Marketing an App That Could Save Lives — for Free

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"visit_us">shugatrack.jpgNEW HAVEN — Offering products for free seems counterintuitive for a start-up company that aims to be profitable. But that’s part of the marketing approach John Fitzpatrick’s new business is taking, and it’s right on track for securing a substantial client base, Fitzpatrick says.

“We’re not pricing now,” says Fitzpatrick. “We want to get " _online_no_prescription" online into the hands of users.”

The “it” is ShugaTrak, a smart-phone app that allows a second party to receive, via text message or e-mail, the glucose meter readings of a loved one who has diabetes. The product is targeted towards parents of "/#there">there teenagers.

John Fitzpatrick“[Diabetic teenagers] were the ones most in need of motivation [to take their insulin],” notes Fitzpatrick. He adds that demands and preoccupations of today’s teens, as well as a natural tendency to ignore a parental reminder, could result in a health emergency.

“They might not be listening to their parents. The consequences of that could be very serious.”

What ShugaTrak does is relieve the worry about possibly unsafe insulin levels a teenager might have, Fitzpatrick says.

Fitzpatrick formed the company Applivate, through which ShugaTrak is produced. It is his first business. Fitzpatrick serves as president, and cofounders Harvey Zar and Isamu Hayashida are chief medical officer and chief technical officer, respectively. The business is located at 5 Science Park.

One year ago, ShugaTrak was just a vague idea Fitzpatrick had conceived.

“I was working at a job at Yale in the Office of Development,” says Fitzpatrick, who holds a Ph.D. in biology. The scientist, who previously had worked as a neuroscience researcher for six years at the Yale School of Medicine, was toying with the idea of starting his own business. He looked to familiar people and situations to help determine a possible course.

“My wife has diabetes. She uses an insulin pump,” which is used to administer and can record infusions of needed insulin. “I thought,” notes Fitzpatrick, “there must be some way to use this data.”

The idea gelled when Fitzpatrick participated in the Startup Weekend New Haven competition last fall. He’d heard about the three-day entrepreneurial idea marathon, and signed up after seeing a message about it on the social media site Twitter.

Fitzpatrick and his team ended up winning the competition, convincing judges that their idea was the most achievable and commercially viable among those presented. In addition to $2,500 worth of legal services and free office space and website hosting for six months, the team received $1,500 in cash.

“I sounds like such a little bit of money,” says Fitzpatrick. But he and his partners put it to good use. They applied their prize money to the cost of business cards, glucose meters and blue chip adaptors.

And when that was exhausted, Fitzpatrick’s new business received $25,000 in funding from Connecticut Innovations Inc.’s TechStart Fund.

The original plan called for charging $15 per month to users. Fitzpatrick’s preliminary goal was to have 10,000 users by the end of this year, 50,000 users by the end of next year and 200,000 by the completion of 2014, at which point $27 million in sales has been projected.

He’s now scaled back those predictions. He’ll get to those numbers eventually, he says, but offering the app and wireless adapter for free now to early clients will help ensure a successful launch.

“We want to perfect the product and get into the hands of more and more users,” Fitzpatrick says. “We’ve gotten a ton of support form the entrepreneurial community in New Haven,” which helps the company be flexible as it develops, he adds.


—  Felicia Hunter

Should Connecticut Give Special Incentives to Individual Companies?

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