The Collegiate Inventors Competition® (CIC) not only showcases the nation’s most creative college students, but it also serves as a launchpad for emerging inventors whose ideas have the potential to make a significant mark on the world.
Team Nanodropper, CIC’s Graduate Runner Up in 2019, is making a meaningful impact in health care. Its invention — a universal adapter for eyedrop medication bottles that creates smaller, more efficient droplets — reduces waste and decreases per-dose costs, ultimately supporting greater access to the expensive, essential medications many people need.
The National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) recently caught up with the inventors of Nanodropper to find out how far they’ve taken their invention.
Addressing a Significant Need
The idea for an adapter for eyedrop bottles began when Allisa J. Song, Nanodropper CEO and co-founder, read a news story detailing the problem of oversize eyedrops wasting both medication and money.
“It was really clear that the industry was very much aware of this problem,” said Mackenzie Andrews, CCO and co-founder. “But nobody had figured out a way to solve it on a large scale.”
For millions of people with glaucoma and other eye conditions, the unregulated size of eyedropper tip openings can result in wasted medication, causing them to run out before their insurance will cover a refill. Each time a patient misses a dose, it can contribute to vision loss.
“About 80% of the medication in every bottle of eyedrops is wasted,” said Andrews. “Drops for glaucoma, for example, can be about $500 per bottle. When you're wasting 80% of a $500 bottle of medication, that's a huge issue. People are paying for stuff that is going to be wasted by design.”
Creating a Patient-Centered Product
To create a solution to this problem, the Nanodropper team focused on developing an accessible, patient-centered product.
Though there are competitors in the micro-volume dosing space, these companies provide packaging for drug manufacturers rather than an affordable adapter for end users.
“At the end of the day, they have a much longer path to market and they're likely going to be increasing the financial barriers to care for patients,” explained Andrews. “So while they're addressing some of the issues around medication administration, they’re still not addressing this core issue of financial barriers, which really was the primary motivator of our product.”
Understanding that many patients must “choose between saving their vision in the long term and paying bills in the short term,” the Nanodropper team had these patients in mind as it created the first and only volume-reducing adapter that fits onto existing bottles.
Song added that the Nanodropper team was motivated to empower its end users. “Every step of our decision-making process revolves around the patient,” she said.
Drawing on their own experiences with the costs and barriers associated with eye care, the team members remain committed to keeping their product pricing as affordable as possible.
“It's $15 for most patients,” shared Andrews. “But we understand that $15 truly can be a barrier for a lot of families.” To address this, Nanodropper created a “Pay-It-Forward” program allowing donors to provide the product directly to those who might not be able to afford it themselves.
Growing Eye Care Partnerships
When the Nanodropper team brought its invention to CIC in 2019, team members had what they describe as an unforgettable experience meeting fellow Finalists and pitching their invention to NIHF Inductees and United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) officials. The feedback they received proved invaluable.
“It was such a good experience — the real-world training experience and the networking and the opportunity to meet these folks,” said Song. Andrews agreed and added, “We built our business plan and worked on revising it, with small pivots here and there. That was all due to the feedback we got at the competition.”
Following its participation in CIC, the Nanodropper team launched its product in June 2020. It has since expanded throughout the private eye care clinic market, reaching 49 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
“Now we're starting to focus on larger partnerships,” said Andrews. “We’re contracted with the Air Force, we're working on [Veterans Affairs] partnerships, and we’re working with a number of institutional partnerships and larger networks like Kaiser Permanente.”
To support its growing reach, the team itself has also grown. What began as a “garage startup” is now a thriving business with a distribution and fulfillment center, and an expanding team of employees.
As it continues to increase its reach, the Nanodropper team regularly receives praise and thanks from grateful physicians and optometrists. Song shared, “I think that's been really cool to see, that we're actually helping the clinicians practice medicine in the way they think they should be.”
Enter the Competition
Are you an undergraduate or graduate student with an innovative idea of your own? We encourage you to learn more about CIC and submit your invention by visiting our website.