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Small-Business Success Story: Taking the Sting Out of Needles

A pediatric emergency doctor’s invention helps patients manage pain without drugs.

Kiplinger's spoke with Dr. Amy Baxter (pictured left), 47, founder and CEO of MMJ Labs, an Atlanta-based manufacturer of drug-free pain relief products, about what motivated her to leave her medical practice and pursue entrepreneurship. Here's an excerpt from our interview:

Photo by Ian Curcio

Buzzy XL Personal, $59.95, buzzyhelps.com Photo: MMJ Labs

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How did you bring Buzzy to market? After proving it worked, I thought someone would scoop it up. But no one did. So I founded MMJ Labs, named for my three children, in 2006 with a $1.2 million innovation research grant from the National Institutes of Health. I hired a design group to take my idea and make it commercial.

Did you patent the device? Yes, I wrote the patents and prepared filings for medical-device clearances from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which approved Buzzy for needle pain, as well as arthritic, muscular and injury pain.

How did you finance your company? Besides the grant from NIH, we got a $10,000 Huggies grant from Kimberly-Clark, a $250,000 grant from Chase Business Banking, and a grant of about $70,000 from a consortium funded by the FDA to develop pediatric medical devices. Plus, I took a $120,000 small-business line of credit from the bank.

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How did you market Buzzy? I went to medical conferences attended by child life specialists—hospital professionals who explain procedures to children and help them cope with pain. More than 5,000 hospitals and 50,000 consumers have adopted it. Now, pharmaceutical companies are buying Buzzy in bulk for patients. We also sell to individuals on our website [two sizes, $40 and $60] and on Amazon.com.

You’ve adapted the device for adults? The adult model is called VibraCool. In December, we’ll launch a larger version with a neoprene cuff that you can attach to your knee or elbow.

Are you making a profit? Yes. Last year, we had $550,000 in gross revenues. This year, we expect to take in about $1.2 million. I run a lean ship, with two full-time employees. I’ve only taken a salary since April 2015.

Are you still practicing medicine? I left my practice in March. It was really hard, but my daughter told me, “Mom, 50,000 children worldwide use Buzzy every night. Your karmic book is balanced.”

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