How would you describe Warmilu in a nutshell?
How would you describe Warmilu in a nutshell?
Warmilu is our non-electric warming technology company that makes medical devices and also custom cut and sew products to fit those warming technologies. So our US patented warming technology is our Multiplatform technology, it’s the thing that powers all that we do. So our flagship product is the Warmilu Infant warming incubator blanket, and it’s now warming 7,200 babies in 30 hospitals in 11 countries. And we work with partners, the key to our success is being a material science engineering company with a heart, and working with amazing partners like Doctors without Borders in Bangladesh, the University of California San Francisco, and finally other organizations including the branches of the US Armed Forces. So that’s Warmilu in a nutshell. And we’re able to accomplish all this because we raised about $112K in grant funding, the cofounders kicked in about $4.5k in our own funding, and raised $262K in pre-seed funding from external investors including WeWork, University of Michigan, Hillman Accelerator in partnership with Procter & Gamble. So that funding has gone a long way!
Why is warming technology so important?
Warming technology is so important because warmth is a basic need, as important as food or water. Warmth, for some people it’s a matter of comfort, there’s a place for warmth in everyone’s life, from warmth for a sports fan or saving a baby’s life in Kenya. I feel it’s one of the most amazing things I could be working on with my material engineering background. What I found was it’s one thing to have access to warmth when you’re connected to the grid, but there’s a number of places where you don’t have access to portable, safe warmth, like a hospital 4-6 hours away from the nearest city. So we found being able to provide portable, safe, re-usable, instant warmth could touch the lives of many people. And as we were growing as a company, we found warmth is difficult to get the temperatures right. There’s a lot of different products out there but if you’re looking at some electric blankets or gloves, they can overheat and accidentally burn people, and you can’t do that with a baby! We chose to focus on babies because not only was it personally meaningful, but also the population that our team identified as needing safe, portable, instant warmth the most. So it was really amazing to be able to help apply warmth to a population where 1 million infants are dying of hypothermia, and it was mind-blowing to us that someone wasn’t doing something to help these babies. And we were able to take all our thermal models, testing, clinical trials and manufacturing, and start translating that to other applications for adults as well as animals. We actually warm reptiles, like snakes and lizards, as well as primates! So we’re actually doing a lot to help warm not just people but also animals too.
You provide products ranging from pain management to the “Gameday Warmcush” seat to the Warmilu Inclublanket. What have been some of the most surprising testimonials you’ve received?
I think the most surprising thing to us was literally that snake-carrier thing. That was really different, not something we would have expected or come up with! The funny thing was the temperature for snake-warming, it’s actually ideal to keep them as close to room-temperature as possible, but that’s super-cold to us, 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. We can create a range of temperatures with our various formulations, and so we didn’t think a room temperature pack would be useful. But surprise, here was this application - a woman reached out through our website after seeing the temperature ranges, and that helped her transport her snakes and reptiles safely, even during the winter months! I think that’s one of the most surprising. Another surprising thing we’ve learned is we originally envisioned our blanket to warm babies for 5-8 hours, and what we found was a number of government hospitals, the doctors and nurses didn’t want us to keep the babies in there for 5-8 hours. Instead, we learned that some of them wanted to use the infant warming blankets to transport babies. So they asked us to make the interior wipeable instead of a knit fabric, so instead of warming ONE baby every 5-8 hours, we could warm 2-15 babies EVERY hour. So if you multiply that over time, it made a huge difference to these hospitals. Some of the hospitals we serve in emerging countries serve 100 babies per day, whereas in the University of Michigan hospital, there’s only about 300-500 babies born annually. So there’s a significant thing we learned: something as simple as changing the interior of the blanket could suddenly help so many more babies.
We had a Mount Everest climbing guy ask us to make some packs. We made small 2x2 inch packs, they don't stay warm as long (3-4 hours, versus 5-8), so that happened! They would put them in their gloves and stuff, or near their toes as they tried to sleep, because it gets so cold there. Just having a LITTLE bit of warmth can really help you sleep apparently, when you're climbing Everest!
So that was one of the coolest applications.
And then drone battery warming: we had a local company approach us, about 2 years ago, to ask if we could help warm drone batteries. Apparently if the temperature gets too cold, their drone batteries die and you can't use them. So for drone inspectors of wind turbines, you're inspecting them in the fall or winter, and the drone batteries just die! So that was a surprising and cool application. So these are applications of warmth that we NEVER would have expected, but that turned out to be a thing!
You travel a lot in your role as the founder of the company. What are some travel tips you’ve picked up over the years?
