INSU: Designed for Disaster

RED Labs
RED Labs
Jul 5 · 7 min read

  1. What are your roles in INSU?

Gilmary: I have a natural sciences background, I helped develop the theory for our product and assisted in deciding what our company will aim to do. Now, I continuously work on customer discovery for INSU, as I live in Puerto Rico, our beachhead market, and I am developing our business plan as we move forward.

Doris: I work on our marketing, communications, public relations. I designed our brand, work to find us opportunities to spread the word about INSU, and I get us into programs that will benefit the company.

Mason: I am team lead and tech lead. I need to make our product work and make it look pretty so we can get it manufactured and into the hands of people in need. Camila is also on our team. She is our main business manager and is in charge of accounting and number crunching.

2. How did you find each other and form the team?

Gilmary: Long story short, last semester, Doris, Camila and I took a seminar on innovations as a prerequisite for the honors program at our university. Our professor teamed up with a similar program from the University of Houston. They wanted to create disaster relief products for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017. The University of Houston group wanted to meet us to ask us some questions for their research. They flew up and met us. By the end of the class, we were presented with some options. A) Team up with the University of Houston or B) Team up with professors at our university to create a product. Doris, Camila and I were really interested in this insulin-saving product, so we teamed up with Mason. The rest is history.

3. How did you come up with the idea for INSU?

Mason: We went to Puerto Rico to discover what problems the people of Puerto Rico were facing in the wake of Hurricane Maria. We found that people had trouble storing their insulin. We heard it from students, teachers, people living in poor villages, and FEMA representatives. It was a major concern.

Doris: We also saw the importance of working on this project because, post-Hurricane Maria, there were thousands of deaths in Puerto Rico. A large portion of the people who died were diabetic and passed away because they did not having access to insulin. Once the electricity went out, their insulin spoiled. So we saw a major need for a product like ours.

Mason: One of the ladies we spoke to was hospitalized twice following the hurricane. She even slipped into a coma because her blood-sugar levels were out of whack and she could not use her insulin because it had gone bad.

4. Is diabetes a very prevalent issue in Puerto Rico?

All three simultaneously: YES!

Mason: It’s 40% more prevalent in Puerto Rican Americans than the U.S. population as a whole.

Doris: I have a theory, because most of our food is imported from other countries, there has to be a lot of preservatives in our food to keep it edible, and I think that influences the rate of diabetes in our country.

I have a theory of why there is such a high rate of diabetes in Puerto Ricans. Most of our food is imported from other countries and to keep the food edible, there has to be a lot of preservatives.

Mason: It doesn’t make financial sense for Puerto Rico to grow their own food either, because the taxes to import are so cheap, and there is something called the Jones Act that says any food grow in Puerto Rico cannot be exported to other countries. On top of that, agriculture in Puerto Rico is also taxed very heavily.

5. Puerto Rico is in a part of the world where natural disaster is very common. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Doris: We start school, and then it’s hurricane season. Every year, we have 1 or 2 or 3 hurricanes. We miss school or work for a few days, and the entire electrical system is weakened. After the next hurricane, it’s weakened even more. It’s a vicious cycle.

6. Tell me about INSU

Doris: Everybody needs access to power to keep their insulin cool, and after a hurricane, virtually everybody loses access to their electricity. A lot of people resort to ice, which is very scarce and costly. There is no real practical way for them to keep their insulin cool.

Gilmary: People also used generators for a while after Hurricane Maria, until there was a large gas shortage. One month, all of the generators in Puerto Rico collapsed and everybody was scavenging for parts to fix them. It was a nightmare.

Mason: We wanted to create a product that was as energy efficient as possible, while remaining durable, accessible and cheap. We have designed a new device for cooling a highly insulated volume, similar to how a refrigerator works, but much smaller. Other methods that are available right now run indefinitely, but our device uses energy to reach a certain cooling threshold, and then turns off to save you energy, and to keep your insulin at the same temperature as well. This small scale device allows you to use power efficiently, and allows you to increase the longevity of your insulin’s life until you have access to power again. It uses such little energy, that you can recharge it with a solar panel. We are thinking of other methods people can use when they don’t have access to a power outlet, and are instituting those methods as well.

We wanted to create a product that was as energy efficient as possible, while remaining durable, accessible and cheap. We have designed a new device for cooling a highly insulated volume, similar to how a refrigerator works, but much smaller. Other methods that are available right now run indefinitely. Our device uses energy to reach a certain cooling threshold, and turns off to save energy, and to keep your insulin at the same temperature. This small scale device allows you to use power efficiently, and to increase the longevity of your insulin’s life until you have access to power again. It uses such little energy, that you can recharge it with a solar panel. We are thinking of other methods people can use when they don’t have access to a power outlet, and are instituting those methods as well.

7. What are your goals for INSU in the coming months?

Mason: In the next few months, we want to be able to get our prototype into people’s hands. Hurricane season is coming up in Puerto Rico, and we want to be able to help people, but also get their feedback so we can make the product better for the next design phase.

Doris: We have also been accepted to the pre18 program in Puerto Rico, which is a startup accelerator that provides mentors and other benefits for companies like ours.

Mason: The program is for technology startups that have some socially facing mission. It’s about building businesses in Puerto Rico that benefit Puerto Rico, and that’s what we believe we’re trying to do. I guess they seem to think so too, haha!

Gilmary: One of our main goals is trying to get different medical insurance companies and organizations like FEMA to take interest in our product and hopefully finance our product to customers. We know diabetics already have many out of pocket expenses, so we want our product to be as affordable as we can make it for the people who need it.

8. What makes you entrepreneurs?

Mason: I’ve worked for a few companies in my career thus far, and while I’ve enjoyed the people around me, the work itself hasn’t been super fulfilling. So the opportunity to do something that I believe is important, and to build it from the ground up, has always been attractive to me. You have control over what it is you’re making, and the only person responsible for the good you do is you. You can have as big an impact as you can fathom.

Doris: My parents and family always told me, just find a place to work and then work there, until you die. So I had never considered entrepreneurship before we started this class. Once we started talking to people, and I saw how much of a difference we could make in their lives, I saw the importance. You’re not working just to work. You’re working to create something that’s better for the world.

Gilmary: I can relate with Doris, because I’ve been told the same thing my whole life. I never imagined myself going down this entrepreneurial path. As we progressed through our class, I began to realize that this path is right for me. What better way to impact the world than you taking the initiative, you finding the problem, and you working towards the solution. Especially with people like Doris and Mason; We all come from different walks of life, and we all have something different to bring to the table in solving this problem.

Doris: We also want to give a shout out to Camila. She has been indispensable in this process, helping us get the business set up and keeping records of all we have done.


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RED Labs

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RED Labs

The University of Houston’s startup accelerator and technology entrepreneurship program. Follow us to learn more about startups at the University of Houston.

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