Meet Andning Med: the startup helping millions of people breathe easier
Between 70-90% of people using an inhaler don’t get the right amount of medicine. We spoke to co-founders Petra Szeszula and Essam Sharaf to learn how Andning Med’s device helps respiratory patients inhale their medication correctly and get their advice for other entrepreneurs.
Tell us about the team behind Andningmed.
Petra: The three initial co-founders all individually applied to a program called Clinical Innovation Fellowship. We all really wanted to make a difference for patients and Clinical Innovation was a perfect opportunity. The objective was to create innovations in healthcare through the design process, and the program is very special in the way they form new teams. They deliberately put people with very different areas of expertise together.
Essam: That’s right! I’m a medical doctor, Petra came as a business developer, then we have a product/service designer, and an engineer. But most of us have a double education. I also have a master’s in bioentrepreneurship. Petra is both a business economist and a scientist in molecular biology. And Christian – our CTO – is a mechatronic engineer and has a master’s in industrial management.
Why did you decide to be entrepreneurs?
Petra: I think I speak for the whole team when I say I just wanted to make a real impact. I was a scientist at Karolinska, and even if you come up with a new drug for cancer patients, it’s probably not going to save patients in your lifetime. So I decided that I wanted to help people during my lifetime, and that actually doing business is the most effective way. That’s the quickest way to develop new products and improve people’s lives.
Essam: As I mentioned, I worked as a medical doctor before, but I wanted to switch to innovation because as a doctor you can only have a limited impact. To be a medical doctor is brilliant, and very rewarding, but there are only so many patients I can see in my life. But one single innovation can have a positive impact on a lot more patients.
What’s the problem you’re trying to solve with Andning Med?
Petra: During the Clinical Innovation program, we followed different doctors, nurses and patients to see and understand the problems they had. We met a nurse whose entire job was to re-educate patients with asthma and pulmonary diseases on how to use inhalers, all day, every day. Even though some of these patients had been using their inhalers for years and years, she still needed to teach them how to do it. It seemed like a massively inefficient use of resources, so we wanted to change that.
Essam: We asked a lot of questions and searched scientific literature, and it turned out that 70-90% of respiratory patients were making critical mistakes when using their inhalers – like not breathing out fully before inhaling the medicine or inhaling at the wrong angle. When they make these mistakes they don’t get the right amount of medicine into their lungs, which means their disease doesn’t get better and they have more complications. For us, it was a device design failure, and since we have a great industrial designer on the team, we decided to change that.
How do you solve this problem?
Petra: Because we are strong in designing physical products according to the user’s needs, we decided to build a device that really connects people to their inhalers in a new, engaging way. Our device has several sensors that measure and guide the patient through all the right steps every time they use their inhaler. With it, they get the optimal dose of medication, which enhances their overall well-being and comfort. They can track their performance in a mobile app and share data with their doctor. But the real beauty of our product is that they don’t necessarily need to open their phone to know how they inhaled. They see the feedback directly on the device, which makes it more comfortable to use in every situation. The data is stored automatically. I’m a chronic patient myself and sometimes your days can be so bad. Chronic disease can really affect your daily life, and everything that makes it easier is welcome. That’s why we hope that our device will help millions of patients breathe easier.
What are the most important things you’ve learned so far from a startup perspective?
Petra: For me, research is something that I completely understand, but when I look at all the extra hoops we have to jump through to build a medical device it can be quite frustrating. I know we’re dealing with patients and vulnerable people so we need proper measures to make sure we’re meeting standards, but it takes a lot of time and money. But with sheer willpower, determination, and hard work, you can do it. You just close your eyes and keep grinding until you’re on the other side.
Essam: I agree with that, not only how hard it is from the medical perspective, but in general, how much resources it takes to build something. Especially if you have big ambitions, which you must have, because otherwise no one will fund you. And even if there’s a voice somewhere in my mind shouting this is too much – you just have to go through it. I’ve also learnt you have to be able to operate on very low resources, especially money-wise. How much can you do when you’re hungry? Can you go that extra mile or not? But on the other hand, I’ve learnt that when you walk through fire, you see what’s really important.
Petra: We’ve also learnt how lucky we are to be in Sweden! There’s so much support with governmental grants, incubators, coaches and mentor programs, especially in healthcare – which is why we’ve got this far. The supportive environment, which Sweden and Stockholm created, made it possible, and we’re learning so much. I spent five years learning economics management at the university, but nothing prepared me for being an entrepreneur.
Have you learnt anything specifically at Sting?
Essam: Literally this week we were hiring an intern, and Petra said ‘Oh, I know Olivia works with interns, we should ask them about contracts.’ I texted one of the founders and she immediately sent me an NDA document which saved us hours. So in short, it’s amazing to work alongside so many other awesome startups that help each other out!
Petra: For me it’s the business knowledge and networks we get through the support by our coaches. They connected us with investors, pharmaceutical companies and other experts and entrepreneurs, and they taught us how to get the most out of those connections. The legal support and advice has also been really good too.
What’s your advice for other healthtech entrepreneurs
Petra: Get a diverse team and get the designer in the team, not just engineers! I think that’s my general advice to any startup. Get someone who understands how to speak to your users, create user journeys and create products for people. I’ve bragged about having Annelie, our designer, on the team so much. The skills she brings as an industrial designer are priceless.
Essam: Definitely! I think people neglect the benefits of design, designers don’t just make things beautiful – they make things user-friendly and simple. That’s why in the end I believe our products will be loved by millions of people.
Would you like to learn more about Andning Med?