April 23, 2013
A few weeks ago, someone at the UrgentRx manufacturing facility had a heart attack. The Denver company makes fast-acting powder medications, including aspirin for heart attacks, so the worker literally grabbed a packet off the line, swallowed it – and survived.
According to founder Jordan Eisenberg, the worker is one of at least thirteen people whose lives have been saved by UrgentRx. The value of these products – portable packets of generic Benadryl, aspirin, and Pepto-Bismol that don’t require water – seems obvious, yet it took an engineering and math grad to bring the obvious to life.
And others are seeing that value, too. UrgentRx raised over $7 million in funding, including from actress Hilary Swank. It’s now carried on all American Airlines planes, by ski patrols across the United States, and by ambulances in 42 states. These powder medicines, inspired by Eisenberg’s severe allergies to raw vegetables and other foods, actually work about three times faster than pills.
“I’ve always been able to look in the white space and come up with ideas that, for whatever reason, the rest of the market just hasn’t seen,” says Eisenberg. “Creating something out of nothing is so fun and so fulfilling that I don’t think I could ever do anything else.”
In fact, Eisenberg has been bringing obviously awesome products to life for a while. His first invention was a thermos for EpiPens, which can freeze in the cold and spoil in the heat and put the lives of people with allergies in danger. Next was an iPhone app called PMS Buddy, which would remind you when your girlfriend or wife had PMS, and suggest gifts like flowers or chocolate. (That got over 100,000 downloads, says Eisenberg, and understandably went viral.) And finally, he invented the Collar Card, a business card with pop-out collar stays that hotels and dry cleaners could offer their customers.
Eisenberg’s entrepreneurial journey began before high school, when he became his classmates’ de facto dealer of baseball cards and comic books (neither of which he cared for). In high school, he graduated to reserving spaces on the waiting lists for exotic cars, and selling them (the spaces, not the cars).
But obvious doesn’t necessarily equal simple, or easy. To learn about the consumer goods industry, Eisenberg spent a good two years pestering Maurice Kanbar (of SKYY Vodka and the lint roller) for a job. Finally Kanbar agreed, and he got a crash course on taking a product from idea to market analysis to patent.
At 28, when he came up with the idea for UrgentRx, he heard a lot of no’s. “People said, ‘You’re a 28-year-old kid with no experience, and you want to start a pharmaceutical company. Why on earth do you think you can do that?’” Eisenberg recalls. He relentlessly tried to grow his network, eating out with a new person for four meals a day, six days a week. He’s had to detangle FDA regulations, and pitch to major retailers who have very little incentive to take a chance on a nine-person company. And, as they say for physical products, the process always takes twice as long and costs twice as much. That’s why, after raising funding in 2010, UrgentRx is only now just going after a national launch.
“I can totally envision our product as a ubiquitous brand, and I will not stop at anything to get it there,” he says. And I think it’s obvious that he’s right.
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