PITCH PERFECT Olive O’Connor on RTÉ’s Dragon’s Den last Sunday.
You’ve undergone two heart surgeries; your three young children have acute illnesses including juvenile arthritis, congenital heart defects and auto immune issues; and your husband has suffered a ministroke at just 42 years of age. Most people would be questioning what they have done to deserve such bad luck. Getting through the day would be an achievement.
Olive O’Connor is in that exact position, but she refused to let the hand fate dealt her get in her way, and instead has used her own personal experience to produce a product which is about to hit the shelves of every chemist in Ireland.
With enough pills in her home to fill a pharmacy, she initially struggled to keep track of everyone’s medical history and regime, so she developed a system in a notebook.
That original notebook eventually became the ‘Medistori’, a Filofax-type organiser that helps people to store, manage and safe keep all a family’s health information in one spot while decreasing stress for patients and carers.
The 35-year-old mother of three children – soon to be four – recently signed a contract with UnitedDrug, which plans to launch Medistori in pharmacies throughout Ireland later this month.
“It is really exciting but nerve-racking as well,” she told The Mayo News from her Ballinrobe home. “My goal is to help people and to empower them to be able to mange their own health in their home.”
The idea for Medistori came about in 2012 when her father returned from hospital with 22 different types of medication for several conditions – heart failure, COPD, endocrine disorders and spinal fusions. She started to log his medication information in a notebook and record what he was taking and when.
It was a month later, when paramedics were called to her parents home after her father collapsed, that she realised the full potential of the notebook.
“When they [the paramedics] came out they were not sure what had happened, if he’d had a stroke or not. They were going to give him aspirin, which is normal to do for someone in that situation.
“Mum gave them the notebook with all the medications in it. Had they not seen that he had only taken aspirin two hours previous, they would have given it to him again and overdosed him,” Olive explained.
So impressed was one of the paramedics, that he suggested the notebook should be developed further.
Olive did just that, and with the help of the GMIT Innovation Hub and Enterprise Ireland, she started to do more research. She approached the HSE, which agreed to fund a research product to the value of €80,000. After more research and feedback, Olive was ready to sell the designed product.
“It was a long and arduous journey. I would be a social entrepreneur by nature, and when I brought it to the HSE I wanted it to be free for the public and promoted by doctors in hospitals. Unfortunately, the HSE said they would not be in a position to do that. It took me a while to get my head around it, that people might have to pay for it. But I realised, ‘You know what? It is better for people to have it and pay for it than not have it at all’.”
Since launching, Olive has won awards for Medistori, which has been endorsed by the Irish Pharmacy Union and the Irish’ Carers Association.
From a business point of view, Olive received a huge boost from her appearance on Dragons’ Den in a show that aired on Sunday evening last.
Olive went on the show looking for an €80,000 investment, and after hearing her pitch, two of the Dragons, Barry O’Sullivan and Chanelle McCoy, agreed to back her product. She believes her personal experience helped sway the Dragon’s.
“It was a daunting experience,” she said. “I thought about it for a few years but never thought I was ready. Then I thought, ‘It’s now or never’, so I applied for it and met the producers.
“They [the Dragons] really do drill into everything in depth, and I did have to know my figures and my market by heart. They were very much business people they wanted to know facts and figures.
“I made loads of hiccups on the night, but I was honest as well. That’s the most important thing, not to go on and lie and make things up. They were kind of sympathetic to me because I have a story behind the product, and they were empathetic, which was nice.
“It is definitely something I’m glad I’ve done,” she adds, admitting that the Dragons advice will be invaluable, as facing the huge marketplace alone was challenging. “I would advise lots of entrepreneurs to do it, but it’s not for the fainthearted.”
Looking ahead, Olive already plans to expand into the UK and US markets in 2018, bouyed by her success with UnitedDrug and Dragon’s Den. “The feedback has been so positive, and to have a contract with a big international distributor is no easy task, and I’m proud of it. Hopefully things will go well.”
It has been a momentous journey for Olive, but she’s finally reaping the rewards. And more importantly, after all their hardship, she and her husband, Fintan, daughters, Micaela (14), Nicole (13) and Mackensie (10) are all doing well health-wise, and looking forward to the future.