Irene Waldridge of Eva Medtec
Want to know what it is really like to start a company? In our Founder Spotlight series we have candid conversations with real founders about the good, bad and ugly of getting your hands dirty and building a business.
Meet Irene Waldridge of Eva Medtec. Eva Medtec started with a clear mission: to develop unique, effective, and accessible medical devices that lessened dependency on expensive and inconvenient therapies, drugs, and medical treatments. We had the opportunity to speak with their founder, Irene, to learn more about her incredible journey founding multiple medical device companies, her desire to help people suffering with chronic pain, lymphedema and venous insufficiency, and why her family celebrates birthdays with their favorite desserts. Learn more about Irene’s journey, about Eva Medtec and their unique solution.
What’s your story? How did you get here?
I’m the founder of two medical device companies. I invented and developed the Flexitouch® system at Tactile Medical and the Neuroglide® Pain Relief & Recovery System at Eva Medtec.
I grew up on a small hobby farm and my career background was in graphic communications. The short story is that my husband injured his knee. He was in pain for six months and the doctors couldn’t seem to help him. He couldn’t sleep at night. In search of a natural alternative, I reached out to someone that I knew who performed therapeutic massage and asked if they could try to help. It worked. He slept well that night for the first time in six months. I became a believer in natural therapies. I became a certified massage therapist, and I performed massages on the side in my home, along with my graphic communications job, for a decade.
One day, I saw a commercial on TV about a long metal probe that you rub on your fingers to alleviate arthritis pain. As a certified massage therapist, I found grasping a wand with hand arthritis seemed counterintuitive. Then, I got a picture in my mind of a massage device using inflatable bladders. I wanted to develop a back/neck pad, but I knew nothing about inflatable bladders. So, I hired an engineer to help me create a prototype of air bladders and a controller unit–-and that failed miserably. I had no business experience filing patents, or developing medical devices. I was not sure where to start.
But things changed when I showed my prototype to my doctor who tried it on in his clinic. He loved it and wanted to invest in my idea. He gave me the name of a prestigious medical doctor that ultimately led me to develop the Flexitouch® device to treat those who suffer from lymphedema and venous insufficiency. But first, I had to quit my full-time job and become a certified lymphatic drainage (MLD) therapist and learn all about the anatomy and physiology of the lymphatic system and how to treat these conditions. The lymphatic system is responsible for circulating fluid throughout the body. It’s the body’s way of cleaning up and clearing out cellular waste, reducing edema and lymphedema and pain. Increased lymph circulation is associated with more efficient removal of toxins, reduction of swelling, and decreased congestion – all of which helps to make your body function better.
So, I hired another engineer to help me create what would be the Flexitouch® system with air bladders and a controller unit–-and that failed miserably, too! Finally, out of desperation, I took it upon myself to teach myself programming, create patterns and drawings in AutoCAD and develop and change the way pneumatic compression devices treated lymphedema and venous insufficiency. I did all this on my kitchen table. With Flexitouch®, I became the first to treat the torso of the body and change a complex pressure profile that would simulate MLD and would eventually treat thousands of patients with a lifelong condition known as lymphedema and venous insufficiency. The new technology was written in the medical journals as unique, first time ever, and soon became the standard of care for the treatment of lymphedema.
When you went out for initial funding, how many pitches did you have to give?
At Tactile Medical, we did not create PowerPoint Presentations and give pitches like they do today. We met with potential investors one-on-one. Today, the standard is to give pitches on Zoom with groups of investors. This method does not have the same dynamic. At Eva Medtec, I started out pitching to potential investors and, in hindsight, it was too early as I did not have a firm grip on my audience, market, and didn’t fully understand which of the many market segments I would concentrate on. Many pitches went nowhere. So, I turned to family and friends to raise funds. After raising $2M, and personally investing $1.7M, Covid changed the world and I had to think creatively for the company to survive.
When did you decide to acquire a patent?
I received four patients on the Flexitouch®, so I felt it would be a breeze to invent the Neuroglide® back/neck pad along with its unique valve modules. With my graphic background and experience developing the Flexitouch®, it was a no brainer to me to do it again. After I developed the Neuroglide®, I now have two patents issued and I am working on two+ more. Of course, patents bring value to any company.
Could you talk about your target market in more detail?
Neuroglide® is the most advanced lymphatic drainage system on the market. And it has the added benefit of relieving pain. Products in the works include therapy attachments for the lumbar, knee, calf-foot, and scalp, with the focus on pain relief and edema reduction. My goal has been to target Worker’s Compensation back/neck pain injuries, Veterans, Occupational and Physical Therapists trained in Manual Lymphatic Drainage (MLD), including consumers who seek alternative therapies online. We also believe pilot and clinical studies will show improved post-op breast cancer surgery recovery, sleep recovery, positive impacts on the autonomic nervous system, and post-op plastic surgery pain and increased lymph circulation. Neuroglide® is also presently used in clinics by MLD therapists in conjunction with modified MLD therapy.
What keeps you up at night?
Raising funds and solving problems that need creative solutions that can’t wait. We are anxious to help people who are suffering from chronic pain, post-op or injury edemas, and lymphedema, to accelerate healing, reduce infections and heal faster with less suffering while reducing or eliminating dangerous opioids.
What is your favorite beverage?
A cold bottle of Smartwater.
Are you a risk-taker and/or how did you learn to embrace risk-taking?
I will risk whatever it takes to succeed and that is the mindset you need to be an entrepreneur. Once you set your mind on changing things in this world, you must never give up no matter what.
Have you had to pivot since your initial idea/product/solution?
Yes, we have. Initially, we had focused on selling Neuroglide® using digital marketing. After digital testing, we found pricing and marketing to be challenging and expensive. We are currently having success selling directly to MLD therapists and getting patient referrals from them. We have several Neuroglide® systems in VA Hospitals for evaluation and are working with a VA distributor. We have also successfully received reimbursement from Workers’ Compensation for back/neck injuries and have received many orders through word-of-mouth.
Now, we need to grow by hiring a sales manager and salespeople to call on therapists as we scale up our operations and manufacturing.
What is something that fits into the “If I knew then what I know now” category?
We initially marketed Neuroglide® online to consumers who did not understand our product and its unique benefits. It cost us time and money to learn that lesson. Many people have different opinions, so it’s always a challenge to sort through the noise, so to speak.
What are your passions/interests outside work?
I am committed to my passion and goals in life. I won’t stop until I meet my objectives. My family is very important to me. My immediate family and I always get together every holiday and we also celebrate birthdays with their favorite dessert. It’s a fun family tradition I hope will last for many more years to come.
What advice would you give someone starting their own business?
It takes unwavering tenacity, finding trustworthy people is a must, and seeking experienced startup advisors with the right skill sets that will help guide you on the most difficult and rewarding journey of your life. Be relentless in your vision and never give up.
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