Some of the best ideas often come from people who don’t have a background in design, but instead have experience of a particular discipline. Dr Wendy Minks is one such person. Last year she became a Design Council Spark finalist for her product idea– a noseclip designed to help with the treatment of nosebleeds. We spoke to Wendy to find out just what it means to go from doctor to entrepreneur.
A hard working junior doctor, rushing to answer a pager call in a busy hospital might not be the kind of person you’d imagine entering ideas into Design Council Spark, our product accelerator and fund. Yet last year, one of the finalists who received a share of the £200K investment was just such a doctor.
Dr Wendy Minks, a trainee in maxillo-facial surgery, was frustrated. It was 2011 and she was answering what felt like her hundredth pager call at 3am. And the problem that caused this pre-dawn urgency... a nosebleed.
We all tend to go home and dwell on patients, or particular procedures, and this really troubled me because it seemed so avoidable.Dr Wendy Minks, Creator of Rhinamite
It is a little known fact that 15% of people in the UK who suffer from nosebleeds have to seek hospital treatment to stop them. In some cases they require a full admission. The solution by that point is often uncomfortable treatments such as cauterisation of the affected blood vessel or ‘nose-packing’. A last resort, used when the bleeding puts patients at risk of loss of consciousness, the procedure involves the clinician inserting special tampons or strips of gauze into the nasal cavity to apply pressure to the walls of the nostrils.
“It measures up to 9cm in length so is very uncomfortable for the patient.” says Wendy. “It remains in place for a couple of days on average to allow for healing of the bleeding vessel. Because the pack is an airway risk the patient is required to stay in hospital. Personally I found carrying out the procedure quite distressing because it is so uncomfortable for the patient.”
Back in 2011 Wendy was perplexed by the lack of a better solution to such a commonplace medical nuisance. “We all tend to go home and dwell on patients, or particular procedures, and this really troubled me because it seemed so avoidable.”
Wendy also noticed that the people affected by this problem were often children or the elderly. Vulnerable patients already, they were much more likely to be both fearful, and less physically able, to stop the bleeding. “If a patient presents with a bleeding nose, 10 minutes of good quality pressure should stop over 90% of bleeds”, she explains, “but many patients find it difficult to apply this pressure when distressed."
Quite apart from the discomfort, inconvenience and distress of the patient, there was the resource drain on A&E departments each time someone was admitted. And it wasn’t set to get any better. Elderly patients are more likely to be prescribed blood-thinning medications to prevent events such as strokes or heart attacks. These important medications make nosebleeds more likely, and harder to stop. As the population ages, more and more people will be on such medication.
I think I ended up being the one who actually solved this problem because I just got so frustrated with it,” says Wendy. “I went home and did some calculations into the cost. The numbers were astronomical, particularly for something that I believed should be largely treatable in the home. Once I realised it was such an issue for me, I started talking to other people, the patients and my colleagues – to see if they felt the same way. It quickly became obvious that they did.”
Wendy might not have had any experience as a designer, but she thought like one. Her first instinct, to talk to people and validate the problem, quickly led her to start sketching ideas. This was the beginning of Rhinamite. From those first thoughts five years ago, it has evolved into a patent-pending product that stops nosebleeds quickly by clipping over the patients nose. “I tried to design a replica of the firm pinch that would be applied to a bleeding nose in the emergency department,” says Wendy. “It was important to consider that a user should be able to use their hands and sit comfortably during the treatment so the device is self-holding.”
I had no design background myself, so Spark offered me a window into a whole new way of thinking.Dr Wendy Minks, Creator of Rhinamite
The ease of use of the noseclip means that anyone can safely and successfully use it to stop a nosebleed whether or not they are medically trained. It gives patients the power to do so in their own homes and A&E staff the ability to stop a bleed without having to call a doctor or resort to more invasive methods.
In 2015 Wendy heard about Design Council Spark and decided to apply. “Up until I joined Spark, the missing ingredient was design,” says Wendy. “I had no design background myself, so Spark offered me a window into a whole new way of thinking. It moved me beyond just talking to people who suffered from nosebleeds and their doctors. It taught me to connect up all the questions I was asking and get to the real problem I was trying to address.”
The accelerating influence of Spark did its job and one year later Wendy finds herself with a developed prototype . “Before Spark I was only imagining Rhinamite in the context of a hospital, a simple product for A&E departments, and possibly something that people could use in their own homes,” she says. Spark not only helped me to address the product properly in those terms, but also to identify a whole new market - the world of contact sports, where people taking a blow to the face often suffer from nosebleeds.”
The design-led approach encouraged by Spark showed Wendy that to succeed in the home, or in the world of sports, Rhinamite needed to be more appealing. “People needed to be comfortable putting it on their face,” she says, “kids playing sport needed to feel okay wearing it. I’d never really thought about it like that.”
Wendy is using the money she was awarded on the Spark programme to refine the product to make it more appealing to this broader market. As a result of her Spark coaching she has also teamed up with a business partner with a background in sales, Richard Blakeborough. “He provided a new perspective, and insight into the commercialising process in the sports sector,” says Wendy. “Above all, product development can feel like a rocky road so working as a team was a welcome change” Richard and Wendy expect to have finished products on the market by March 2017.
It is easy to assume that somebody else will already have thought of a solution. Actually it is likely that you may be one of only a few people who have a good insight into a particular problem.Dr Wendy Minks, Creator of Rhinamite
Aspiring innovators can take great inspiration from Wendy’s story. Without any design background she has been able to develop a product from scratch. She used a combination of her authentic connection to the users, deep technical expertise, commercial imagination and determination, to drive Rhinamite forward.
“Over the first three to four years I developed the product in fits and starts,” she says. “The demands of life, including having two children, meant that I would shelve it for months at a time. But when I got onto the Spark programme, I discovered that it isn’t uncommon. It is easy to assume that somebody else will already have thought of a solution. Actually it is likely that you may be one of only a few people who have a good insight into a particular problem. So, don’t give up, keep getting your ideas out and dusting them off. You will get there eventually.”