Alumnus develops affordable intubation tool

Becoming an entrepreneur was never her plan, but after an internship in Kenya, alumna Dieuwertje Drexhage decided to start a company to develop an affordable breathing aid.

Dieuwertje Drexhage: “During my internship in a hospital in Kenya, I saw what the lack of affordable equipment means.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

  • Alumnus: Dieuwertje Drexhage
  • Company: Layco
  • Product: Video laryngoscopes, ‘the Goodscope’
  • Started in (year): 2020
  • Degree programme: Biomechanical Design
  • Number of employees: 5
  • Revenue: None as yet (grants, tender)
  • Target group: Hospitals in low-income countries
  • In five years’ time: Selling ten different medical devices, exponential growth, 8,000 Goodscopes sold.

More than ninety percent of all medical equipment is made in high-income countries. It is difficult for low-income countries to acquire affordable equipment. Dieuwertje Drexhage hopes that her start-up Layco will help to close this gap.

It was never Drexhage’s plan to become an entrepreneur. “I never saw myself as a true entrepreneur, as I hate negotiating.” Yet it crossed her path during her Master’s programme in Biomechanical Design. “I did my internship in a hospital in Kenya. There I saw what a lack of affordable equipment means for the hospitals there.”

The TU research programme Surgery for All was already working on an intubation tool that the doctors really needed, but was too expensive. A junior researcher who was leaving asked Drexhage to continue with the product. That resulted in the start-up that Drexhage is running together with her financial partner Thom Weustink.
Drexhage: We started out just trying to find our way, stalking everyone we vaguely knew who was working in Africa or in the medical world to ask them for tips. Thom still had a full-time job and we spent Fridays and Sunday evenings writing the business plan.” Meanwhile they have landed a substantial grant and Weustink has been able to give up his job at Friesland Campina. Drexhage: “We are still in the R&D phase and haven’t sold any product yet.”

The product is the video laryngoscope, “a horrible word”, thinks Drexhage, which is why she has renamed it the Goodscope. Doctors use a laryngoscope to intubate a patient for mechanical ventilation during an operation.

A video camera helps to guide the tube between the vocal chords and into the airway. “There are already a lot of video laryngoscopes on the market, but they are very expensive and not really suited to the local context”, explains Drexhage. “We have disconnected the screen, so the doctor can also use a smartphone or tablet. The product is fully reusable and works more intuitively, meaning less training is required.”

‘You just need to find that one person who is crazy enough to go for it

Hospitals and knowledge institutions were and are happy to give Drexhage constructive input. “But once you start looking for a business partner to purchase parts or make agreements, you realise you are still very young”, says Drexhage. Businesses find it tricky to invest. “Ultimately, you just need to find that one person who is crazy enough to go for it.”

The dream is to expand Layco with many more products. “That can also be a pitfall, there are so many products awaiting development.” The Goodscope should be ready in February 2022. Then it needs to go through the certification process. “We expect to be able to sell the first Goodscope in around a year’s time.” (SvdB)

This article appeared in the section The Firm of the December issue of Delft Outlook, the alumni magazine of TU Delft. 

Sija van den Beukel / Freelance journalist

Editor Redactie

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