needed, but I do believe with passion you can achieve anything you put your mind to. By telling stories of other entrepreneurs, who have launched their businesses, I can learn more through real voices and challenges. It also helps you to feel not so alone. It’s beneficial to hear the good, the bad and the ugly… because we all have those moments.

How do you maintain work/life balance?
Maintaining a work/life balance is hard when your work is your life. It may sound crazy, but I love every single moment of my life, and those that are involved, and those I get to meet because of AnaOno. It could be an introduction to another young woman facing a diagnosis, or another woman entrepreneur, or even teaching students how they can get started. My life is my passion, and my passion is my life.

If you had three wishes, what would they be?
That by the time my nieces and nephews grow into adults that they don’t have to be afraid when receiving a cancer diagnosis because treatments will be widely available.
For our society to see disparity as equal.
That no woman faced with a diagnosis feels alone in her life and her treatment.

What is your favorite song that gets you motivated?
Janet Jackson, Black Cat


#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 Johnnie Refvik. To read more or to apply to join the Entrepreneur Circle click here.

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.

How Diabetes Changed My Life

At the age of 16, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It was the worst day of my life.

I was devastated. At the time I was a competitive tennis player in Sweden and had represented my country on several occasions in the European and World championships. I was in the best physical shape of my life, and did not like losing. That made this diagnosis worse, since I could not accept or even understand how I could be punished like this. My lack of acceptance made everything more difficult. My two younger sisters, Anna and Lisa, who were 6 and 14 at the time, were supportive but in shock. I was their big sister who had always been strong, and now I was in the hospital. I would have to inject insulin multiple times daily, change my diet, and face the risks of short and long term complications from a disease we did not know much about.

Upon diagnosis, I made the decision to dedicate my future to discovering a cure for diabetes.

I would go to medical school as soon as I graduated from high school. I got accepted to the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden where I graduated with both MD and PhD degrees after only six years. My research was, of course, in diabetes, but I kept a promise to myself not to let diabetes affect my behavior or require others to adjust to my needs. To do so I kept my diagnosis a secret from everyone except my family and doctors. Even my best friends in high school and my med school classmates had no idea that I suffered from the condition. When I stood before more than 100 people in the grand auditorium at the Karolinska Institute to defend my thesis, the only person outside of my family who knew that I was diabetic was my advisor, Professor Kerstin Brismar. This was because she also happened to be my medical doctor.

After almost 20 years with diabetes, in the spring of 2007, I found myself working long hours for a Scandinavian venture capital fund. I had severe anemia, uncontrolled hypertension and with diabetic macular edema in both eyes. I was not yet 35 years of age, but my body was telling me that if I did not change my behavior, I would not make it to 40. I was forced to “come out” as a diabetic to my partners at the Fund, to my friends and to the industry I was working in. I needed health care and I needed a complete reset of my body. I spent the summer not working, something which had not happened since high school (even as a child I would be busy with tennis tournaments during the summer) and started thinking about my future.   The decision to go to medical research and “find a cure for diabetes” which I had made as a 16 year-old newly diagnosed type 1 diabetic, had been modified over the years. I stopped everything to look back at my years in finance and other environments that did not allow me to focus on the long term because each day was consumed by its own report card. A situation like that is not healthy for anyone, but for someone with a chronic disease, and especially someone ashamed of that disease who does not let anyone help, it is disastrous.

I made the firm decision to work in diabetes and to make an impact for others while allowing my body to take center stage and try to fix what was damaged.

At Johnson & Johnson I was given an opportunity to lead what was called the Metabolic Taskforce where I was exposed to all existing products in the category as well as any new products being considered by the pharma, device and consumer divisions.

Unfortunately, the damage to my body had gone too far and I faced the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant. My eyes were healed but I had lost my entire peripheral vision and my night vision, but at least I was not blind. The kidneys were more difficult to fix, but my family came through and I received a kidney transplant from my father in March of 2009. 

He saved my life and gave me the motivation to be healthier and to make an impact.

Nine months later I received a whole organ pancreas transplant and my life took an incredible new turn – no more diabetes. I did not realize how bad I had felt for so long – it had been twenty years of insulin injections, highs and lows and constant monitoring. Even worse was the fatigue and the sense of vulnerability I had when on insulin. Now I feel free and ready to enjoy life and plan for the future, which poses new interesting dilemmas for a person like myself, who has lived day by day! Of course there are risks and issues with my new situation. To avoid rejection of my kidney and pancreas, I must take immune suppressants for the rest of my life. Those drugs increase my risk of developing certain kinds of cancer and limit my ability to fight infections. However, I am strong, happy and, importantly, I am surrounded by people I respect, and I am doing what I love on a daily basis!

