That’s what motivated a Pittsburgh couple to create their own business aimed at designing vinyl skin covers for the OmniPod tubeless insulin pump, Dexcom G4 Platinum continuous glucose monitor (CGM), and OneTouch VerioIQ glucose meter. Their outfit is called PumpPeelz, and it has apparently taken off like wildfire in the diabetes community — so we think their story is a perfect fit for our Small But Mighty series profiling small companies launched by passionate patients or caregivers.
Their story has a sort of “David vs. Goliath” feel to it, with the twist of David convincing Goliath they should be friends. In this case, it’s the story of a 20-something PWD and her soon-to-be husband vying for the support of the widely-popular Pod manufacturer, using the online community’s voice!
The backstory behind PumpPeelz actually began about a decade ago when Emily and Scott started dating back in high school…
Back in their early dating years, diabetes hadn’t yet entered the picture. They graduated and took on a long-distance relationship when attending separate colleges in two different states. But the stars aligned after a few years, and they transferred to the same college outside Pittsburgh.
Turns out, it couldn’t have been better timing for them to be reunited, because just around then, three years ago, Emily was diagnosed with type 1 at age 21. She started on the OmniPod shortly after her diagnosis, and that led to the idea of creating decorative diabetes device designs based on their mutual backgrounds. Emily works as a portrait and wedding photographer running her own studio, while Scott works in business development at Pittsburgh Technology Council. He also teaches music lessons, tapping into his commercial music technology degree. Both are still working full-time, but in their “off-hours” their time is spent together building up their diabetes business.
Scott says they’d been casually tossing the idea around of an OmniPod case since their college days. They were just sitting around one day talking about all the children with diabetes wearing Pods that they’d decorated, but how no company had actually moved in on the business of creating an actual accessory product.
“With Scott’s creativity and motivation, I knew that we would figure out a way to create a product,” Emily says. “When I saw Scott’s first sketches of what a cover or case for the Pod could be like, I was thrilled! It seemed like in no time at all we went from a simple concept to a product that people would be excited to try and use.”
The idea blossomed into a business concept from there.
He started mapping out a project with a few friends from engineering school, and they prototyped cases on plastic printers — even making some vacuum-form plastic cases with different colors. They created an entire promotional pitch and sent the package to Insulet, hoping for a positive response…
But they got denied… for good reason, Scott admits.
The actual cost of manufacturing plastic cases was just too extreme for a relatively small market, he acknowledges. It’d cost tens of thousands of dollars for molds and materials, making the cost of a case too extreme and unaffordable. Plus, the concept would require a ton of testing to make sure the cases wouldn’t mess with the RF signal strength of the Pods — potentially raising FDA regulatory concerns and even possible liability problems if someone blamed the case for interfering with the insulin delivery.
“It’s not as simple as making an iPhone case when you’re talking medical devices,” Scott says.
So instead of plastic cases, the idea evolved into vinyl adhesives that would be thin enough not to interfere with the Pods.
“I basically took a piece of paper and started wrapping it around the OmniPod and started making cuts where it was wrinkling,” he said. “A few hours later I ended up with a shape that seemed to fit around the Pod… and the rest is history.”
That is where the “OmniSkinz” came to be, but the product wasn’t yet ready for prime time.
Second Time… Not So Charming
Scott says they received a rejection letter from Insulet in 2011 basically saying that the pump company liked the idea and “would contact us in the future…”
We all know what that means,” Scott says. “We were pretty down about our idea losing traction, so Emily and I decided to put all of our work and information out online in a blog.
Wanting to persuade Insulet, they took photos of the Peelz and posted them online including surveys to gather feedback and also a link to Insulet’s customer support email. They received several thousand views, dozens of comments and emails, and incredible support from the D-Community. Before long, Insulet’s marketing director called Scott back and said the company supported the idea and would help if they get it off the ground!
“It was just huge for us — a big confidence boost that we could make something happen and that the D community wanted us to at least try… we owed it to them to do our best to make a product,” Scott said.
That started the relationship, but the proposed name at that time – “OmniSkinz” – didn’t fly. Corporate legal said no because “Omni” was included, and Scott says they were told the company didn’t want customers thinking the product was made by Insulet. Pod Skinz also didn’t fly for the same reason.
So after polling the D-Community, they settled on PumpPeelz — a name Scott says came to him during a drive home from work one night. They debated spelling Peelz with an “S” or “Z” and opted to listen to the community’s support for Z.
Fellow type 1 and D-blogger Sarah Kaye reviewed the initial product and chatted with Scott and Emily about it, suggesting that something similar could also be designed for Dexcom’s newest CGM receiver and for the VerioIQ meter.
Scott says they didn’t approach Dexcom or LifeScan about the idea because the notion wasn’t product-specific at that point. But he says Dexcom has told him they’ll be testing the Peelz and posting about them on their website “in some capacity down the road.”
Now, PumpPeelz is getting ever more popular and the company site gets a few thousand unique visitors a month, with orders arriving pretty much every day. The “LadyBug” and “Insider” designs are the biggest sellers so far, he says.
Emily says it’s been great to find a way to make diabetes “a little less drab.” But even more thrilling is the feedback from the community, from other people who feel just like her and she then gets to connect with about their own D-lives. Those connections have been amazing, she said, and that gives them both the energy to not only continue what they’re doing with PumpPeelz but also find support in daily aspects of living with diabetes.
Our own AmyT actually tried the PumpPeelz on her Pod recently, and found it “fun-looking but kind of heavy” on the device. “The vinyl feels thicker than you might like… And not to sound too old-ish, but I think it’s clearly something more appealing to a younger crowd,” she says.
What’s Next in Peelz?
Scott said they’re excited to keep up the creativity and crank out new designs, but they don’t yet know how exactly they might expand their skins to other D-devices. Like most diabetes businesses big and small, they hope to eventually go out of business. A cure? Not necessarily, although that’s a hope, of course. Just better treatment options that are less obstructive than current insulin pumps would be a welcome development.
If that happens, Scott says he’ll just have to find something else to do… like designing skins for smartphones or other gadgets.
But really, it’s not the long-term future of D-designs taking up their full attention at the moment. Right now, they’re in wedding planning mode!
The two are engaged to be married in August, and of on top of having some hip Pod designs to sport during their ceremony, they’re planning a low-carb wedding menu with Mediterranean flare.
From there, who knows what layer of diabetes unpleasantness Emily and Scott find the motivation to peel(z) away next? We’re excited to see it. Congrats to you both!