Historically, the commonly held practice in business has been to maintain a hard line between the professional and the personal.
But as with most unexamined traditions, the only way to truly know their merit is to test them. That’s precisely what these healthcare industry innovators did—and found, ultimately, that some traditions are made to be broken.
When it comes to health and wellness products, the arena for new product development is both uniquely competitive and uniquely high stakes. When the quality of human life (or even life itself) is the endgame, new product development takes a more urgent tone.
That’s what I want to showcase here: how product innovation can be inspired by the unlikeliest of sources—a family tragedy, an overlooked need, or even a quick segment on a morning talk show.
Here are four remarkable stories of healthcare product development, each driven by a personal journey. These stories not only shed light on the creative process but also underscore the profound (and often disregarded) connection between the business and personal.
1. Yukon Medical: Protecting Caregivers
Yukon Medical is known for its diagnostic tools and devices that promote the safety and user experience of the healthcare workers administering them, and more recently, of patients who can self-administer their own care. Yukon’s “human-centered design process” critically relies on user feedback, so each product iteration is created with the needs of caregiver and patient wellbeing in mind.
During a recent visit to the Yukon offices in North Carolina, my colleagues and I enjoyed the chance to meet with the core team and witness firsthand how their operations have evolved around a strong mission-oriented culture.
My favorite thing we learned? Yukon’s CEO Todd Korogi was inspired to start the company after watching a segment on Good Morning America.
The segment outlined the dangers that nurses face when they're administering hazardous or toxic medications, such as the risk of exposure from contamination or even inhalation. Korogi watched the segment and thought, “I can solve this problem.”
Since 2008, Yukon began doing just that—creating products that centered the safety of caregivers, and more recently, products designed for self-administering by the patients themselves.
The latter became especially fortuitous during the pandemic era when people stuck at home needed care the most. Over this period Yukon’s business expanded, allowing them to continue enhancing products that help both healthcare providers and patients alike to stay safe.
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2. MaryRuth Organics: From Tragedy to Wellness
Often, innovation comes from necessity or an extremely personal mission. Such is the case with MaryRuth Organics, a wellness company offering a hugely popular line of vitamins and supplements targeting a wide range of health needs.
Founder MaryRuth Ghiyam’s story is one of taking real risks after experiencing real pain within her own family. The story began when, over a short period of time, she suddenly lost her father and her brother, and then if that weren’t enough her mother fell ill with two brain tumors.
After this devastating series of events, MaryRuth was impassioned to make wellness her mission in life. She wanted to reduce the potential of others experiencing the same loss by promoting easier access to proper nutrition.
She was so determined in this mission that she took on seven years of massive debt to finance her company, until finally in 2014 she and her mother Colleen (still recuperating) founded MaryRuth Organics, taking all the pain from her past and turning it into a positive impact.
Now, MaryRuth Organics is one of the most popular vitamins brands on the market, and as they expand they're evolving they're business by embracing digital transformation, one process at a time.
3. Levee Medical: Restoring Dignity
Levee Medical is another medical device startup whose product fulfilled a need where there was none before. Their story is one of compassion fueling business, growing from the simple idea that patient dignity should also be a priority in care.
Before Levee’s products were on the market, patients of prostate surgery were told to live with the ‘inconvenient’ side effect of lowered urinary retention. Meaning cumbersome undergarments, more frequent trips to the bathroom, and less frequent time going out and enjoying life—maybe even indefinitely.
Surprisingly, many didn't even highlight these issues as a problem. If a surgery was successful in removing prostate cancer, then these consequences were the trade-off for a life saved.
Then came Levee Founder and CTO Bruce Choi who explained to me that this period of incontinence had long been waved away as a minor side effect. Even though the reality of this side effect hindered both the freedom and dignity of the patient.
In response, Levee Medical created a product with a simple design—an implant that provides extra support post-surgery. So what was once considered a byproduct of necessary surgery that prohibited patients from leading their lives to the fullest, was now solved.
4. Guardant Health: Early Detection Saves Lives
One of the coolest aspects of working for Propel is getting to help companies with truly groundbreaking work when it comes to life-saving treatment.
Guardant Health’s mission is to help cancer patients live longer and healthier lives using the power of data from blood tests. Whether it’s earlier detection of the disease or better, safer treatments, Guardant’s rapidly moving development teams are constantly finding new ways to help.
As their CIO/COO Kumud Kalia puts it, "We're in the business of making sure people don't die of cancer... Our method to deliver on that mission is to deliver quality products as if we were building them for our own family members to use."
This statement is even more poignant given the true stories behind it. Early employees of Guardant started there after experiencing real cancer-related family tragedies that they are now working to prevent.
Even at Propel, our partnership with Guardant has a personal meaning. One of our colleagues experienced firsthand the power of Guardant’s products after his wife was able to catch and treat her cancer with an early diagnosis before it became life-threatening.
These types of stories remind us that companies in the sector of healthcare are in the business of human care—driving those behind the curtain to push harder for change.
Innovation Beyond Business
The goal of Propel’s solution is to manage product innovation and the iteration of that innovation, and therefore we’re very proud when this innovation makes a tangible difference in the realm of health and wellness.
Having spoken with dozens of our customers over my time here, it’s clear to me that product innovation is a dynamic process that can spring from personal experiences just as easily as entrepreneurship.
Companies such as Yukon Medical, Guardant Health, Mary Ruth Organics, and Levee Medical demonstrate that innovation goes hand in hand with addressing real-life challenges. It blurs the lines between business and personal matters, connecting the drive to innovate with a profound desire to make a difference.
These stories (and many more like them) are a testament to the fact that innovation isn't confined to improving existing solutions; it's about recognizing unmet needs, even before others do.