Non-Scientists Use Business Savvy to Launch Med-Tech Product
Rebecca Griffin and Teresa Garland had a great idea for a home-health product but they had no scientific background. That didn't stop them.
In 2005, the two Dallas friends were chatting about a friend who was pregnant. She had two girls already and really wanted a boy. An expectant mom can find out the gender of the fetus with the first sonogram, usually at about 18 weeks. But there's a curiosity gap between the first home pregnancy test and that sonogram.
"We said, 'Gosh, you would think there would be a way to tell by the urine whether it's a girl or a boy,'" Griffin says. "How cool would that be?"
Some Internet research turned up an interesting bit of folklore. In the 17th century, women had a fairly reliable test involving grains of wheat and barley. It piqued their interest enough to look for a lab that would work with them.
They were not scientists, but they did know business. Griffin was a partner in a commercial real estate firm. Garland was a business-development consultant for PwC. They called on friends and contacts for referrals.
The search took them to San Francisco, where they found a company known for its quality skin products. It had the expertise and the vision to help them.
"We were on a fast track to get a product developed," Griffin says. "We felt like speed to market was important. We couldn't believe no one had done this before."
In addition to developing a reliable test, the lab had to figure out which week of pregnancy would produce accurate results. It had to keep track of each sample and match it to the sonogram and the gender of the resulting baby.
The lab went down many dead ends, but the biggest challenge was getting enough of "solution," or the urine of pregnant women. It developed a special cup for the solution samples, plus all the packaging and directions.
The two women tried doctors' offices and approached women in malls and offered them $20 to pee in a cup. Finally, they spread the word through churches and schools. Many women began dropping off samples in the mailbox.
"We did a lot of brainstorming and whiteboarding," Garland says. "How do you find the right jar [for the kit]? How do you design your box? Do we need instructions? A syringe? It gets complicated."
Ironically, it took about nine months to create the IntelliGender test. Independent testing facilities have rated it 85 percent accurate.
Both women were still working full-time, investing their own money in the company when the product launched with Internet sales in 2006.
As the orders for the kit increased, with CVS and Walgreens carrying it, Garland and her husband went to work at IntelliGender in 2009 to manage the volume. Griffin kept her job but participated as a full partner in the LLC. The company expanded to Australia and then to 23 other countries.
The kit now retails for $35. The most expensive part of the kit is the syringe for dropping a sample onto the tester—it was the only imported item. To date, the company has sold more than 500,000 kits worldwide.
IntelliGender also sells IntelliCeuticals, natural remedies to support the health of pregnant women and babies. The company aims to bring more complementary products to market.
Looking back, Garland thinks that the partners' business expertise more than made up for their lack of scientific training.
"We both had marketing [experience]. Rebecca had contract negotiations and I had finance and consulting. My husband was IT, manufacturing and logistics," she says. "A lot of inventors have the opposite scenario.
"But if you spend your whole time in the lab, you have no exposure to business. I think that was key to our success. We had the background of how to make it happen."
Griffin agrees. "You can outsource anything you need," she says. "In fact, it's highly unusual that anyone would have all the skill sets you need to develop a product. Tenacity and ambition are the mothers of invention."
Photo credit: Courtesy subject