Wearing it for Someone Else
A third of the 1.5 million who have heart attacks this year will die. What many people don’t know is chewing an aspirin immediately increases a person’s chances of survival considerably. This month, Jim Hummel profiles a Providence high school who has a creative plan to put aspirin at everyone’s disposal - not for them, but the person having the heart attack.
It is a presentation Christian Rijos has given dozens of times over the past year, a pitch from a young entrepreneur with a company and an idea aimed at saving lives.
Christian, a 16-year-old sophomore at the Met School in Providence, is co-owner of a business called Wear Aspirin. Its goal is for people to have aspirin with them - and readily available - if someone nearby is having a heart attack. Last week he gave his final school presentation - one that has been worked and reworked over the past year - to his fellow students at The Met. But this is an idea Christian wants to sell to the world.
Christian: ``The key message we’re sending to people is you’re not wearing it for yourself, you’re wearing it to save someone else’s life.’’
Video: Each year 1.5 million Americans have a heart attack. One third of them will die…
The statistics are sobering, laid out in a two-minute video.
Hummel: ``Did you know any of this or was this all kind of new to you?’’
Christian: ``I had no idea, there’s a lot about aspirin that would surprise people. Every single time I went out and presented and asked people do you have aspirin on you? They would always say no, I have it at my desk, I have it at home, and if they did have it, by some chance if they did have it, they’d have it in an inconspicuous place and they probably wouldn’t know it helps a heart attack victim.’’
Nick: ``It was an idea I had walked around with for, quite literally, decades.’’
Nick Kondon, who spent a career starting technology companies, is one of Christian’s mentors and now his business partner. As a volunteer at The Met he spotted a then-15-year-old who was intelligent and savvy beyond his years. Nick recalls one of their first conversations.
Nick: ``I was thinking you’d be my partner and you’d own about 7 percent of the company - and Christian without any pause said to me `I’m young, but I’m not stupid.’”
Christian: ``Three days later he said `Hey would you want to run this company?’ And I was like, sure why not?’’
Nick: ``We’re equal partners in this endeavor. And equal partners means equal throw away - he has opinions, he has strong opinions and it wasn’t me saying well we’re going to do this , we’re going to do it this way because I’m old and we’ve done it this way before.’’
Before the partnership was struck, Nick had given Christian an assignment.
Christian: ``I want a small container that can hold a .4175 inches of a pill and it has to be small enough to be discreet but big enough to be noticeable so people ask about it. And it has to hold one pill and it has to be configured to fit in five different places.
Video: But who actually has aspirin on them? Almost nobody…
Early prototypes included a wristwatch attachment, a magnet, and a ring, all of which were eventually discarded.
Nick: ``Christian will tell you he can show you 28 ways not to make a wear aspirin container, and we’ve tried some.’’
After some trial and error they arrived on five different Wear Aspirin containers.
A key ring, a cell phone, a hat, a lapel pin and a charm attachment for a bracelet.
Hummel: And so it’s easy to get to.’’
Christian: ``Easy to get to.’’
Hummel: ``Somebody’s having a heart attack….’’
Christian: ``You notice, you pop it out, you administer it to them, you tell them to chew it, then hey swallow.’’
Hummel: ``And what do the stats show about aspirin?’’
Christian: ``So the stats show that if you administer at 325 mg aspirin to a victim, it reduces 80 percent of the platelets heading to the clot in the blood stream. And increases their chances of surviving by 30 percent.’’
That’s the medical part, but at the end of the day this is a business, which is what students in the E Ventures class discover. Christian and other students at The Met’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship are learning that a good idea also needs a good business plan.
Christian: ``We want people to have something with weight. Something that they’ll be proud to wear, proud to show off, something that will catch someone’s eye and say `Hey what is that?’ And then they’ll say `It’s a Wear Aspirin.’”
The proposed retail price for all five, including aspirin: $17.95.
Video:`` But Christian isn’t doing this alone. He has a growing team of volunteers. From mentors and manufacturers - to world class product designers. They all believe in this idea…’’
Over the past year he has enlisted the help of a variety of people and earlier this spring decided to try crowd funding for the initial startup costs on the website Indiegogo.
There, he has a separate video talking about who has helped him and asking for contributions to get the company off the ground. The original amount: $44,000, which proved to be too ambitious. They have scaled it back to $12,000 and so far have raised about a third.
Christian: ``The plan was to go on a crowd funding site and raise enough capital for us to make this in the USA and market it in Rhode Island, so that it starts as a Rhode Island company and then we branch out into the American Heart Association, the American Medical Association and national organizations and start programs with them. Right now we think our demographics are women over the age of 40 - because if a woman buys this she’s buying it for her husband, kids, friends and family.’’
And that may be why going the crowd funding route for seed money has not produced the results they had originally hoped for.
Nick: ``So here’s a young guy who goes on and says I have an initiative, it’s cheap, it’s smart, it’s simple, we’ll save lives - what you need to do is donate. The conversion rate is just appalling. And we can’t figure it out.
Hummel: ``Appallingly small?’’
Nick: ``Appallingly small’’
Hummel: ``Did that surprise you?’’
Nick: ``Stunned us.’’
Hummel: ``Why do you think it’s small?’’
Nick: ``The medium attracts younger people and they’re at the I’m-never-going-to-have-a-heart-attack stage, what is this about, it’s an interesting idea.’’
Hummel: ``Heart attacks are for your grandfather.’’
Hummel: ``Isn’t that part of the learning process for a business, though?’’
Nick: ``Yeah, it is. As far as I’m concerned it’s almost the best litmus test you can have.’’
So they’re going to revise the plan, as partners often have to do in any business.
Christian says while operating a successful company that makes money is an incentive to succeed, there is another side to his motivation.
Christian: ``It became personally with me a long time ago, my mother told me that most people in my family die from heart attacks; it’s in our genes, but genes affect a small percentage of the chances you’ll have a heart attack, it’s also eating habits and things like that. But my chances of having a small heart attack one day have increased because of my genes from both sides of my family, mother and father, most people die from heart attacks. So it’s become personal.’’
Video: ``And remember, you won’t be wearing aspirin for yourself. You’ll be wearing it to save someone else’s life. How’s that going to make you feel?
In Providence, Jim Hummel for The Rhode Island Spotlight.