Most people spend their whole life avoiding the thought of needles. But for Future Founders 2021 Startup Bootcamp Cohort Member Hennesys Disla, needles have been top of mind for the last six years.
The founder of ArmHug, a healthcare supply company that delivers one-of-kind blood draw kits for mobile phlebotomists, clinics, and schools, it’s Hennesys’ job to think about needles, as well as all the other medical materials required to conduct safe and accurate blood draws. Because the key to health is in our blood, and Hennesys is on a mission to help everyone unlock a healthier future.
With a passion for medicine, Hennesys began working as a Research Assistant at Mount Sinai Hospital shortly after graduating from New York’s School of Visual Arts. After several promotions, she eventually landed herself a spot on the Neurology Research Team at the Corinne Goldsmith Dickinson Center for Multiple Sclerosis.
Like any research laboratory, patient blood draws were a daily part of life. Day-in and day-out, Hennesys would watch their waiting room fill up with patients all there to give a simple blood sample. Yet behind the scenes, these procedures were anything but simple, with constant confusion slowing down the nurses and phlebotomists. Is Room 1 stocked with the necessary components to perform a blood draw? Room 2 is out of “X” – who is responsible for ordering more? Where can I find “Y” and “Z”?
Because each blood draw called for a collection of needles, tubes, and other medical supplies, and these components were all purchased, tracked, and stored individually, the team had to take the time to check and restock their gear before each procedure. And this extra time spent led to confusion, frustration, and delays.
Watching all this from behind the scenes, Hennesys couldn’t help but ask herself: Why isn’t there a simple kit that contains everything we need to perform a blood draw?
It was in this moment that ArmHug was born.
A self-professed doodler, Hennesys began sketching out what a blood draw kit might look like. The necessary components. The box design. The instruction manuals. It all came together on the page, and she started to envision just how much efficiency could be gained if nurses and phlebotomists could simply pull a kit from the shelf and have everything they need for the procedure all in one place.
After refining her idea for a convenient blood draw kit, Hennesys shared her concept with colleagues and administrators at Mount Sinai, hoping to solicit feedback and potential buy-in. She even went to Staples and bought supplies to mock up a sample of her kit, which she was now calling “ArmHug”.
Unfortunately, her bosses at the hospital showed some initial hesitation about the idea. It was just something that had never been done or used before. But her colleagues – the ones performing the actual blood draws? They were sold immediately, and were asking Hennesys how soon they could start purchasing the kits.
With interest from nurses and phlebotomists, Hennesys continued working part-time on ArmHug throughout 2018 and 2019, refining the box design, included components, and target customer. The pace was steady, albeit a touch slow. But then the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world in early 2020, and everything changed in an instant…
With hospitals overrun with COVID patients, and doctors closing their doors to non-essential tests and procedures out an abundance of caution, the home healthcare industry boomed in the early part of the year. And this trend has remained, with McKinsey reporting earlier this summer that telehealth and remote doctor visits are up 38X compared to what they were pre-pandemic.
Hennesys and ArmHug immediately felt this shift in home healthcare, with requests for her kits skyrocketing as mobile phlebotomists began conducting a record number of at-home blood draws. Prior to the pandemic, Hennesys had no intention of becoming a full-time entrepreneur. In fact, she had just gotten a new promotion at work. But as COVID-19 created unprecedented demand for her product, she decided now was the time to take the leap, and began running her business full-time.
Of course, even with growing demand, running your own business can be incredibly challenging. It can also be lonely, which is why Hennesys was so intrigued when she heard a Future Founders alum talking about the sense of community they got from our programs.
After some investigation, Hennesys eventually applied and was accepted into the 2021 Cohort of the Future Founders Startup Bootcamp Program.
An innovative early-stage accelerator serving 18 to 30-year-olds across the country, Startup Bootcamp kicked off in February with a series of virtual programs that gave founders an opportunity to network with peers, connect with entrepreneurial thought leaders, and build skills through leadership development workshops and monthly mastermind sessions. Their work in Phase One culminated with the Startup Bootcamp Pitch Day, where founders pitched their businesses to a panel of entrepreneurs, investors, and business leaders from across the country.
At the conclusion of Phase One, Hennesys was one of the 17 founders (out of 45) to be selected for Phase Two, where she had the opportunity to attend nine different skill development sessions on topics ranging from digital marketing and lean manufacturing, to legal and accounting best practices for first-time founders.
Tina Hrabak, Senior Director of Startups, had this to say about Hennesys’ time in the program:
“Hennesys came into the Startup Bootcamp as a perfect example of a founder who had experienced a problem firsthand and was actively looking for a solution. She’s taken ArmHug from an initial idea of a product-based business and turned it into a hybrid product/service business by being responsive to her customers and their needs. I’ve loved watching her sharpen her business acumen from month-to-month since first meeting her seven months ago.”
For Hennesys, the most valuable part of her experience in Startup Bootcamp was the deep dive into Customer Discovery. As she likes to say, “I don’t think Customer Discovery ever ends”. To this day, she continues to use the tools and skills learned in the Future Founders program to solicit customer feedback in an effort to improve her products.
Now that she’s graduated from the Future Founders Startup Bootcamp program, Hennesys has a renewed energy and peer network she plans to use to unlock the next phase of growth for her business.
Her goal right now is to make it easier than ever for mobile phlebotomists to conduct safe and accurate blood draws. ArmHug is currently in talks with a nationwide chain of drug stores about potentially stocking their kits, allowing phlebotomists to always have close access to the tools they need to do their job. Because even though most of us would prefer not to think about needles and blood, they allow us (and our doctors) to keep a close watch on our health, and ensure we live long, healthy lives.
And that’s one thing we’re all happy to think about.
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