We talked to founder Souvik Paul to learn more about CathBuddy in September 2019…
Tell us about your company. What problem are you trying to solve?
At CathBuddy, we’re developing a reusable intermittent urinary catheter system to improve the standard of care and reduce UTI incidence for people who have neurogenic bladder. Today, most people with neurogenic bladder have to use single-use standard straight catheters in order to urinate—these catheters are essentially long plastic tubes that are really difficult to insert and remove without getting covered in pathogens that lead to UTIs. They’re so hard to use that some studies have placed the average UTI incidence in a 12 month period at 40-60%, even if people are using sterile catheters each and every time! We’ve developed a 3-part system that makes it much easier to lubricate and insert catheters without touching them directly—it consists of a reusable, RFID-tagged catheter; a removable insertion aid that provides stability and prevents direct contact with the catheter until it is inside the body; and an at-home sterilization device that can sterilize a day’s supply of catheters simultaneously. By implementing the system, which would be the first reusable catheter system to hit the market in about four decades, we can reduce healthcare costs by hundreds of millions of dollars a year and reduce plastic waste by up to 85 million pounds every year.
How did your company get started?
A few years ago, my good friend Carina was in a car accident and sustained a spinal cord injury. After spending a few weeks visiting her in the hospital, I saw how difficult her adaptation to life with a spinal cord injury was, and wanted to help in any way that I could. I was beginning graduate school to become an industrial designer at the time, so I spent the next two years learning about spinal cord injury and disability and designing products and services to help people like Carina. I found out that her insurance payor didn’t provide her with enough catheters in a month to regularly urinate, so she had to reuse her catheters. As a result, she was constantly getting UTIs. After doing some research, I found out that a lot of people re-use their catheters for financial reasons—by boiling them, microwaving them, or rinsing them out with soap and water, all before storing them in non-sterile Tupperware containers. I decided to design a catheter sterilizer as part of my graduate thesis to make reuse safer. Little did I know back then that even after graduating and starting a full-time position as a design strategist at Johnson & Johnson, I’d continue to work on the idea, that the idea would grow and evolve quite a bit, and that eventually I’d leave my job at J&J to pursue it full-time.
Why is your team well positioned to solve the problem you’re tackling?
Between myself and CathBuddy’s Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Daniel Wollin, we have a very strong foundation in product development and clinical expertise in catheterization and urological health. Like I said earlier, I’m trained as an industrial designer (with a few years as a Wall Street trader under my belt) and have worked at Johnson & Johnson as a design strategist and project manager, where my responsibilities included implementing design thinking methodologies in order to identify user needs and develop products and services that addressed those needs. This included bringing ideas from concept to commercialization in the context of a multidisciplinary team. Dr. Wollin is a urologist who has trained at the University of Chicago, NYU, and Duke University; he’s currently practicing at a major area-hospital in Boston while finishing up his own design degree at MIT (Integrated Design & Management). Not only do we have the technical expertise to execute on our vision, but we have a ton of empathy and personal motivation to solve the problem that our friends and patients face. We’ve supplemented our skill sets with an advisory board that is staffed by urologists, engineers, commercialization experts, and others. Our team is currently pretty small, but we’re looking to expand it as soon as we close our current funding round.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way?
This will sound corny, but along the way, we’ve learned exactly what it means to never give up. The amount of rejection that you can receive as an early-stage start-up is pretty breathtaking. It’ll happen on your best days when everything else is going great, and on your worst days when you desperately need a win. Either way, we’ve learned to give ourselves a few minutes (and perhaps a beer) to be sad about the latest rejection, before brushing ourselves off and getting back to it. When you’re trying to do something that will fundamentally change the status quo, you have to be prepared to defend your vision tooth and nail and to face a lot of skepticism.
What resources do you rely on to help your company grow?
We’re developing a multi-part physical medical device, so we utilize a ton of rapid prototyping technologies—3D printing, laser cutting, Arduino-based electronics—in order to turn ideas into physical artifacts that we can place into the hands of users for feedback. From a networking and fundraising perspective, we were recently accepted into the latest cohort of a Dallas-based healthcare accelerator, Health Wildcatters, and will be utilizing the resources of the program to really ramp up our growth in the next few months. On the administrative and legal side of things, Shoobx has been an absolutely great service—it arms us with the streamlined legal workflows so that we can spend more time building things and less time drafting documents with our lawyers!