The Female Entrepreneur Who Wants to Make Shots Pain-Free
By Lisa Wirthman
Dr. Amy Baxter always knew she wanted to help others manage pain. As a child, she would sit outside on the curb with Band-Aids in case anyone got hurt. And as a mother and an emergency room pediatrician, she was bothered by how difficult it was for some kids to get shots—including her son.
“Stopping suffering had always been a natural instinct, and also being the one to jump in to help,” she said. “If there’s been a good fight, I’ve been the one who wants to fight it.”
Today, Baxter is one of a growing number of female entrepreneurs who are revolutionizing health care by empowering people to take ownership of their health with personalized medicine. In 2006, she invented Buzzy, a high-frequency vibrating ice pack that helps disrupt pain signals on their way to the brain. It has a cute striped bee on the front.
Nearly a decade later, Buzzy has been adopted by more than 5,000 hospitals and clinics and more than 45,000 users. Beyond children, Baxter also markets the wearable tech to adults who receive shots for diabetes, in vitro fertilization, and conditions such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis and Crohn’s disease, which often require injections that burn.
Baxter discovered the need for Buzzy when her son required a routine vaccination. She had packed topical creams to ease the sting and plenty of distractions, but never got the chance to help her son before a nurse jabbed a needle into his arm.
Baxter wanted to create a device that would quickly decrease pain and didn’t depend on the medical system. But it wasn’t until she heard a child crying from needle pain in the ER one day that Baxter decided to become an entrepreneur and eventually put her medical career aside.
“That dissonance between knowing there is something that could help people and acting on it was really what pushed me to get the funds to make Buzzy a reality,” she said.
In 2009, Baxter started selling Buzzy through the company she founded, MMJ Labs. About half the company’s U.S. sales are to hospitals and clinics and the other half are to individual patients on e-commerce sites like Amazon. Total sales reached nearly $1 million in 2015, and the company is negotiating its first licensing deal.
Thanks to a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health in 2009 to develop Buzzy, Baxter was able to study the impacts of needle pain. She has become an advocate for addressing the growing issue of needle phobia, which prevents many children and adults from getting the care they need.
Before 1983, children received just six vaccinations, mostly before the age of 2 when they were too young to remember the pain, Baxter said. As a result, many adult health care professionals have little empathy for needle pain. Today’s children, however, receive 36 injections and are vaccinated at older ages, creating a 252 percent increase in incidences of needle phobia, she said.
Baxter’s mission to empower people to control their own pain taps into a growing trend of personalized health care that encourages individuals to take ownership of their health.
Inspiring Female Entrepreneurs
Baxter also joins a wave of female entrepreneurs who are working to give individuals more control over their health care experiences. Female founder Halle Tecco, for example, launched Rock Health in 2011, the first seed accelerator for digital health-related startups, which also tracks gender diversity in the health care industry. And about 40 percent of applicants to Stanford University’s Biodesign program to create new medical technologies are women, the university reports, up from 25 percent just five years ago.
Baxter’s own company is almost all-female (she hired her first male employee last year). Women entrepreneurs are often drawn to technologies that create a positive impact, she found. “The reason they are working for startup wages is because what we are doing makes a difference in people’s lives,” she said.
Baxter has a few tips for other female entrepreneurs.
“Network, network, network,” she said. “There are so many women who want to help each other.”
For entrepreneurs, it’s easy to get off track, said Baxter. She recommends setting artificial deadlines along with structured goals to increase accountability.
In her mission to empower individuals, Baxter also ignores advice to sell Buzzy solely to businesses at a higher price tag. Her best advice to other entrepreneurs: “Stay true to what you went into business for in the first place.”
Lisa Wirthman writes about business, sustainability, public policy and women’s issues. Her work has been published in TheAtlantic.com, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Fast Company, Investor’s Business Daily, the Denver Post and the Denver Business Journal.
Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.