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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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