In this blog, I will be relating parts of my story in more detail as well as how I see the future and what we are doing to try to impact it for everyone. I am not alone in my story – there are so many like me who are struggling with chronic disease. When I founded Lyfebulb together with Riccardo Braglia, Helsinn Group Vice Chairman and CEO and Steve Squinto, PhD, co-founder of Alexion and Venture Partner at Orbimed in 2014, it was with the broad goal to address the gaps I had experienced during my personal journey with diabetes and as a business woman and medical scientist.

My goal for Lyfebulb is to create a global organization that is patient-centric and functions as the voice for a larger population of patients, who have until this point been vulnerable and receptive rather than strong and proactive. We feel that it is patients’ responsibility and opportunity to be innovators, teachers and influencers.

Above all, I want to showcase individuals, who like myself, are not accepting of the role of a passive patient, but willing to take on the challenge of changing the future for themselves and others living with chronic disease.

Announcing the Lyfebulb-Novo Nordisk Innovation Award Winner!

The first Lyfebulb Novo-Nordisk Innovation Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark has wrapped! After a few jam-packed days that included dinners, workshops, speeches by Lyfebulb founder and CEO, Karin Hehenberger, and Novo Nordisk Senior Vice President, Device R&D, Kenneth Strømdahl, as well as pitches from each of our ten patient entrepreneur finalists, we have a WINNER!

Congratulations to Brianna Wolin, CEO and co-founder of Find Your Ditto, who received the first ever Lyfebulb-Novo Nordisk Innovation Award! Wolin’s company is a mobile platform for connecting individuals living with the same chronic illness locally for on-demand, in-person peer support.

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“To be recognized by an innovative organization such as Lyfebulb and Novo Nordisk, a global pharmaceutical leader in diabetes care, is a true honor and an affirmation that our work to helping change the landscape surrounding isolation and depression in chronic illness communities is fully worthwhile,” said Brianna Wolin. “I’m so proud to have our mission – creating a world where no person living with a chronic illness ever has to feel alone – highlighted by this award.”

The competition was judged by five key opinion leaders and influences in the diabetes community, and Wolin was selected from a distinguished group of patient entrepreneur finalists that included:

  • Shilo Ben-Zeev, Smartzyme, Israel;
  • Jeff Dachis, OneDrop, USA;
  • Shantanu Gaur, MD, Allurion, USA;
  • Matt Loper, Wellth, USA;
  • Charles O’Connell, FitScript, USA;
  • Scott Smith, Socrates, USA;
  • Anna Sjoberg, Anna PS, Sweden;
  • John Sjolund, Patients Pending Ltd, UK;
  • David Weingard, Fit4D, USA.

We are very proud of all who participated! Every one of them is truly doing magnificent work in advancing the management and care of diabetes.

Once again, congratulations Brianna! We are looking forward to the growth and success of Find Your Ditto!

Omar Hassan: In Conversation

We are excited for our event in collaboration with Unix Gallery and Contini Art UK , where we will have a live performance by artist Omar Hassan! (Make sure to RSVP to andrew@unixgallery.com)

In anticipation, here is an interview between Contini Art UK’s sales and marketing director, Diego Giolitti, and artist Omar Hassan where Omar discusses the partnership with Lyfebulb, his inspiration, and his Breaking Through exhibition.

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Diego Giolitti: Welcome, Omar. I would like to start our conversation by talking about the upcoming event organized by Lyfebulb, the charity that has invited you to exhibit your work in a solo show in Manhattan, New York. What does this show mean to you as an artist? The fact that you are exhibiting in New York, and that you have been chosen by LYFEBULB to take part in this project? What are your expectations for the show? How do you see this experience unfolding and why did you agree to take part in the project?

Omar Hassan: New York is one of the world’s great capitals of the arts, having a solo exhibition here is really stimulating for me as an artist. The success and interest generated by my three previous exhibitions, that have been dedicated to my Breaking Through series, has created a level of expectation within the New York art scene, something that I am very flattered by and proud of. Above all, however, I am honored to have the opportunity to collaborate with Lyfebulb. Dr. Karin Hehenberger (the head of Lyfebulb) and I have many things in common, but two factors have really stood out for me. Firstly, of course, is the fact that we both have type 1 diabetes, and secondly is the passion that we both put into our work in order to have as many people as possible understand that having a chronic illness does not mean that you cannot go on living your life and achieving your dreams. Lyfebulb’s goal is to change the quality of life and thinking of those who suffer from a chronic condition for the better, and this is something I strongly support.

