Innovation and persistence are critical to a successful technology business. These words also describe the journey of Northern Initiatives customer Valerie Obenchain, founder of Advanced Interactive Response Systems, LLC (AIRS).
Initially working out of The Stream, an incubator space in Newaygo, Michigan, Obenchain was determined to get her project off the ground. She has networked with resource partners throughout Michigan and the Midwest to develop her product.
Her experience as a respiratory therapist uncovered an idea for an oxygen flow monitor that allows users and caretakers to set the percentage of oxygen that is delivered. The monitor alerts users and health care providers when oxygen levels in the tanks are low. The device also has a heart monitor that senses and when unsafe patient heart levels occur. In short, the AIRS oxygen flow monitor insures safety and cost savings to users and the medical community.
Developing a medical product has been a daunting task. Obenchain navigated the dual challenges of securing patents and raising rounds of capital needed to build prototypes for commercial production. An electrical engineer was hired to develop a prototype before AIRS applied for and received its first U.S. patent.
Obenchain demonstrated her commitment to the project by pledging $250,000 of her personal capital. She won a 2018 Chicago pitch event in Chicago, winning $330,000 in grant money. Obenchain then raised $540,000 from accredited investors, including several physicians she has worked with. Another key piece of the capital raised has been a commercial loan from Northern Initiatives. The loan came at a pivotal time and will help AIRS get to the finish line with having a final product introduced to the marketplace.
Obenchain expects approval soon from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin selling the oxygen flow monitor, with sales expected to begin later this year. AIRS presently has a management team of six, several subcontractors and hopes to quickly add 10 full-time employees when the product hits the market.
It was a strong need for a product to help others that formed the foundation of what Obenchain believes will be long-term success. “I kept seeing issues with patients running out of oxygen or getting low. I knew I could design something,” she said.