Robert Oringer is currently Co-Chairman and Board Director of AMG Medical Inc. in Canada, which distributes professional and home healthcare products. But he’s also the man who pioneered private-label diabetes products in the US, including syringes, glucose products, and testing supplies.
One might call Robert a serial diabetes entrepreneur — and at least as importantly, father of two teenage boys with type 1 diabetes. We catch up with him today in his role as a judge for the 2010 DiabetesMine Design Challenge (open for entries until April 30!)
RO) I’d like to answer this question by focusing specifically on how I look for winning innovations in the diabetes technology space. This might seem a bit trite, but the fact is, my evaluation process is rooted in looking at whether an innovation solves an unmet need in a simple way that is better than what exists in technology that is already in the market. Special thanks for that answer to my marketing 101 professor from business school.
Often, innovations that are the biggest winners are actually very simple. As an example, when I was with Inverness Medical in the late 90’s and we were supplying our electrochemical blood glucose monitoring systems to Lifescan for sale under their OneTouch brand, the great innovation was the five-second test time. At the time, this simple innovation met an unmet need for people with diabetes: Who, after all, isn’t too busy to want to save some time? Could you imagine using a meter today that would take 30, 45, or 60 seconds? Unthinkable. This innovation was brilliantly exploited through great marketing by Lifescan to drive their business. It was not an enormous “technology leap,” but it was a winning innovation that proved successful in the market.
Going forward, I think there are numerous winning innovations waiting to be exploited that are built upon simplicity— whether it be in the area of device convergence (think mobile phones), or simplification of collecting information for people with diabetes (think mobile phones again!).
You also have two teenage sons with type 1 diabetes. Remind us which innovations have had the biggest impact on their lives?
In the 13 years since my sons were diagnosed with diabetes, I can list a string of “simple” innovations that, taken together, have made their lives much easier. Examples include: fast test times on their meters, automatic transmission of blood glucose readings from their meters to their insulin pumps, and availability of bolus wizard software in their pumps to assist with insulin dosing.
However, when I really think about things, my kids run on insulin and the introduction of fast-acting insulins just after they were diagnosed was the innovation that had the biggest impact. I dread to think of the unpredictability of life over the past 13 years if we were still running on NPH or R insulins with unpredictable peaks.
There’s been a lot of “movement” from the JDRF on the Artificial Pancreas Project this past year. What are your thoughts on that?
I’m an active supporter of the JDRF and its research programs. My perspective on research is quite open-minded in that I believe we often achieve incredibly valuable discoveries and/or insights from research programs where the end discovery and/or insight is not actually the direct goal of the research. I guess I see the Artificial Pancreas project in a way that supporters of NASA in the 60’s saw the mission of putting a man on the moon. Today, I watch satellite television and know that it exists, to a great extent, because of NASA and the space program.
In the case of the JDRF’s Artificial Pancreas Project, I have my own personal concerns about overcoming the risks to people with diabetes who would be depending fully on technology to control the release of insulin. The recent problems we’ve been witnessing relating to the automated control of cars reinforces my concerns.
All of that being said, I’m certain the JDRF program is going to result in valuable innovations that will significantly improve the lives of people with diabetes. As an example, if the research leads to a better way to avoid night-time hypoglycemia episodes, the research will have been a success.
The experience last year was great. Aside from appreciating the creativity and brilliance of some of the inventions, I had the opportunity to get to know some of the people behind the entries and encourage them to join our industry. Over the years, we should keep track of the people who entered the DiabetesMine contests to report on their successes in the business world. Maybe DiabetesMine can figure out a way for us to buy stock in these people?!
Finally, readers will vote for finalists in this competition for the first time this year. What should they keep in mind when reviewing all the entries?
Sometimes a very simple innovation that meets an important unmet need is of great value and worthy of support. In other words: think simple.
Thanks for the reminder, Robert. Sometimes less IS more.
* Editor’s Reminder: Just three weeks left to enter this competition.
→ Please give your entry a UNIQUE NAME (the name of your new tool)
→ Any entries titled “DiabetesMine Contest” or somesuch will have to be disqualified because they are impossible to track
Best of luck, All.