Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Capper and this is HXTV, championing Houston’s innovators and entrepreneurs. Brought to you by PKF Texas, CPAs and advisors serving Houston’s innovators for over 15 years. I’m pleased today to have as my guest, the Co-founder and COO of EllieGrid, Regina Vatterott. Regina, welcome to the show.
Regina: Thank you, Russ, for having me.
Russ: Tell us about EllieGrid.
Regina: EllieGrid is a health and wellness accessories company. We take what are traditionally known as medical devices and we recreate, redesign, and rebrand them to be health accessories. That’s because we believe that people should feel empowered when they’re taking care of their health rather than stigmatized.
Russ: So, tell us about the product.
Regina: Our very first product is Ellie, the smart pill box. We designed it to help people organize all their medications in seconds, because they can just pour it in. Whenever it’s time to take them, lights show us which ones to take and how many, so you don’t even need to think about it. Also, we can track your adherence rates, so if you want to just know for yourself or if you want to give it to a loved one, you can receive updates if they’re not taking their medications correctly, so it’s just a lot of peace of mind.
Russ: Show us Ellie. We have one right here.
Regina: Yes. This is Ellie. As you can see, we have seven different types of compartments and each one has its own type of medication, and that’s so whenever I’m running low I can simply take my entire vitamin bottle and pour it into a compartment rather than with traditional pill boxes, you have to individually sort pill by pill, which takes people a long time, so then they don’t organize it, so then they don’t take it. So, we organize it like this, and I set it up with my smart phone, and I just tell it which pills I need to take at certain times. So, let’s say I need to take two of these at breakfast and one of these at breakfast. I would get two lights come on this compartment and one light come here.
Regina: So, it takes away some of the thinking, but also there’s a sensor in the lid that knows when it’s being opened and closed, so if I forget later on, did I take that one yet or not? I can double check in my phone. But also, if I give it to a loved one, I can receive updates if they’re not taking their meds correctly. It’s a lot of peace of mind.
Russ: In the example you said you had two lights here and one here. If you just opened it and then shut it and didn’t take it, the system would think that you took them. Is that right?
Regina: Correct. So, that’s why we have a button so people can skip it, so they can keep track for themselves. We’re not your doctor, we’re your friend. We let you decide how you want to take them.
Russ: I introduced you as a co-founder. Tell me about the other two founders.
Regina: My other two founders are Abe Matamoros, who is CEO, and Hieu Nguyen, who is our CTO. Abe is in charge of all of our finance, our business development, you name it. Hieu is in charge of all the electronics and PCB that has gone into the device, as well as, he has built our firmware and our software, pretty much the work of eight people, he has done it all himself because he’s brilliant. My job, I joke, is everything the boys can’t handle. It’s really just everything consumer facing: our website, I do accounting, I do our press, our support, our fulfilment, everything else.
Russ: How old is the company?
Regina: That’s a great question. I think we’re three years—three and a half years. We first started when we were in college, so that first period is a little cloudy only because it couldn’t be our sole focus when we were still in school, but we immediately jumped in and took it on full time after.
Russ: So, today, if I wanted one I would go to your website and buy it, right?
Russ: Do you have aspirations to getting them out in the retail market, in the retail world at some point?
Regina: Yes. That’s our big push right now. We actually just got back from CES in Las Vegas, which is the huge Consumer Electronics Show, and we went to meet with buyers and distributors because right now it is only on our website and we want this to be more accessible to people who need it. We are in talks with several huge leads and we’re super excited as those move forward in days and weeks to come.
Russ: Tell us about CES. Was that a pleasurable experience or overwhelming?
Regina: It’s overwhelming. I do have a lot of advice, actually. That was our first year to do it and we were very fortunate because we got a spot in Eureka Park, which is where you want to be as a startup at CES. Just one of my co-founders and I went, and it is not a two-person job. They give you ten free badges; use them all. Bring in some help even if it’s just for the week because someone has to be there at all times. We had instances where even if we walked down the hall to get water, we almost missed conversations with Phillips or Walmart or Amazon, you name it. So, you just don’t want to miss those opportunities.
Russ: I also understand, you were already on my radar way back, hanging out at TMCx because you were out there for a while, too. But then you and your partners, all three of you were named in Forbes 30 Under 30 recognition program.
Regina: Yes. We got that news in November that we were part of their 2019 class.
Russ: That’s significant.
Regina: We’re very excited. We’re very honored.
Russ: Take us back to the beginning when the three of you were getting together. How did you land on this product?
Regina: The very, very beginning started with family. For instance, my co-founder Abe, he struggled helping to manage medications for his family, but also me personally, I was not taking my vitamins. I tried the traditional pill box for about a day until my friends started calling it my ‘old people pill box.’ I just wasn’t ready for that. I ended up getting sick, actually, because I wasn’t taking my vitamins. I was with my team and they saw me pass out on the sidewalk when we were walking to lunch one day. We decided that there was a big underserved market that was being ignored. When people think of smart pill boxes, they think of the ageing demographic, which is certainly true, they have these needs as well. But, there are people, especially baby boomers and younger, who still take a handful of medications and vitamins, but they care about brand and design and they’re not ready to use a traditional pill box or R2-D2 dispensing mechanism that’s going to sit on their kitchen counter. We designed Ellie with all of that in mind.
Russ: It had to take capital to get to this point, I mean, to manufacture something like this. How did you fund the business?
Regina: My very favorite way that we funded, and I really tell everyone I meet that they should start here, is we did a lot of business plan competitions. We raised, I want to say, $250,000 our first, maybe, two years by doing that. We also did a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, which was huge fun, I think. I know a lot of people say it’s very stressful but I had a blast. We did another $170,000 on Indiegogo and that money was used to actually build the units and get them out.
Russ: But have you raised any money from investors?
Regina: Yes. We also raised from some Angels and one fund called Quake Capital.
Russ: What do you think about Houston as a climate for a startup company?
Regina: We love Houston. Yes, because we were born and raised here. I hate to admit this, but I did go to school in Austin because I thought maybe there were more opportunities to start a company there, and it’s a super helpful place to start a company. When I came back after school, I was so pleasantly surprised to see how Houston had come together but also learn that there was a lot of it already here, I just didn’t hear about it at the time, which is my fault. I should have done more research. There is a lot of talent; honestly, it’s affordable to live here; we have the most amazing people in our office that are other companies in similar positions, so we’re able to learn from each other; and the giant—well, for us anyway, we have the largest medical center in the world. It makes a ton of sense for us to be here. We’re big fans.
Russ: Before I let you go, share with us where you guys want your company to be, say, just five years down the road.
Regina: We’re pretty open to a couple different options, I’ll be honest. If we saw an offer from a company we thought could actually help more people than we were able to, we would be open to that. If that wasn’t the case, we would love to keep creating more health and wellness accessories. I can’t quite spill the beans on what those are yet, but we’re super excited. As well as more sizes of EllieGrid, is something we get requested all the time. Hopefully, we’ll get some more sizes out soon as well.
Russ: Well, Regina, I really appreciate you sharing your story with us. We want to keep you in Houston, Texas, and we wish you success in the future.
Regina: Thank you, Russ.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Regina Vatterott, Co-founder and COO of EllieGrid. And this is HXTV.
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