Having a chronic illness does not mean that you cannot go on living your life and achieving your dreams.

DG: Indeed, there is a clear connection between this exhibition and your past ones. I regard this upcoming exhibition in New York as the next step along a path that started with your solo show at ContiniArtUK in London, your representative gallery, where you first exhibited pieces from the Breaking Through series. I remember at the time that you said to me, ‘I feel that these works fully represent my current production, but I also see them as belonging to a specific phase of my career.’ These words implicitly expressed your wish not to be misrepresented or labelled by the public as ‘Omar, the artist-boxer’. Can you expand on why your art can not be labelled as the work of a boxer turned painter? Why should we regard such a description of your work as false, or too limiting?

OH: I have always said that I wanted to incorporate a very important aspect of my life into my artistic research: namely boxing, the sport that has given me so much on both a personal and educational level. I wanted to bring to light the concept that lies behind this sport which, for me, can be considered as a metaphor for life. In boxing, as in life, you are alone; boxing requires hard work and daily effort; when you are knocked down you must get back up on your feet and continue to fight. In terms of what is put across by the media, who provide a superficial insight into the work I have done with my Breaking Through series, it may lead one to closely associate the terms “artist” with “boxer”. However, I want to point out that I am not a Floyd Mayweather Jr who suddenly started painting. Rather, I am an artist who studied at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts, who carried out my own research in painting, and simply decided to incorporate a very important aspect of my life into my art.  In addition, boxing works well in terms of synthesizing a pictorial gesture with a strong visual impact, demonstrating the coherence of these paintings as a whole; in the sense that they belong to the same creative phase in my work. I am saying this without wishing to push the parallels too far, but we have had Fontana’s cuts and Pollock’s drippings, so why not Hassan’s punches? These synthesizing gestures can work, but only when they are contextualized within the broader framework of an artist’s oeuvre. So I believe it is important to contextualize this phase of my career. But I also believe that anyone – from collectors to casual observers – can clearly see that I am not merely a boxer who uses his sport to paints pictures.

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DG: This aspect is extremely important to me too and, as someone who has supported you since the beginning of your career, I want the public to know about it. I have watched your journey unfold and, especially in the past 2 years, I have witnessed a huge development, particularly in terms of technique. Thanks to a process of inner growth and maturation, your artistic identity has become even clearer, more distinct and, most importantly, more accessible. But we will get back to this point in a minute. Art is a message and can have an educational function, and I think that this aspect is very important in your case. Lyfebulb has chosen you because, among other reasons, through your artistic practice you have revealed something personal about yourself. Your Injections series directly references the fact that you have diabetes and, as previously mentioned, your Breaking Through series which clearly displays your love of boxing. Lyfebulb has chosen you so that you can be an example to others, showing them that, regardless of one’s initial situation, one can achieve anything in life. Each of us must find strength in his or herself and aim for his or her goal. Do you agree?

OH: Of course, that is what I meant when I was talking about boxing, but equally I do not presume to educate anyone. I believe in art being an experience that is part of our sensory and cognitive life. This is my motto. So I took facts and experiences from my life and turned them into something that the public could empathize with, something that others, too, could benefit from. Obviously I am honored to have been selected by Lyfebulb and I hope that I too can be an example (in the sense I have just explained) to young people and adults alike.

DG: Let us now talk about the use of gesture in your work. From an art theory perspective, it can be said that sign and gesture are the first steps towards the rationalisation of artistic production. Without the sign, comprehension is impossible. In my opinion, gesture has always been a dominant and fundamental element in your art. Of course, an artist’s technique and stance are a very revealing factor on which the resulting artwork depends.

OH: I have always been committed to keeping my painting contemporary and current. Nowadays it is very difficult to be original and contemporary with painting because of the amount of techniques which have already been explored throughout art history. Today, producing a painting means assuming a responsibility. I want to take this responsibility, I want to carry an artistic research through pictorial (and, in my case, primordial) gestures inspired by the works of the historical avant-garde as well as the new avant-garde in the last century. I have always tried to remain contemporary in my work through gestures that produce signs that lead to traces of the real. My approach has always remained the same ever since I started using cans of spray paint, the tools that originally inspired me to practice art and explore artistic expression. The can of spray paint became like a breath of life, bringing together my entire culture and tradition, leading me to more impetuous and instinctive gestures, like that of the punch in the Breaking Through paintings. This big punch is a simple (i.e., primordial) element. A punch has an incredible amount of concentrated energy that should not be considered in a negative light; it is both an acceleration of energy and a very fast movement.