Oh my goodness! First off, travel light. A rule I always follow in my life, even with day-to-day, is buy things that will pair up really well with 3-6 other outfits in your closet. I’ve traveled to places where there is no laundry machine, so I had to handwash things, and these things are still professional-looking. When you go to meetings overseas, they expect professionalism. So travel light, roll up your clothes, your shirts, your jacket, your suit pants or skirts, roll them, that’s how I can fit enough clothes for 2.5 weeks in Kenya in a single backpack. I have some links to videos talking about the rolling technique, it’s really helpful.
Second, if you’re doing a lot of traveling and you have to bring stuff to the country of target, put it in the checked luggage. There’s a free samples program you can sign up for through the US Government. Normally you’d get charged - one guy was traveling through the Kenya airport, and I’ve seen this in Israel and India - if you don’t have the proper receipts you’ll be charged customs and import tax bringing items from overseas. Especially if it’s a commercial good. The program enables you to bring a volume of product or dollar value for free, because you’re doing it to demonstrate or do presentations, and that can save you tens of thousands of dollars. The guy in line ahead of us in the customs line, we learned so much just watching him get heckled, he got charged about $200 for every pair of shoes and I think he had 10 in his bag! So real serious stuff, as a startup, you don’t necessarily know about these things doing business overseas. So these are hidden costs that can add up if you don’t have a free to carry certificate.
Another thing about traveling overseas: I always have a carry-on with me on the plane. You never know what’s going to happen to your checked luggage. Put some of the heaver stuff in there, but always keep one set of clothes in your carry-on bag, because when I was in India, my bags got lost, and same with Kenya. In the beginning, I would lose one checked luggage, inevitably! The reason I always recommend this to people is when I was coming back from India, I had a layover in Zurich, it was a 8-10 hour layover, so I thought I’d go into the city but I couldn’t, because my checked-bag ended up getting lost, so all I had was a tunic from India that wasn’t warm enough to leave the airport and explore. Even the airpot was too cold for me! It was snowing in January in Zurich. So that’s something I really recommend.
And in some of these areas, you won’t have access to internet for one reason or another: you’ll run into situations where you’ll be glad you had EVERYTHING printed out. Even though we live in a digital age and you can get buy with stuff on your phone or laptop, if you’re traveling, print things out. In Ethiopia, I almost wasn’t able to travel to the Forbes 30 under 30 conference in Israel, so thank goodness I’d printed it out -pulling it up on my email wasn’t enough! By having it printed out, I was able to make it to the Forbes 30 under 30 conference on time. By having it printed out, that might be the difference between catching your flight or being held in quarantine. It almost happened when I was flying to Kenya, I’d left my yellow fever card in Ann Arbor, and at the time, you had to show your yellow fever card as you were entering Kenya, so thank god I’d printed out my vaccination records so I could travel into Kenya. I was in quarantine for 15 minutes just explaining the situation to the lady in charge!
Make sure you have the stuff you need and it will fit in the overhead space. You don’t want to be in a situation where you’re overseas for 2-3 weeks without your stuff. You just need the basics.
And going to sign up for flight alerts. Normally to travel to Uganda or Kenya, the flight is $1,500. I have a whole list of airfare alerts where they aggregate search results, so you can search a bajillion results at the same time. I think thanks to Hipmunk I could get a flight to Kenya, roundtrip, for $700 dollars. So by signing up for flight watches, you’ll get a sense of the usual price, and great deals as well!
And when you’re traveling in the country: always do your due diligence on the country. In Kenya, for a while, there was a threat, and thanks to the State Department alerts, we were prepared and alert. Because we were traveling to all these resource-scarce settings, we wanted to see what it was like to have lodging more similar to what someone in-country to live in, and AirBNB helped host us when we were in Kenya, Uganda and Israel! I wasn’t able to stay in an AirBNB listing in India, but AIrBNB has a wider footprint than you’d think, and it allows you to have a more authentic travel experience. The AirBNB I stayed in Kenya I got to learn so much more about the culture, the host was sharing with me the language, local sights to see, and it enabled our team to bond better with the locals, including the medical device distributors, and the doctors and nurses we are working with. We were able to have a wonderful experience for 2.5 weeks staying in an AirBNB. So those are my key tips!
And don’t forget to bring -just in case - some people have more sensitive stomachs, I’m fine, but some of the people traveling with me, they’d bring a few granola bars and water cleaning chlorine tablets, because you never knew what was going to happen with the water. And some of us would always get bitten by mosquitos. ALWAYS bring bug spray, even if you don’t think you’ll need it!
