“The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all what the world needs most are dreamers that do.”
– Sarah Ban Breathnach, Author, philanthropist, and public speaker
Kezia Fitzgerald is the dreamer that does. Kezia’s story should be told in every Design Thinking class as she embodies empathy for the patients, stays plugged in with her customers, uncovers their articulated and unarticulated needs, and constantly improves the healthcare product lines for her company, CareAline.
Kezia and Mike Fitzgerald co-founded CareAline in 2012 after going through a tough time when Kezia and her daughter were getting treated for cancer. They innovated and designed CareAline Sleeve and Wrap products which helped their daughter and wanted to make those available for all children and adults who are going through similar treatments. CareAline products are proven to reduce pain and infection in patients with vascular access lines. CareAline® Sleeves and Wraps are currently being used by thousands of patients worldwide and in over 40 hospitals in the USA. Kezia’s focus is on making products that people need and products that improve patient outcomes.
When the pandemic hit, the orders for CareAline’s existing products started to slow down as the hospitals weren’t doing as many procedures as they previously did. At the same time, the world was dealing with a scarcity of masks and other PPEs. Instead of slowing down and waiting for things to turn back up, Kezia and her husband Mike started discussing at the kitchen table – “why are we not able to help more” when hospitals and health care workers were experiencing such a huge shortage of the PPEs.
Being in close contact with the customers and especially the heads of infectious diseases in hospitals allowed Kezia and the CareAline team to identify the biggest need and shortage the hospitals were experiencing – the isolation gowns. Everyone was working on producing masks but very few companies were producing isolations gowns. The CareAline team moved full steam ahead, identified the right fabric, the right technology, and kept looking for not just the efficacy in terms of protection but also the fit and comfort that was crucial when the healthcare workers were working long hours. Ultimately, CareAline started producing and selling a line of reusable, FDA registered hospital gowns for Level 1 and 2 usage. The CareAline isolation gowns kept getting better as the team kept innovating and adding capabilities such as high collar for maximum protection, thumbhole cuffs for maximum coverage, and Velcro neck and waist closure overlap on the back.
“Our mission is about helping as many people and patients as possible” – Kezia said many times as she told her story. The invention of the more protective mask stemmed from Kezia’s personal experience. As a cancer survivor, she was self-quarantining herself to avoid any exposure and used N95 masks from a manufacturer in the UK. At the height of the pandemic, the UK company stopped selling its N95 masks to the US customers. Kezia had to take control of the situation. She identified chlorine activated fabrics that help kill the viruses and bacteria and started making some masks for herself. She not only paid attention to the efficacy of the masks in terms of protection but also the fit and the comfort for the person who would use it. That became the Everyday Masks product line for CareAline!
CareAline was selected as one of the 10 finalists to participate in a 5-week virtual business accelerator for the Innovations to Support Reopening Challenge and Accelerator launched by The Innovation Institute at Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech), in response to the pandemic. The accelerator was aimed at helping manufacturing companies in Massachusetts to pivot, innovate, and ramp up production of the PPEs that are essential for public health.
Kezia and the other finalists benefitted from the Accelerator program conducted by Lever on the StartupWind Virtual Innovation Platform. The participants used the platform to quickly learn, ideate, conduct customer discovery, and create prototypes of the innovative products to help re-opening the state of Massachusetts. The participants also used the StartupWind platform to create a business model canvas, connect with mentors using virtual mentoring, and get their feedback on their business plans for ramping up their businesses.
At the end of the accelerator, CareAline was announced as the winner of the challenge for the innovative isolation gown design and business plan. The state of Massachusetts awarded CareAline with a $25,000 grant to help speed up the production of the isolation gowns.
Kezia Fitzgerald, co-founder of CareAline shared her experience with the StartupWind Virtual Innovation Platform:
“StartupWind platform offers a logical, guided workflow that is very easy to follow. The virtual mentoring capability coupled with calendar integration and scheduling is a great solution to connect and get feedback from the mentors. The business model canvas on StartupWind is very different from anything I have used in past. It is very organized, guides you step-by-step. with intuitive color coding and workflow. In fact, the Business Model Canvas I built on StartupWind was the first that really worked and made an impact for me. Overall, the platform is intuitive and captures the SMB entrepreneurs’ needs preciously.”
In a nutshell, Kezia, the gritty small business (SMB) entrepreneur who not only dreams but also does, transformed her business with extension products such as PPEs and is thriving and tracking better than the pre-pandemic levels. Her passion for helping patients, healthcare workers, and hospitals and remarkable drive for continuous innovation allowed CareAline to deliver a huge impact.
Read the original article on the StartupWind Blog.