It was 2012, and a young doctor, Dayo Olakulehin, sat in the Olikoye Ransome Kuti Children emergency ward in Lagos, trying to stay awake. He had been manually ventilating a five-year-old boy for over four hours. It was 2 am and fatigue was already setting in on young Dayo. Just as he drifted off, the boy’s father walked in. The intrusion is what saved the boy’s life.
“If the child had continued without ventilation for longer than four minutes, it could have resulted in irreversible brain damage” Dayo narrates. This kind of scenario is a common one in medical facilities in developing nations. Doctors, nurses, and family members in countries in Asia and Africa usually have to manually squeeze CPR bags, 24 hours a day for as long as an entire month to keep patients alive.
The experience affected Dayo greatly, and it was in that moment that the idea for an alternative method of ventilating patients, one which eliminates the need for a human operator was planted in his mind.
Four years later, in January 15, 2016 and Dayo stood before representatives from the medical community in Lagos, as well as the press and presented his invention that would solve that problem. The D-Box.
The D-box is a device, about the size of a microwave oven, that automates the process of compressing a CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) bag. Essentially an automatic ventilator, it eliminates the need for a human being to manually compress the CPR bag. It comes with a rechargeable battery, it’s portable and obviously designed with developing economies in mind.
Creating the D-box
Dayo credits the production of the D-box to his partnership with Ray Minato, the CEO of Inertia Engineering + Design, a product design and engineering firm in Canada. Prior to his meeting with Ray Minato, Dayo had met with two other potential partners, one in Holland and another design firm in Canada. But those meetings didn’t pan out.
Eventually, he found a match with Minato and Inertia Engineering and the rest as they say, is history. “They are my partners. The strategic alliance I formed with them is the reason the D-Box is no longer an idea, but a product. They will be responsible for further product development and initial manufacturing.”
Inertia Engineering has loads of experience building specialised products such as ergonomic seats, aeronautical landing gear, docking stations and the like. The partnership saw the Canadian firm build out Dayo’s idea in what the firm regards as “record time”. In three months, a proof of concept prototype was ready.
This prototype is what Dayo presented at the press event on January 15 before the medical community and the press.
“The key to this product innovation is not so technically complex but rather that it simply meets the user’s basic and critical needs (and only those needs) where there was previously nothing,” said Minato.
Switching lanes from Doctor to Inventor
As a trained medical doctor, from the University of Lagos in Nigeria, transitioning into an entrepreneur was a bumpy ride.
“I knew having the idea was not sufficient, I needed to find a way to make it a reality,” Dayo says.
But how? He knew nothing about business, patenting or developing innovations. So he went to the place most of us go. Google. Eventually he came across a course on ‘Healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship’ and that was where he saw the need to patent the idea.
When this was settled, he began approaching medical device companies, trying to pitch the idea but he found out quickly, “it’s a lot easier to sell a product than it is to sell an idea.”
Somewhere along the line, he met Kunle Soriyan and Thelma Ekiyor, and founded LigandCorp, a startup focused on creating innovative medical hardware for developing economies. Dayo is the CEO. The plan is to create a company that produces “medical innovation, particularly among young Nigerians.”
The D-box will be LigandCorp’s first product since it was founded.
Dayo hopes the minimum viable product (MVP) is good enough to attract interest from government and other investors. Right now, he’s doing the rounds in the media space, granting interviews and creating as much publicity for the device as possible.
Dayo’s ultimate goal is to put at least one D-Box on every emergency tray in the world, from sick bays, to company clinics, to public spaces, to health facilities, to military camps, and everywhere else. The fact that it’s the cheapest ventilator available in the market (its introductory price is pegged at $300) makes this vision all the more possible.
But he’ll have to tackle several challenges. One, getting the device into rural areas. As those areas are usually at the tail end of the innovation diffusion cycle, strategic partnerships with medical organisations will probably be the best move.
Secondly, protecting his intellectual property. In the event where infringement occurs, enforcement is usually the challenge, especially in remote areas.
While he’s figuring out how to do that, the team will be raising funds and striking up partnerships in India and China. As for LigandCorp, Day says this is just the beginning. The plan is to “collaborate with experts and practitioners to develop even more innovative solutions customised for developing economies.”
When I asked him how it feels, knowing the impact his invention could have on the medical community, he said,
“As long as there would always be resource-limited health facilities in the world, there will always be a need for the D-Box. The D-Box is not out to replace conventional ventilators but is out to provide a better alternative for people who cannot afford such or access it for other reasons. I am deeply honored to be the custodian of this innovation.”
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