Meet the Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge Awardees
Launched in fall 2018, the first Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge invited nurses to share their novel concepts, protocols, screenings, treatment approaches and device ideas that have the power to change human health.
We’re excited to announce that the awardees of this Challenge are Lauren Wright, Ph.D. student, MSN, AGNP-BC, CEO and Founder at The Natural Nipple (shown on left), and Abby Hess, APRN, DNP, nurse practitioner, researcher, and inventor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital (shown on right).
Lauren’s and Abby’s innovative solutions were chosen from hundreds of applications and were selected based on the thoroughness of their approach, feasibility and uniqueness of their idea, identification of key resources, plan to further the idea, and the potential to profoundly change human health outcomes.
We sat down with Lauren and Abby to learn more about their innovative solutions and what winning the first Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge means to them.
Lauren Wright, MSN, Ph.D. student, AGNP-BC, created The Natural Nipple, an innovative solution that improves maternal and child health outcomes by supporting prolonged breastfeeding.
J&J: What was the inspiration behind The Natural Nipple?
Lauren (shown on left): I started out my dissertation by researching modifiable factors associated with gut microbiome dysbiosis and infant mortality and found a link between increased consumption of breast milk and less fatalities over the long term. I studied this in developing countries around the world but made the connection between my own friends here in the U.S. who had started breastfeeding their infants and were having trouble.
I received a grant from that National Science Foundation to explore this phenomenon and found that while nature provides for breastfeeding, it isn’t without complications. New mothers were struggling with their baby latching onto bottles due to nipple confusion, when the shape and flow of standard bottle nipples doesn’t match a mother’s breast, so the baby gets used to the faster milk flow from the bottle, and then doesn’t latch back on to breastfeed. I had the idea to create The Natural Nipple, the first baby bottle nipples that promote prolonged breastfeeding without latching issues. After 3D scanning hundreds of breasts, I created an algorithm to design the four bottle nipples that reflect the average variety in maternal breast shape.
J&J: How can increased breast milk consumption create better health outcomes?
Lauren: Breastfeeding is considered nature’s first “life vaccine,” with studies showing that human health and overall lifespan improves by establishing microbiome, neurological, physiological, and immune development.  ,  ,  Right now, there are nearly 60 million women are breastfeeding worldwide.  Research from the World Health Organization is clear that breastfeeding for 6 months could save the lives of about 800,000 thousand children under the age of 5 and around $300 billion in medical costs worldwide annually.  Studies have shown that improving breast milk consumption could decrease the length of stay in hospitals for new parents, which could save NICU units an average of $5 million a year. 
Beyond creating better health outcomes for the baby, we know the impact this solution will have on creating better outcomes for the entire family unit. New mothers often experience exhaustion, stress, and anguish when their baby has latching issues and won’t accept their body. This has the power to reduce rates of postpartum depression and to provide new mothers, fathers, and caretakers with peace of mind that they are prepared and equipped to provide the best feeding experience for their baby. And our solution can improve environmental outcomes by reducing 150 million containers of formula that end up in landfills every year.
J&J: Can you talk about what it’s like to partner with a fellow nurse with your great idea?
Lauren: I met Tram Pham, DNP, RN, ONC , the COO of my company, on our first day of orientation at nursing school. She was born in a refugee camp and immigrated to the United States from Indonesia, so we really connected because of our shared passion for helping underserved communities and closing the huge gap in quality of healthcare for communities with low socio-economic status. Tram and I both love telling the story of our background because we think success stories are so important. I didn’t come from much and almost dropped out of high school, so I want other nurses around the world to know that success is possible. She’s been an incredible partner in helping to develop my idea by really building our brand and developing relationships with investors and local hospitals.
I think it’s important if you’re going to partner with someone to find a person who shares your passion and ideals of success. Nurse practitioners can make good money, but we have given that up and I’ve taken a leave of absence from school because I want to focus on this full time- that’s how much we care. If you do what you love, people are attracted to passion. We’re blessed with a dedicated team of interns and partners, and I think our team dynamic is magnetic because of our shared passion.
J&J: Do you have any advice for nurses seeking support to develop their idea?
