Though she wasn’t always certain of how she would do it, Amy Baxter always knew she wanted to help other people. What she didn’t always know was that she’d one day become the physician entrepreneur behind an innovative medical product.
“I’ve always been interested in medicine,” she says. “When I was four, I would sit on the curb in front of my house, hoping someone would get hurt, so I could put a Band-Aid on them!”
Nowadays, Baxter essentially does that for a living, working as a pediatric emergency room physician and pain specialist. While working as a researcher, she noticed that although needle pain was one of the most obvious and common sources of pain in pediatric hospitals, it was commonly ignored by clinicians, who themselves aren’t bothered by it.
Baxter, however, was bothered by the system’s indifference. This compelled her to develop Buzzy, the simple pain relief device that she would spend the next few years researching and designing.
In 2009, she started manufacturing and selling that product through the company she founded, MMJ Labs. The original pediatric Buzzy, which is appropriately designed to look like a friendly bumblebee, is simple to use, Baxter says. For an injection, it can be applied to any part of the body to desensitize for 30 seconds; it’s then slid toward the brain to keep disrupting sensations during the actual poke. For adults, the VibraCool unit attaches directly to an aching knee, elbow, or wrist for 10 minutes.
Buzzy attacks pain at a physiological level, its ice wings working in conjunction with its vibrating function to cut a person’s sensory sensitivity. The medical device can also be used for other pain relief purposes, Baxter says, helping lessen the aches and pains associated with autoimmune diseases like arthritis, for example.
Though still a young company, Buzzy has already been adopted by more than 1,200 hospitals and some 45,000 users. Yet the process hasn’t always been a smooth one for Baxter, who has learned the hard way about what it takes to run and manage a company along the way.
“It’s funny because I find coming back to the hospital and doing emergency medicine relaxing,” Baxter says, laughing. “I feel comfortable, there are no ambiguities, and I’m doing what I was trained to do. Business is just unpredictable. The problems that come up in everyday manufacturing can be completely unexpected, and having to figure out solutions—it requires creativity and a skillset that I’m just now acquiring. Doing the business part is exhilarating because it’s exercising a whole bunch of areas of my brain that I wasn’t trained to use, but it’s also much more anxiety provoking because there are not absolute right answers, and I’m having to learn as I go.”
Learning along the way has been made easier by a handful of government programs that Baxter took advantage of as she sought to develop a prototype device, including the National Institutes of Health’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant. She’s also received a tremendous amount of support from the Georgia Department of Economic Development, an organization that has played a pivotal role in helping the company expand internationally—something that has personal significance to Baxter. “I really want to increase our G.D.P., and I want to decrease our trade deficit, so the international sales—particularly in big quantities—are by far the most satisfying,” she says.
“I’m a very capitalistic, solid Democrat,” she adds. “The government programs that are in place are why we’re in business, and they’re also programs that are bearing fruit. I’m constantly asking, ‘Have I been a good steward of the government money? Have we produced a product? Are we raising G.D.P.? Are we putting research back into the public health arena, and has the government gotten back its value?’ And I really think they have.”
Juggling two demanding careers is, of course, not without its fair share of challenges. Yet it’s nothing new for Baxter, who isthe embodiment of the Type A archetype. After more than a year of build-up, seeing the first box of manufactured Buzzys made all of her additional effort worth it, says Baxter, who derives her greatest joy from feedback from users.
“When we get someone who says they kept going with IVF thanks to Buzzy, and now they’re pregnant; or they weren’t able to take diabetes medicine because of their needle fear, and now they’re on a regular regimen and their levels are normal—those are the kinds of stories that really make me feel like this was really worth doing.”