She's only 11 years old, but Katrina Elisabeth Diel is already the Chief Executive Officer of her own little diabetes business, making colorful covers for the second-gen OmniPod tubeless insulin pump.
OK, that's more of an honorary CEO title. After all, she's only in elementary school.
But Katrina is the one who came up with the idea for KEDZ Covers, researching the concept, conceptualizing the covers, making the first prototype out of clay, and even designing the logo for the business that's an acronym for her full name (with a Z tacked onto the end). So while her dad is technically the head of the Rhode Island incorporated company, Katrina is the founding inventor who assists her dad and among other things serves as chief "artistic designer."
Diagnosed in summer 2012, Katrina has been wearing an OmniPod patch pump for almost a year now but wasn't happy with how little it offered on the fun and decorative front. So she decided to design her own colorful covers that just snap right over the Pod once you're wearing it.
"Once I got used to wearing the pump I decided it would look cool if it could be a fun color to match the clothes I was wearing! With my parents' permission, I searched the internet for some decorative products that would snap over the top of my pod, but found nothing except stickers," she wrote on the KEDZ Covers website.
That led to the company's creation, which her dad is technically in charge of but she helps out on by choosing colors, modeling her own Pod and covers, keeping tabs on the customer database, and helping to package and ship out the covers from the local post office.
We couldn't help thinking that if there were any young D-entrepreneur who deserves a Small But Mighty designation here at the 'Mine, it's Katrina and her new diabetes biz.
The covers she makes aren't cheap at $20 each, but a portion of the proceeds go to JDRF and the local Camp Surefire for diabetic kids in Rhode Island, where Katrina hopes to go for the first time this summer. All of this is aside from splitting her time between school, swimming, violin and ballet lessons, not to mention all the daily diabetes tasks that are still quite new to her!
Early this year, Katrina's entrepreneurship caught the attention of executives from Insulet, makers of the OmniPod, to the tune of them inviting her to visit Insulet's corporate headquarters in Massachusetts where she got to talk with Pod engineers and also CEO Duane DeSisto. There she learned that her family would be getting the company's support at the upcoming CWD Friends For Life conference this summer.
We had the chance to talk by phone with Katrina and Fred earlier this week, to hear more about where the business idea came from, what their visit with Insulet was like, and their plans for the future.
A Girl's Colorful Idea
When Katrina first started wearing the Pod in April 2013, she didn't like that it looked like a "white baggy bandage" that you could see the battery and electrical parts inside of it. So she set out to add a little color to the Pod.
Her dad says at first, Katrina wanted to spray-paint her Pod.
"I said, 'No, you can't do that. It's a medical device,'" Fred remembers.
"Besides what my co-pay is each month, I'd have to add stickers onto that cost. And I don't think that's something most families would want to spend that money on," Fred says.
Looking for other options, they turned to the idea of plastic injection molding that could be reused. Fred says he couldn't find anything like it on the market, except one other D-business called Pump Peelz that makes vinyl OmniPod covers that are disposable and cost about $6.49 each. (We profiled the couple behind Pump Peelz as another Small But Mighty in May 2013.)
Katrina was undeterred. She drew a sketch of what she had in mind, and then made a model out of clay and spray-painted it. Her dad then created a 3D design that he took to a friend he knew through his full-time sales job in the water treatment field. And that led to a connection with a Massachusetts-based plastic injection molding company that agreed to make the covers.
Family and friends helped donate funds to start up the business, which was officially incorporated as a for-profit S-corporation last spring. They've already made a few thousand KEDZ Covers and shipped many of them out, the farthest going all the way to England.
Katrina wore her own first cover to the Children With Diabetes FFL conference last summer, and that also led to her idea to present KEDZ Covers in her 5th grade invention contest early this year -- in which she ended up winning the highest judge's award! -- and that attention led in turn to an article in the Boston Business Journal.
And that's what caught Insulet's attention.
Meeting the Pod People
On Feb. 21, Katrina and her dad traveled to the Insulet headquarters and met with their CEO DeSisto along with other company leaders and engineers. She got a tour of the facilities, a run-down of how the Pods are made (off location at other places), and she even learned that DeSisto grew up in the same town of Barrington and went to the same St. Luke's School that Katrina's currently attending -- wow, what a small world!
Katrina told us it was very exciting to meet everyone and learn how the Pods are made step-by-step, but even more exciting was that Insulet agreed to make Katrina and her family official "OmniPod Ambassadors."
The designation apparently applies to any OmniPod customer who's willing to publicly share their unique experiences and stories -- and these testimonials are a great part of what the OmniPod brand stands for, says consumer marketing director Hjalte Hojsgaard.
As Katrina describes it, that special designation means they get to represent not only OmniPod but also KEDZ Covers during the FFL conference in July 2014, by being present in the Insulet booth where she'll be wearing her Pod cover.
What does Katrina look forward to at FFL? "I'm hoping to convince more kids to use OmniPod and decorate their pumps!"
Indeed, the father-daughter pair hopes that appearance will help spread the word further in the D-Community about KEDZ Covers, and that could help them move toward expanding the product line to more colors and even fancier designs down the road.
A Bright Future
Katrina is the main color-chooser and the "artistic designer" according to her dad. Since the covers are made of FDA-approved polypropylene plastic, they're expensive to make and adding anything more than solid colors would require a change in the molds. Nevertheless, she hopes to be able to add purple for girls and orange for boys before long!
Katrina said she likes owning her own company and is excited about its future as a successful small business, but she doesn't yet know what she wants to do professionally when she grows up -- after all, she just turned 11! For now, she'll keep helping her dad with their online database of customers, and packaging and shipping orders.
Dad Fred has his day job as well, of course, and has no plans to give that up. But he's happy with KEDZ Covers prospects and appreciates the business experience this all gives his daughter. He also looks to the deeper meaning for Katrina and other kids, in terms of how they think about their medical devices and their self-image with diabetes overall.
"Anything I can do to help my daughter not see diabetes as being a big problem is great... it's about making this all a little more fun," he says. "We believe in paying it forward and want to give back."
Kudos to little Katrina and dad Fred! As we noted recently, advocacy comes in many flavors.