GHIC 2021: Global Health & Innovation Conference
April 8-11, 2021
A Virtual Event

Innovator Update:

2019 GHIC Innovation Prize Winner Allisa Song

By: Sydney Mone, Carleton College '23

Allisa Song knows what it means to be busy. During the past three years, in addition to being a full-time medical student and being the 2019 GHIC Innovation Prize winner, her team has brought their innovation from idea to market. Allisa is Co-Founder and CEO of Nanodropper. The Nanodropper is an eyedrop bottle adaptor that makes oversized eyedrops smaller to reduce medication waste without affecting medication efficacy.

Inspiration Behind the Innovation

Allisa was inspired to action by an article published in ProPublica in October 2017 entitled Drug Companies Make Eye Drops Too Big and You Pay For the Waste”. Allisa explained that the article

. . . outlined how these oversized drops were adding to the financial burden and financial barrier to care for patients. From that article [we] set out to tackle this problem with the intent of creating something that was an immediate solution for patients that is both practical and intuitive to use.”

Allisa turned this idea around quickly. After reading the article, she assembled a team of fellow students that winter, and by March of 2018, they had a prototype ready for their first competition. By June 2020, in nearly record speed, Nanodropper launched their product. Allisa explained how proud of a moment this was for her and the team:

I think we are one of the first products to show to the medical device and healthcare industries that we can really bring value-based care through innovation. We can actually increase health outcomes and improve patient experience while reducing the cost of healthcare. Our product proves it is possible, and so it was a really proud moment for us when we were able to launch our product.”

 

Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Teamwork is Essential:

As both a student and entrepreneur, Allisa needed a strong team she could rely on and she credits the companys success to her team, who she says works very well together. Allisa explained that having a strong and reliable team that she can trust 110% is key to being able to succeed as a student entrepreneur.” Allisa said that as CEO, her role is often to delegate and redelegate tasks. It is important that she can be honest with her team when she needs help and that she can rely on them to maintain the companys high ethical and scientific standards:

I think you go through such challenging scenarios and decision-making points together as a co-founding team and being able to rely on the rest of that team is just crucial. That was my number one priority; being able to trust my team and rely on them. I also think in med tech or the med device industry, its so easy for companies to veer off course because they are making pure business decisions and I wanted our company to be evidence-based and not veer off from the science.”

Entrepreneurship is often depicted as a very cutthroat, solitary endeavor, but Allisa noted that she believes teamwork is essential:

I always say that entrepreneurship is not a solo expedition even though it kind of gets marketed to us as such. I think it is an absolute team game, within your team and also a collaborative effort within the community, especially when it comes to social entrepreneurship.”

The Role of Mentors and Advisors:

In addition to having a reliable and trustworthy core team, it is helpful to find mentors and advisors. Allisa emphasized this point, explaining the benefits of having an experienced mentor in the industry, especially if you are a student just getting started:

Finding good mentors and advisors makes it so that you dont have to repeat the same mistakes that the industry has made before. We werent in the workforce when those errors happened in the past, so having advisors who have witnessed or been a part of those decision-making teams allows you not to repeat those. I think being able to learn second-hand through their experiences is super important.”

Mentors do not have to exist only within your company or institution. Allisa emphasized how important it is to take advantage of all possible mentorship opportunities, including at conferences and competitions. She noted that as a GHIC Innovation Prize competitor, she learned a lot from the advice and mentorship she received from the judging panel. She was surprised by how willing people were to help her along the way. “When it comes to healthcare products, there are a lot of people that have the same aligned interests for patient care who can help you with every step of the process of turning something into a product from just a simple idea, even in something like med devices,” she said.

These opportunities can provide a young entrepreneur with invaluable knowledge and give them a leg up. Allisa also learned that it is okay not to take all advice:

I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that its okay to not take all advice to heart. When you are learning something about a newer field, it feels like everyone who is older than you or has had more work experience than you knows everything about it. The more advice you get the more you realize that a lot of it is conflicting. I think it’s important to keep in mind that the advice is just a really small snapshot of that industry because its that person's unique experiences in the field. I think that has been a big change in mindset for me.”

The Future is Bright

Allisas vision for a more equitable healthcare system is truly inspiring, and the Nanodropper innovation will undoubtedly lead us closer to reaching that goal. Allisa summed up her goals for Nanodropper:

I have always seen it as a personal goal that when I meet my patients in clinic, that cost will not be the barrier for them to get the medication that they need. So that is what I would really love to see Nanodropper being able to.”

In addition to taking their product from idea to market in just under three years, the Nanodropper team has been lauded by industry leaders. In fact, Allisa and the Nanodropper team were recently included in the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30 List for healthcare.  She described the experience:

It still is a little bit surreal. I think first, because I see the rest of the people on that list and it really does make me hopeful and confident to know that they will be the leaders of healthcare when I’ll be practicing within that system as a physician. We have a chance to make a truly equitable healthcare system in the US, one that aims to reduce the disparities that we see in healthcare. I think all of these separate efforts, similarly to what I saw in the GHIC conference, come together to reinvent the system and make healthcare more just.”

Allisas hard work and dedication as both a student and a social entrepreneur are inspiring. While Allisa and her team have faced many challenges along the way, they have persevered and Nanodropper is already changing the healthcare landscape and positively impacting patients. 

 

Thank you so much to Allisa Song for sharing her insights with Unite For Sight. You can learn more about the Nanodropper at https://nanodropper.com/.