Lauren: Nurses are used to following tasks but encouraging nurse innovation could be a game changer. Nurses are the ones that are the most hands on with healthcare issues, and they need to have the confidence to try to develop and not pass off their idea. They might think the solution is already out there, but they should take the time to look into the research and take a chance on it. Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith, and don’t rely on other people to develop your idea for you.
The absolute key to the success of your great idea is gathering valuable insights. You need to determine if your idea is even implementable, and it helps if you or someone you know has a foot in the door as a nurse. You could have the greatest idea but if you don’t know your audience or niche customer market, understand the impact of your solution or the process of a product launch, or don’t use the right language and terminology, you could lose the market because people won’t identify with your idea. And in the true spirit of nurses, you must be willing to adapt and accept that the needs of your innovation might change.
You might hit a few brick walls when trying to develop your idea. When I was doing initial research to see if something like The Natural Nipple already existed I was told that there was, and I considered dropping my idea. But I pursued the research and found that there was really nothing like it on the market. People might tell you no, but you have to go with your gut and trust that ‘NO’ is not the end- but just the beginning of what could be a great solution.
J&J: How does it feel to be awarded the Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge? What does this mean for your solution?
Lauren: We were so excited just for the opportunity to pitch our idea- so we’re bursting with excitement to know that we are awardees. We’re glad Johnson & Johnson is recognizing how we can improve healthcare in unconventional ways. Johnson & Johnson recognizes that nurses fill gaps in the industry and is committed to improving lives and creating more conversations with nurses. We’re so grateful to be partnering with a company that has everything we love combined.
Nurses don’t go to school to make money in business, we got into this because we love wellness. We never thought that we would be leading our own company. We’re so grateful for the opportunity to enter Johnson & Johnson Innovation–JLABS to receive mentorship from industry leaders in our profession and can’t wait to leverage the entrepreneurship development that we are going to receive to help advance our company and improve health outcomes.
Abby Hess, APRN, DNP, invented a video game app that helps children relax and prepare for surgery. The game is controlled by the child breathing into an anesthesia mask.*
J&J: What was the inspiration behind your great idea?
Abby: There are many interventions that help children feel calmer before surgery. Despite currently used interventions, kids often feel highly anxious and resist wearing the anesthesia mask when it’s time to go to sleep for surgery (anesthesia induction). Distress during induction is difficult for patients in the moment, but it’s also associated with many negative outcomes after surgery such as delirium when waking up, more pain, and behavioral changes that can be long lasting. Children who are young, have developmental delays, high anxiety or prior negative healthcare experiences are particularly vulnerable. I wanted to find a better way to help children become more comfortable breathing into the anesthesia mask before surgery and to help really engage them in the process of anesthesia induction.
As a nurse practitioner and clinical researcher with a background in psychobiology, I was fascinated and inspired when I saw clinicians or parents who were able to use behavioral techniques to effectively calm and engage anxious patients. When I developed the first prototype for the breathing-controlled app, the goal was to combine our most powerful behavioral techniques into a highly engaging technological innovation that would transform a scary anesthesia mask into a fun game controller. This idea was the beginning of the innovation journey.
J&J: How does your innovative solution work?
Abby: On the surface, this appeared to be a simple problem with a straightforward solution. I quickly learned this challenge was more complex than it initially seemed. Creating an effective intervention that safely connects to anesthesia equipment, engages many patient populations and integrates seamlessly into the fast-paced operating room workflow required several years of design work and feasibility testing.
A unique aspect of this solution was the design work behind the product. We partnered with a design team from the Live Well Collaborative at the University of Cincinnati in order to understand the challenge we were trying to solve from the perspective of all key stakeholders – clinicians, parents and patients. Through process mapping, identification of key stakeholder needs, and determination of stress points in the preoperative process, our team developed a wholistic understanding of the challenges faced in creating an ideal induction experience for pediatric patients. The product was intentionally designed to meet the complex needs of the healthcare setting. Key components in the product design included product adaptability (to varying anesthetic settings) and efficiency (costs and time required to learn/implement). From the patient perspective, the solution is designed to be comfortable/intuitive for the patients to use, multisensory, provide a sense of control, and provide a fun/highly engaging method to educate the patient on what to expect during induction.
