When technology brings freedom to travel to chronic patients

LifeinaBox is the world’s smallest intelligent fridge, for the safe transport and storage of fragile medication and was winner of the Mercedes Pitch Competition at the Web Summit in Lisbon earlier this month. We spoke to the creator Uwe DIEGEL about his idea.

Uwe Diegel, CEO Lifina, receiving the Web Summit Pitch title, 8th November 2017

Uwe Diegel, CEO Lifeina, receiving the Web Summit Pitch title, 8th November 2017

Can you tell us in a nutshell about Lifeina and what sparked off the idea?

The greatest inventions are often born out of simple necessity but it took a particular set of circumstances, linking a personal need and technical knowhow, to make LifeinaBox possible.

A couple of years ago my brother came to visit me in France, and while he was here he decided to visit some chateaux in France. When he arrived in his hotel, he discovered that there was no fridge in his room to keep his insulin cool (insulin, like many other medications, has to be kept in the fridge between 2 and 8°C). So he went down to reception and tried to explain in his broken French that his insulin had to go in the kitchen fridge. There was some kind of a mix-up (contrary to popular belief, not all inn-keepers in France speak fluent English!!!) and when my brother came down to get his insulin at 11:00 pm he found that someone had put it in the freezer, rendering it useless.

The problem with insulin is that it is a vital need, not just a luxury. If you don’t have it, you die… Luckily, France has an amazing system of night pharmacies, so my brother was able to procure some fresh insulin and the problem was solved easily enough. Just imagine if it had happened in another country with no night pharmacies.

So my brother came back to Paris and told me about the idiot who had frozen his insulin (he was really pissed off), and literally just for personal use, we designed the idea of a portable fridge. On paper it worked, so we made a rough prototype (I even stole the battery from my Sony video camera to make the prototype!). But it really was just for personal use, we hadn’t really thought of it as a commercial product.

Then we discovered that every time we showed our prototype to other diabetics or people who used fragile medication (multiple sclerosis, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, etc) they would go into ecstasy and ask us to make a proper version. So we decided to give up our other jobs (at the time I was CEO of iHealth) to start the Lifeina Company and develop our first product, LifeinaBox.

I have designed and made a lot of products in my life, but it is truly the first time that I make a product where people actually thank me for selling them a product. I feel that we are doing something really useful and that we are giving people a new freedom to live their life, but at the same time that we are giving them the possibility to listen to the signals of their body and understand them using the Lifeina App.

What are the real benefits for the user?

There are two main benefits for the user. On the one hand about 5% of the worldwide population is using some sort of a fragile medication such as insulin, anti-TNF, growth hormones for diseases ranging from multiple sclerosis to cancer to growth deficiencies. These people are de-facto “prisoners” of their medication, which has to be kept in the fridge at all times. LifeinaBox is the world’s smallest fridge, that you can carry around with you, with a battery life of nearly 36 hours, so we offer to these people the freedom to travel any place, any time, knowing that their medication is always with them and at the right temperature.

But the most important aspect of many of these medications is that more often than not, people do not take them to work with them, because they do not want to put them in the fridge at work, for everyone to know that they suffer from a debilitating disease such as multiple sclerosis or Crohn’s disease. The result of this is that they leave their medication at home and take their medication late or not at all. This non-adherence to medication schedules causes a yoyo effect in the management of their disease. Non-adherence to medication schedules costs a whopping 350 billion dollars in the USA (about 9 billion Euro in France). LifeinaBox is connected to an App, which will not only track the temperature of the medication in real time, but will also send the user medication reminders so as when and how to take his medication, so will drastically improve the adherence schedule, especially that the user now has his medication with him in his portable fridge.

How are you going about financing Lifeina?

So far we are full self-financed, and have spent quite a bit of our own money just doing the R&D work. We are now on our 9th generation of working prototypes and plan in going into mass production early 2018. We originally thought that we would be able to be 100% self-financed, but the demands from the market, especially the B2B demands from pharma companies in the USA, are so huge that we are now looking for a business angel to help us bridge the gap needed for production so that we can attack the market faster and answer to public demand.

We have also been winning all the possible design and startup competitions out there, such as the Web Summit in Lisbon where we were voted as Best Startup Pitch in the world, and these prizes often come with cash money, which is really useful for small developments, but is not enough to go into major overdrive. Basically we need to inject another million euro into the company, but I am quite confident that this project is the best investment available right now in Tech.

In many ways, investors are scared about investing in hardware, because hardware is harder and more risky. But there is an intrinsic value in investing in well-made hardware, especially if it is a platform for software. I have always delivered huge value to my investors and partners through various hardware companies. Everybody wants to invest in the nest Facebook, but they should rather be looking at investing in the next Apple.

Where are you heading next?

We have already started developing generations 2 and 3, which are called LifeinaTube (a smaller single pen refrigerator that you can literally fit in your pocket) and LifeinaPocket, a new 2 pen version, and these products will be release at about 8 months interval to fulfill the needs of the market.

But we are also looking at expanding the technology to other uses such as organ transplants. Every year, over a thousand people die in the USA following an organ transplant because the organ has not been kept and transported in the correct conditions. Just imagine if we could redefine the standards of an entire industry… All we can say about the future is that it is friendly, and that it will be different from what we imagine.