A Social Good Story in the Age of the Opioid Crisis (2018 Recap by Fiduscript)
Wow, 2018 — What a year. In 2017, our work was hardly an idea. We are now months away from launching, and have built a supportive network of amazing colleagues, mentors, advisors, business partners, investors, and most importantly advocates who champion the work our team is doing. We’re tackling the opioid crisis with our flagship service Naloxone Exchange, an online marketplace where anyone can purchase the life-saving opioid antidote Naloxone, receive effective training on how to use it, and have it delivered to their door. In short, this medication is a miracle drug that gives people a second shot at life. In fact, its brand (Narcan) made by Adapt Pharma is the same drug that has revived thousands of people, including celebrity musician Demi Lovato. When 72,000 people die from a preventable condition, smart and thoughtful action needs to be taken. Our company, Fiduscript aims to make it easy for anyone in the United States (from law enforcement to worried parents, and everyone in between) to order Naloxone and have it delivered to their door seamlessly.
I’d like to take a few moments to highlight some of the incredible things that happened to us this past year. It all started in January 2018, when I nervously pitched my idea to an audience of business students at the #1 ranked University of Chicago Booth School of Business. There, I met an inspiring, intelligent young physician that was a natural fit to collaborate and execute our mission. Shortly after, we reached out to a broader network of healthcare enthusiasts within the University of Chicago. We were able to recruit two other graduate students to join me from GPHAP. We submitted an application to the nationally recognized Social New Venture Challenge (SNVC) and Fiduscript was announced as a semi-finalist.
We learned a lot in the 10-week challenge about our business and from each other under the guidance of excellent teachers and mentors from the Chicago Booth community. In the end, we didn’t advance to the finals, however, we knew we had a viable business.
During the midst of SNVC we had to make some tough forward-thinking decisions. Our team caught wind of opportunities to apply to pitch at business conferences at Stanford University, and a health startup conference at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT -Hacking Medicine), to share more about our work. In early spring, we had to start thinking about plans for Fiduscript in the summer. As graduate students, do we continue to pursue this company and save lives? Or do we apply for internships as backup plans? Some of the decisions came easy, others were gut-wrenching. An easy one? When you get invited to Stanford University Graduate School of Business and Massachusetts Institute of Technology to pitch your company, you go. And so we did.
A difficult decision? When you get into a nationally ranked accelerator program, but in turn, you’re also selected for your dream internship (working with the Chief Data Officer of Health and Human Services, Dr. Mona Siddiqui on the opioid epidemic at the IDEAS Lab) and ultimately have to make a decision. Well, spoiler alert, I picked to invest my time into our company, and saving lives. Not everyone from the SNVC team made it to the next stage, but their impact and contributions helped move us forward. Others, like our Co-Founder Straker Carryer stepped up in what should be described as nothing short of heroism.
In the summer our team was selected to join a batch of 14 talented entrepreneurial teams, and coaches (shout out to EJ Reedy, Crissy Ritter, and my coaches) in the Polsky Accelerator during its most competitive year ever. We spent the summer working tirelessly on establishing the foundations of our company. We had to set up everything, from our mission, our bank accounts, a team, partnerships, and even simple things such as landing pages. It took the whole summer to really turn this from an idea to something that looked similar to a real company. We hired interns, set unrealistic launch dates, and maxed out our credit cards, just like other startups. In August 2018 Fiduscript, a Public Benefit Corporation was officially incorporated, and we finished the summer by pitching at the Polsky Accelerator Demo Day.
After the summer Polsky Accelerator ended, we felt we were only scratching the surface, even though we had accomplished so much prior to an official launch. By the start of the fall, we had five states sign off to give us regulatory approval to sell Naloxone in their state using our online platform Naloxone Exchange. Our team had grown to ten — a mix of working professionals, and graduate students (and even our undergraduate intern continued making contributions well into the fall). We started getting more recognition throughout our campus, and throughout the city of Chicago. The recognition got more intense when a former President of the United States learned about our efforts to tackle the opioid crisis. Through the Clinton Global Initiative, we were awarded the ‘Commitment to Action’ and were connected with the Clinton Foundation to share our efforts, as well as learn from their organization, and their network of partners to help bring resolution to the crisis.
In December, we got the most satisfying news of the year. The Food and Drug Administration allowed us to present our work to their Advisory Committee as they sought innovative ways to make the Lazarus prescription medication more readily available. This was the perfect opportunity as we had recently written about expanding access to Naloxone in Chicago Crain’s Business and had been working throughout the entire year to make our platform ‘legal’ by getting approved via the Google and FDA supported pharmacy verification program — which helps identify online pharmacy services as safe and credible by standards set forth by the National Associations of Boards of Pharmacy (Fiduscript is 1 of 20 pharmacy services in the United States listed as a safe and credible online pharmacy service which includes pharmacy service and direct-to-consumer health firms such as Blink Health, GoodRx, and nurx). We also conducted a national survey of self-identified substance users or loved ones and we learned exactly how to better distribute Naloxone to them (these survey results will be published in 2019).
From our viewpoint, there was not a more knowledgeable firm within the United States other than Fiduscript to share our expertise on expanding access to life-saving medications directly to consumers. Many stakeholders took notice of our team after the meeting. Our presentation to the FDA placed us on a national stage and connected us to the ‘community’ of organizations that deeply care about the opioid crisis in America.
After such an eventful year It’s easy to mention the wins, but we’ve had a substantial amount of losses too. We’ve spent hundreds of hours on grants, and came away empty-handed, went to VC’s and got laughed at (thank God for the Angel investors that believed in us to the tune of $40k), and worse. Thick skin is a must in this business and you learn to eat ‘No’ for breakfast, especially when lives are at stake. I was once told that doing a social business is a harder business. I’ve met smart and insanely talented entrepreneurs have to bury their company. This is why we spent so much time ripping apart our original business model, to build it and make it stronger and sustainable — because ultimately we know it is not only worth it, but it is essential that this works. Lives literally depend on our company.
In 2018 we’ve taken Naloxone Exchange from idea to action, with substantial traction:
- Regulatory clearance in 18 states
- A beta platform
- A team of 12, with 3 world class industry advisors
- Our first angel investment
Like many startups with a great idea, and a talented team, a time comes where bringing an idea into further action, and scalability solely depends on access to capital. For us, that time is now and we have identified even more life-saving products to launch in (which we will announce in 2019), scaling our impact even further. This is why one of our first checklist items for the new year is raising funds.
I’m grateful for a remarkable year and thankful to having access to a strong team, and support group of coaches, fellow entrepreneurs, investors, and advisors who have been wonderful in uplifting our company. It takes a village to raise a startup. Our work is far from complete, and in 2019 the real work begins as we begin saving lives. We’re expecting a Q1 launch. We hope our work has inspired you, as much as the stories of the opioid crisis have inspired us. You can support us, by telling folks about the good work we’re doing.
If you’re an angel investor, healthcare industry insider, or (social impact) venture capital group, please contact us, as we’d love to chat with you. We wish you the most prosperous, healthy and happy new year, and remember: Naloxone Saves Lives.
James Lott is a pharmacist, co-founder and CEO of Fiduscript, and a graduate student at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @fiduscript @jamesolott