Yes! So currently we are closer to about 8,000 babies we’ve impacted over the years. And that is really meaningful. It’s a long way from my ultimate goal of warming 1,000,000 babies globally. Because we know that 1 million babies die from hypothermia. But even warming 8,000 is amazing. Normally medical device companies can take 18 years to be approved, so to be able to do this in 8 years is beyond amazing. Now in terms of the actual stories, those are the ones that - with the blankets, I’ve never gone and had the chance to see them being used in-person. Usually we’re there with medical teams before the project gets rolling, we’ll send 50, 100, 200 blankets, and then we get these photos, these live updates from WHatsApp from our doctors, and one of my favorite stories was we were able to warm these twins who were transported to a hospital, they were very blueish and gray before they were in the blankets and by the time they got to the hospital, not only did they survive, but they weren’t hypothermic anymore. And so that’s one of my favorite stories so far. That hospital had been having very high mortality rates for babies, 65% incidence of hypothermia in the babies they were transporting, and we never knew you could fit 2 twins in the white blanket we have on our website! I think the photo of those twins are on the website.
The other story I love so much is we were at the Bungoma County Referral Hospital, and we were warming babies there, and they were actually putting the blankets right near the mother, so after she was done breastfeeding, she could set them in the incubator blanket to get some rest, which was wonderful. So what happened was our team had been working with the governors wife of that county, so she talked about our work to the president’s wife of Kenya! So the First Lady of Kenya, who is beloved for her infant and maternal health work, she came to the hospital, saw our blankets in-use, and she is like THE President’s Wife of Kenya, the Oprah there. So that was beyond words amazing.
As a Midwest-based entrepreneur in the Detroit area, what has that been like for you building the business over the years?
One of the things I know for sure is Warmilu could not have been built anywhere else. Because of our roots in Ann Arbor and with the University of Michigan, we were able to access not only local entrepreneurial funding and resources but also resources in the Greater Midwest, connections to organizations like various chapters of the Department of Commerce, the export programs funded through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, that actually helped us go overseas. So we wouldn’t have been able to make our first trips to India or Kenya if not for some of the funding that came from these state of Michigan or Federal Government resources.
And because of the history here: something we experienced here was the "maker" mindset, and just how much of it we have here in Detroit and Ann Arbor. It’s not enough to come up with the idea. At Warmilu, from the early days when I was welding with a blowtorch and a piece of steel in a tech startup makerspace, to making our own chemicals, being able to get expertise from the P&G team in Cincinnati, and we even found experts in shipping right here in Michigan! We found shipping experts who helped us to get into international regions. And we found experts and partners, not just through the University of Michigan or Wayne State but also nonprofits who already served emerging markets and who had been working for 30+ years to export medical devices, supplies, and to donate them to hospitals and governments. So that particular resource was the Relief for Africa Foundation as well as World Medical Relief and the Global Health Services Network. And these were groups that had already been making donations overseas.
So as a startup, you can’t just send stuff overseas, and build the infrastructure from scratch, it’s very difficult, you don’t know the local people or who’s good to work with, and even logistically, how do you get something from the airport to a region that gets a shipment maybe once a week. So these are examples of partners that, before we were working with Doctors Without Borders, they helped us get infant warming blankets to hospitals and clinics. So in the Midwest, Michigan especially, we have a very collaborative feel. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been around for 30 years or 3 years, you find groups who are willing to work with you, willing to build things, to try shipping things out, introducing you to their partners. We began working with these governments, some of the largest national government run children hospitals, because of these groups and their willingness to introduce us and to partner.
I hope we've been part of a growing movement to change the perception of Michigan entrepreneurship.
Where do you hope to take Warmilu technology next?
So for us, we’ve been working with the US Armed Forces, to break into more of the adult warming segment. We’ve been successfully working in midwifery warming as well. In Alaska, we broke in and just this year learned that in Alaska there’s a law that requires you be able to transport babies in a heated device, and a lot of midwives have been turning to Warmilu to provide that safe transport solution! In addition to that, adult warming is really one of the best applications for the technology, because we’ve been doing some new stuff that makes it easier to charge. Our warming packs can now be reset in the microwave, in addition to boiling. Imagine you’re a grandmother with arthritis, or if you’re in the battlefield, you can reset the packs in a variety of ways. So that’s been a very new innovation. We’ll be applying for a new patent to cover that part of our technology. So that’s really exciting! And some of the developments we’re pushing towards include light weighting, using materials to extend heat-generating but make them much lighter (a current pack weighs about 5 pounds) so that will allow us to break into disaster and emergency response as well as battlefield warming applications.
Would you have any words of inspiration to share with fellow entrepreneurs out there?
Yes! The first is NEVER GIVE UP. There’s a phrase from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and one of the Oprah Life classes, he said “Have faith that on the other side of your pain is something good.” And that’s gotten me through so many challenges.