There are approximately 1.8 million pediatric outpatient surgeries each year in the United States  , so the potential for our solution to improve surgical outcomes is significant, but this device can also have larger implications for improving patient receptiveness/compliance with using a medical mask or mouthpiece. A few examples include pairing the device with nebulizers, incentive spirometers, and masks to treat sleep apnea.
J&J: How did your team support you in developing this solution?
Abby: I learned though this project that innovation work takes a village. Resources provided through Cincinnati Children’s were vital to the project’s success. Previously I had never worked on product development, so I had a lot to learn! Dr. Bob Coghill, my research mentor, was instrumental in helping me to obtain initial funding for the project. Dr. Anna Varughese, quality outcomes researcher and anesthesia divisional chief, offered expertise and support from the clinical and research perspectives. Jon Brophy, Dr. Aniruddha Putambekar and their colleagues from the Innovation Ventures team at Cincinnati Children’s provided mentorship, funding, and subject matter expertise in all areas related to product development/commercialization. The research assistants working with me on the project, Lauren Hill and Kristi Barnett, supported project coordination, testing and navigating day-to-day challenges. We also had amazing development partners for product design (led by Blake Lane, PhD, from the Live Well Collaborative) and prototype development (Kinetic Vision).
J&J: How does it feel to be awarded the Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate QuickFire Challenge?
Abby: I am honored and excited! The financial award and mentorship through JLABS provides an incredible opportunity to further develop the product and for me to grow as a nurse innovator. Every week I work in clinic, colleagues ask about this product. There’s such drive from our team to have this exist, and we’ve received great feedback from children and their parents. We are beyond excited to work towards making this product available to all patients and medical facilities who could benefit, and J&J is the perfect partner to help make this happen.
J&J: Do you have any advice for nurses with great ideas for their own?
Abby: As nurses, we are natural innovators, constantly asking ourselves how we can provide the best care for each patient. The insights we gain from providing bedside care offer the perfect opportunity to identify, create and test innovative solutions to significant healthcare challenges. When you have an idea, find resources to help you make it come to life. Ask people who work in innovation what steps you can take. Build a prototype – even a simple one – to help share your idea with others and get them engaged in the process. Seek out funding opportunities. And above all else, be persistent! The challenges you face in healthcare are likely challenges that others face as well. Your ideas and solutions to these challenges will improve healthcare for patients and clinicians across the world, and they are waiting for you to take the next step.
Belfort, M. B., Anderson, P. J., Nowak, V. A., Lee, K. J., Molesworth, C., Thompson, D. K., Inder, T. E. (2016). Breast Milk Feeding, Brain Development, and Neurocognitive Outcomes: A 7-Year Longitudinal Study in Infants Born at Less Than 30 Weeks' Gestation. J Pediatr, 177, 133-139.e131. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2016.06.045
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 Weng, M., & Walker, W. A. (2013). The role of gut microbiota in programming the immune phenotype. Journal of Developmental Origins of Health & Disease, 4(3), 203.
 UNICEF. (2017, July 27). For every child, breastfeeding. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/breastfeeding/
*photo above (from left to right): Lauren Wright, MSN, Ph.D. student, AGNP-BC, Tram Pham, DNP, RN, ONC
 World Health Organization (2016) Increasing breastfeeding could save 800 000 children and US$ 300 billion every year. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/news_events/news/2016/exclusive-breastfeeding/en/
 Baumgart, L., Orme, C., & Przybyla, M. (2016). Right on Cue: A Systematic Review of Cue-Based Feeding in the NICU. Carolina Digital Repository Scholarly Posters and Presentations. Retrieved from https://cdr.lib.unc.edu/record/uuid:a51b2ef2-2d6c-4848-98a5-802f2d718cd4.
 Office of the Surgeon General (US); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US); Office on Women's Health (US). Rockville (MD): Office of the Surgeon General (US); (2011). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK52687/
 Hall, J., Margaret Ph.D., Schwartzman, Alexander, Zhang, Jin, Liu, Xiang, (2017) Ambulatory Surgery Data From Hospitals and Ambulatory Surgery Centers: United States, 2010, Center of Disease Control, (8). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr102.pdf
*The device is patent pending