New York-based Lyfebulb is helping diabetes patients become 'patient' entrepreneurs

By Vallabh Rao|31st Oct 2017
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Lyfebulb showcases and mentors 'patient entrepreneurs' - entrepreneurs who are affected by chronic diseases and are building businesses which target those suffering from chronic diseases. 

Karin Hehenberger was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1989, at an early age. Her chronic illness required her to go through kidney and pancreas transplants. With a dual perspective as a patient and a doctor, Dr Karin decided to do something to help other people impacted by chronic illnesses, to work on businesses that will help other patients.

Karin founded Lyfebulb with two close friends and colleagues, Riccardo Braglia, CEO of Helsinn, and Stephen Squinto, Venture Partner at Orbimed and Co-founder of Alexion. The idea was to build an organisation that bridges patients with industry. “After my experience as a medical doctor, healthcare executive, and Type 1 diabetic, I personally understand that there's a gap in the development of solutions for patients and know the impact patients can have on improving solutions to their quality of care,” Dr. Karin says.

She wanted to showcase individuals who, like her, were not accepting of the role of a passive patient, but willing to take on the challenge of changing the future for themselves and others living with chronic disease. Lyfebulb calls these individuals “patient entrepreneurs” not to be confused with the meaning of ‘patience’. These people are anything but patient, but they are living with a chronic disease or closely related to someone with a chronic disease and they are not just sitting back waiting for solutions. They are out there creating products and solutions that may help them and others in the near term.

Although it is not a requirement that the founders be patients of chronic diseases, they have to be personally affected by diabetes or a chronic illness. They often have the disease themselves, other times a friend or family member is living with the disease.

Lyfebulb Entrepreneur Circle features people who have made their disease their career. They identify an issue in their lives with the disease and then they address that issue by creating a product or an entire company. At Lyfebulb, they maintain a blog and are active on social media as a way of building the community and getting valuable information to people living with chronic illness. They have hosted many events in different areas of chronic illness, including diabetes, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which are informational as well as community building. They hold innovation summits with large companies where they ask patient entrepreneurs to apply, choose 10-12 finalists, and then bring them together to compete for monetary prizes and interact with a pharma leadership, VCs, and thought leaders.

“We have hosted 26 events in the three years since we started Lyfebulb in New York City, Stockholm, and Copenhagen. This year we are hosting our second annual Innovation Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark and next year, we will host another summit/award in another therapeutic area, in addition to diabetes,” adds Dr Karin on their events so far and future plans.

Lyfebulb has entered into a partnership with Novo Nordisk to grow the Lyfebulb Entrepreneur Circle and to establish the Lyfebulb–Novo Nordisk Innovation Award to recognize promising startups founded by patient entrepreneurs. The winner of the 2016 edition of the award was Brianna Wolin, CEO & Co-Founder at Find Your Ditto. Brianna has lived with Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease most of her life. Find Your Ditto is the only mobile platform that connects individuals living with the same chronic illness locally for on-demand, in-person peer support to mitigate feelings of loneliness and depression. Users can find their ‘dittos’ and begin to feel like “it’s not just me.”

Kenneth Strømdahl, SVP, Novo Nordisk, Brianna Wolin and Dr.Karin Hehenberger (L to R)

Lyfebulb also mentors patient entrepreneurs and they help certain companies secure funding through their network. While they do not have an incubator currently, forming a virtual one is in the pipeline. They are also contemplating on raising a venture fund called Lyfebulb Ventures, but may proceed with making specific investments into companies instead.

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