The challenges of growing a startup is you can do your best to predict the highs and lows, but you never know. One year we were supposed to get 1,000 blankets ordered through one of the countries we serve, and it never came in. What ended up happening, though, was the year we grew from warming babies in 3 hospitals in 3 countries to 9 hospitals in 8 countries, so within that year, we had more than double levels of expanding. And that was game-changing, it allowed us to start working with UCSF as well as Doctors Without Borders.
So that year, I remember hoping we were going to make it, talking to the team and letting them know that cash would be tight, and we’d have to do a lot of work on the business development side, and then we ended up becoming a better company for it. So that was the year we expanded, we got the $50K grant from the US FDA, and it was a good year.
And collaboration! Whenever possible. It doesn’t do anyone any good if you’re the only person holding onto the ideas. Sometimes the ideas never leave that place in our head. But sometimes when you start sharing them with people, you’ll be surprised at how ideas can take root, grow and blossom, simply by sharing them with someone. If you have similar values, that’s how you get the opportunity to grow. There’s a TED talk I give about this. That’s how you grow teams of not 5-10 people but 7 billion people. That’s how you think globally to problem solve, is having that mindset.
How can we best stay up to date with you?
The best way to stay up-to-date is to follow @Warmilu on Instagram, and also to sign up on our website for updates on our mailing list, and to go to our website to see the latest things we’re working on.
And if someone has an idea - some of our best ideas come from the public! So you can reach out directly to our team, and if the idea makes it to my desk, you can just email us at email@example.com. We’re all about reaching out to people and partners, because we can’t warm 1 million babies alone! We’re totally available by email.
You all are just the best!!! LOVE seeing all of the responses to our conversation!
ATA Carnet is the program that I was talking about to @Victoria to hand-carry or ship goods duty-free and tax-free into other countries. See, we realized how critical this was when the guy in front of us was charged $200 per pair of shoes found in almost brand new packaging the first time I passed through the Customs Clearance traveling to Nairobi, Kenya...and he had 10 pairs of shoes! We almost got charged that amount, but thankfully our team was able to explain our infant warming incubator blankets were being used as a humanitarian aid donation. From then on out, we always apply for a Carnet.
A Carnet or ATA Carnet (pronounced kar-nay) is an international customs and temporary export-import document. It is used to clear customs in 87 countries and territories without paying duties and import taxes on merchandise that will be re-exported within 12 months*. Carnets are also known as Merchandise Passports or Passports for Goods. Carnets facilitate temporary imports into foreign countries and re-importation into the U.S. By presenting an ATA Carnet document to foreign customs, you pass duty free and import tax free into a carnet country for up to one year. ATA Carnets also serve as the U.S. Certificate of Registration of goods (CBP 4455) upon re-importation.
What Merchandise is Covered by Carnets?
Most merchandise can be listed on a Carnet. Virtually all types of goods and equipment can be transported under the ATA Carnet:
- Commercial Samples
- Professional Equipment (Tools of the Trade)
- Goods for Fairs & Exhibitions (limited to 6 months)
What Merchandise is NOT Covered by Carnets?
Consumable items such as agricultural products (food, seeds, fertilizer, pesticides), explosives, disposables and postal traffic cannot travel under an ATA Carnet.
What Countries Accept/Use Carnets?
There are 87 countries and territories that accept carnets. See a complete list of Carnet countries here.
How Long is a Carnet Valid for?
A carnet is valid for up to 1 year from its issue date except for Exhibitions and Fairs which is valid for 6 months from date of issue.* Known exceptions to these validity periods are:
A U.S. or foreign customs official always has the right to limit the validity period on a carnet upon inspection although to do so is highly unusual.
The carnet can be used multiple times and in multiple countries during the period of validity. Split shipments are allowed however items cannot be added to the General List once the carnet is issued.
*Note that China only belongs to the Exhibitions & Fairs convention and therefore all carnets into China are limited to 6 months.
Can a Carnet be Extended?
Technically, a carnet cannot be extended beyond the validity period. However, in some instances foreign customs may allow a replacement carnet to be issued to extend the time the goods are in the carnet country. In all cases, the replacement carnet must be applied for prior to the expiration of the original carnet.
How Can I Obtain a Carnet?
A carnet can be issued and delivered to an applicant within 1 day, if the application is complete and approved by 4 p.m. Central time. Same day service is available for an additional charge. Obtaining a carnet takes 4, simple steps:
Gather information listed on the application checklist.Register for an online account.Log in to complete and submit the online carnet and bond application.While logged in, provide payment method and method of overnight delivery