DG: So, you do not want to make a distinction between sensation and thought. There is almost an element of spontaneous organization in what you do. The element of spontaneity.

OH: But my spontaneity is well thought-out.

DG: Do you mean that you deliberately channel your spontaneity?

OH: All of my work stems from an idea, from a concept; technique is never the starting point for me. I do not develop a concept after finishing the work; rather, the work is the result of the development of a concept.

DG: So there is a sort of balance between sensation and thought in your art, which is one of the hardest things to achieve for an artist. Another very interesting aspect of your work is its honesty – there is a part of yourself in your work, a part of your life. I am in love with your Injection painting titled “Self-portrait”, which has been included in this catalogue. I find it fascinating in that it is a reflection of your soul, of who you are as an artist. For me this piece depicts both the development of an idea, and the use of gesture, which is a truly distinguishing feature of your work. Something I have always wanted to know but was afraid to ask is, why this particular painting was the point when you said to yourself, ‘This is a portrait of myself’?  Could you describe the painting and share something about the process that led you to its creation?

Egyptian Italian artist Omas Hassan exhibtion. He uses his experience as a former boxer to create his work. Omas Hassan

OH: I painted this work during the preparation for my exhibition at ContiniArtUK in London. A classical frame surrounds a white-on- white dotted background that took several days to complete. Later on I spray-painted a black dot in the middle of the canvas, a singular point from which the paint drips down to the bottom of the canvas. I entitled it “Self- portrait” because since the very beginning I regarded it as the last painting in my Injections series, as it is a chromatic and conceptual synthesis. This explains the use of black and white. Everybody has inside them two different parts, one for the entire world to see, the other only for themselves. I wanted to bring out both of these parts. “Self-portrait” explains this dualism: what you see is not always the reality. Because it took me such a long time to paint the white element of the canvas and only only a few minutes to paint the small black dot, in that painting I am not the black dot but I am the white mass around it. It means that sometimes the things that stay in the background, the things you don’t see, are the most important. The essential is often invisible to the eye…

DG: This is a wonderful metaphorical translation of your self-portrait. The first time I saw that painting, with its title, I did not think it portrayed your physical features, your mood or your personality. After all, as I know you well, you are a cheerful person and could never be a black dot (an orange one, perhaps, since orange is your favorite color). You certainly know that white light is made of all the colors, while black neutralizes them all. I thought that this painting portrayed the difficulties of your artistic journey; I thought it represented a farewell to a specific expressive form (Injections) and the need to start a new phase. So, I interpreted it as an artistic transition. I am happy you said that because I feel that I managed to connect with your art and understand on a certain level, or at least I hope so. What do you want to achieve with this solo show in New York? What do you expect from it?

OH: I hope to expand my artistic horizons and start on a new path that will help me grow as an artist and as a person. I also hope that my experience in New York will be as stimulating as the one I had in London when I first exhibited at ContiniArtUK.

DG: Is there anything else you would like to say to your public? Anything that may help them to better understand you or your art, or that you just wish to emphasize?

OH: My motto is, ‘artistic research’. I will never be satisfied with a beautiful painting, I will always try to make more paintings, even worse ones, but I will never stop creating.

DG: What do you mean by ‘worse ones’?

OH: There is no guarantee that I will constantly improve, I do not presume to say that I will constantly improve; but I can certainly say that I will always try to do better.

DG: This is so beautiful, and you know, one of the things that I have always liked about you as an artist is that you do not settle for a style or form and reproduce it endlessly but, rather, you are constantly looking for new avenues to express your vision.

Lyfebulb Announces the Ten Finalists of the Lyfebulb-Novo Nordisk Innovation Award

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We are so proud to announce the ten finalists that will travel to Copenhagen, Denmark, to compete for the 2016 Lyfebulb-Novo Nordisk Innovation Award!!!

We received a ton of great applications from amazing patient entrepreneurs, but were tasked to narrow them down to ten.  We thank everyone that applied and admire the efforts of all patient entrepreneurs out there.

We formally made the announcement of the ten finalists this morning, and love the entrepreneurship, innovation, strength, and dedication they have shown throughout their careers to improve their lives, or the lives of loved ones, living with diabetes.

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