Updated: Dec 5, 2022
Welcome to this week’s edition of the Startup the Week Series. Today we are introducing you to the founder of Oxiwear, Shavini Fernando.
This is truly special story to write about, one that is about a driven, impact-oriented founder who is striving to build a tangible solution for people who are afflicted with the same illness she’s been navigating her whole life. As she so eloquently says, “Battling Pulmonary hypertension (PH) has turned into my greatest source of creativity. It took a patient’s perspective to a create solution to this problem. My vision for Oxiwear is that we provide individuals who have PH and other chronic medical conditions with peace of mind so they can live healthier and more independent lives.”
Oxiwear: a convenient solution for a life-threatening illness
OxiWear is a fashionable, ear-wearable pulse oximeter for continuous oxygen monitoring and low oxygen alerting. This product is designed specifically to monitor oxygen levels conveniently-something that existing health monitoring devices cannot fully do. As Shavini puts it, “Unfortunately, there was nothing available that could help me. They either didn’t check my oxygen like Fitbit, or if they did measure oxygen, they were not wearable like my finger cuff (pulse-oximeter)”
Oxiwear will be able to support 10% of the global population who are at risk of hypoxia due to environmental factors, chronic medical conditions, or overexertion and living at high altitudes in three critical ways:
Constantly measuring oxygen levels
Activate emergency protocols when oxygen levels fall dangerously low
Be easily worn.
Saying no to Limitations
It has taken a lifetime for Shavini to truly grasp the extent of her illness-33 years to be exact. Growing up in Sri Lanka, Shavini was initially diagnosed with asthma but a medical crisis when she was older revealed that she suffers from severe Pulmonary Hypertension (PH). Upon discovering this fatal diagnosis, she moved to the USA to receive care from the world’s top PH department at John Hopkins. Here she learned that in addition to her diagnosis, she requires a lung and heart transplant and would never be able to travel safely by air again. As a result, she cannot return to her native Sri Lanka and awaits heart and lung transplants in the near future.
Her fatal diagnosis convinced the caregivers in Shavini’s life that she would have to limit her lifestyle significantly. However, after making so many personal sacrifices to get the care she needed in the United States, Shavini was not willing to give up the life she envisioned for herself. Instead of living in constant fear over state of her physical wellbeing, she decided that the best way to lead a sustainable, independent life was to create a solution to live with her illness.
It was from this personal necessity, that the idea for Oxiwear emerged- a tool that would allow her and patients like her to identify silent hypoxic episodes before they occurred. Tapping into her personal connections and background in the tech industry, Shavini created the first Oxiwear prototype in 2018, which went on to win Georgetown University’s Bark Tank Pitch competition- a prestigious award from the renowned American university for startup founders. This win proved to be catalyst for making Oxiwear into the enterprise it is today.
Filling a Gap in the Health Monitoring Device Industry
Despite receiving multiple accolades and recognition, convincing investors that tracking oxygen levels was a critical missing piece in the health monitoring device industry was initially challenging. However, the emergence of COVID19 was a turning point, because it allowed investors to understand what services Oxiwear provided and why it was important for daily use. Since then, Oxiwear has been able to hit major milestones such as creating a team to implement her vision and acquiring financing to support the development of her product.
Thus far, Oxiwear has grown into a team of 8 and has secured $1.25 Million in pre-seed financing through a combination of winning pitch competition and grants. Part of this financing will used to launch Oxiwear in the third quarter of 2022. A hint for investors reading this blog post, Oxiwear will be opening their seed round in October.
Insight for Entrepreneurs: Select Your Tribe and Advice Carefully.
While Shavini has clearly been able to reach strategic victories, she says that establishing Oxiwear has demanded her complete attention. She says that, “ becoming a founder and CEO of a startup company melds all of my professional and academic skills together while broadening my responsibilities to include operations, regulatory, legal, human resources, communications, design, manufacturing, and distribution, to name a few. Simply put it’s a 24/7 job.”
Her advice for entrepreneurs who are enduring the intensity of founding their own businesses is surround themselves with people who feed their passions rather than retract from them. For her this has meant building a committed and dedicated team and connecting with mentors.
She also reminds entrepreneurs to be selective of what advice they decide to integrate into their business. As she puts it, “ being an entrepreneur is a roller coaster ride of highs and lows through a tunnel on an unknown path. You will get both positive and negative advice from people – some wanting you to change your mission or business model and some who say your idea will not work. You need to filter the advice and take what is encouraging and helpful, while ignoring the rest. Never compromise your mission.”
At the end of the day, Shavini says that is the people she is working with and people who she will help that keeps her going through the difficult moments. She says, “I am driven to get this product to market as soon as possible to help the many people who have reached out personally via email and on our social media channels encouraging us on and thanking us for what we are doing.”
The story of how Shavini founded Oxiwear is about understanding a critical deficit in an industry and being creative enough to find a way to address it- a story that many of you will relate to. Just as importantly though, it is also about compassion for ourselves and for the greater world. The lesson we can learn from Shavini is that when we choose a path of empowering and helping others, we can achieve truly impactful, innovative solutions that raise standards and create more equity in our chosen fields.
In closing, we want to extend a very warm welcome to Shavini. It was an absolute pleasure to write this piece about your personal and professional journey. To learn more about Shavini Fernando and Oxiwear, check out their website and LinkedIn.