NZ Women in Business Series: Dr Kim Chilman Blair & Dr Kate Hersov, Co-Founders, Medikidz

Dr Kim Chilman Blair and Dr Kate Hersov are co-founders of Medikidz, a company which provides medical information to young people through a series of comic books.

Since launching in 2009, Medikidz has created over 48 titles, including Type 1 Diabetes, Epilepsy, Autism and Depression. With books now being distributed worldwide in 25 different languages, and 2 new titles being produced every month, Drs Kim and Kate look set to change the way young patients receive information and support about their medical conditions.

Dr Kim Chilman-Blair (pictured right), CEO and Founder, came up with the idea for Medikidz after working in paediatrics for a number of years and finding herself frustrated at the lack of medical resources accessible to children. With all the available material directed towards parents, she decided to create a product that would help young patients understand what was going on inside their bodies, and lessen the fear that came with a diagnosis. While studying for a Masters in Entrepreneurship at the University of Otago and working full time as a paediatrician, Kim started writing the stories that would eventually become the world’s first series of medical information comics for young people. After winning a $20,000 entrepreneurship challenge, and finding unprecedented level of support and enthusiasm coming from Europe and the US, she moved over to England with her colleague Dr Kate Hersov to fully establish the company as an international business. 

Dr Kate Hersov (pictured left), Deputy CEO and Co-Founder, met Kim at medical school and shared her frustration with finding accessible medical information for young patients. Dr. Kim Chilman-Blair and Dr Kate Hersov’s combined research highlighted the lack of information for children abroad, as well as in New Zealand. With a massive gap in the market waiting to be filled, both Dr Kate and Dr Kim gave up their full-time careers as doctors to focus solely on developing their medical comic book series and social networking website where children could connect and speak to each other about their experiences with various medical conditions. 

How did you come up with the idea for Medikidz and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?

KCB & KH: After working in paediatrics, we became frustrated by the lack of engaging education for our young patients. During our time as doctors, we were unable to provide children with resources to help educate them about their new diagnoses or medicines - in their language, at their level. There exists worldwide, an enormous lack of useful material for young people around medicine and health - most of what exists targets parents only! This realisation was the catalyst that led us to found Medikidz. Medikidz is now the world’s first medical education company for children. The Medikidz mission is to improve the quality of life of young people, and empower them with knowledge of what is happening within their (or their loved ones) bodies.

TNW: Who were your first customers and how hard was it to attract them?

KCB & KH: Our first customer was a schools and library publisher from America. It wasn’t hard to attract them to the idea, as it was something no one had done before and the gap in the market was obvious to see. It was hard to sell them the idea though as at that stage, without any finished product, we were only selling a concept.

TNW: What is next for your company? 

KCB & KH: At the moment we have 48 published titles, with 15 new titles currently in production. We have over 300 titles we are looking to develop and are already present in 40 different countries around the world, in 25 different languages. We have also created a series of titles relating to adult conditions, so that a parent / loved one, when faced with a diagnosis, has somewhere to turn to help them explain it to their children.

Our 'What's up with Mum? Medikidz Explain Breast Cancer' has had incredible response and endorsement from the American Cancer Society, as well as incredible coverage on Sky News (click here to view).

We will be expanding upon this series as well, to include titles on Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis and Lung, Bowel and Prostate Cancer.

Further global expansion is on the cards including growth into further Asian markets such as China and the opening of a USA office later this year. Our strategy for 2012 is very much digital-focused, with the re-launch of Medikidz.com; an online 'Medipaedia' with entries about conditions, investigations and medicines with an integrated fully-moderated social network for children globally to connect around illness and disease.

The Medikidz Foundation is set to officially launch later this year. The Medikidz Foundation is the charity arm of Medikidz Ltd. The overall aim of the Foundation is to help children in developing countries gain useful medical knowledge and access to vital supplies. We established the Foundation in order to redress the paucity of even the most basic medical information in developing countries across Africa, Asia, and other less fortunate parts of the world. As per the social mission of Medikidz Ltd, the Foundation believes that the improvement of the quality of and access to medical information can make a huge difference to children all over the world, whether they are affected directly or indirectly by health conditions.

Another big coup is recently being appointed to run a UK-wide health initiative with the government – to ‘get 1 million kids physically active’!

TNW: Do you have any tips or any advice for women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?

KCB & KH: Planning is everything. Take risks - without risk there is no reward. Don’t be afraid to ask (for money, advice, introductions, anything!). Starting and running a business is tremendous hard work, riddled with frustrations, setbacks and complications, be ready for this rollercoaster and be determined to succeed. Most importantly, be passionate!

TNW: What does your day look like?

KCB & KH: Every day is different. Each day the team is speaking to, and working in collaboration with, people across the globe, from Europe to Australasia, from CEOs of the multinational healthcare companies to the world’s leading specialist paediatricians, from marvel comics book writers to groups of children affected by illness, to printers, publishers and graphic artists. It is so exciting to get up in the morning and know something new is likely to happen that we don’t have planned in our diaries. A great example of this is today when we had a call from Reebok UK Director to meet as a potential partner for the UK wide initiative ‘to get one million kids physically active’. They rang late morning and we’re off to meet with them this afternoon!

It is also about keeping up with our advisory boards. Medikidz has established a Medical Advisory Board, consisting of dozens of the world's preeminent physicians, as well as a Youth Advisory Board, a group of young people aged 6-16 years old, affected by illness, whose voice and opinion help to shape the direction of Medikidz!

TNW: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?

KCB & KH: Making the shift from being medical doctors to entrepreneurs was a challenge.

Going from dealing with blood test results and reading x-rays to understanding profit & loss and balance sheets was certainly an enormous learning curve!

The most important thing is to surround yourself with people who have done it before, ask for advice often and trust your instincts.

TNW: Do you have plans to expand internationally? Which countries and when?

KCB & KH: Later this year we will be opening US offices, based in New York, and, with Asia proving to be a strong regional market, perhaps a local office there would be justified in 2013.

TNW: Briefly describe your history in raising investment for your company

KCB & KH: We raised capital from high–net worth investors in 2 rounds, no venture capital funding was required.

TNW: What qualities do you think women entrepreneurs need for sourcing angel investment/raising venture capital?

KCB & KH: Tenacity, persuasiveness, confidence, action-orientated.

TNW: Do you believe it is better to find customers then funding or vice versa?

KCB & KH: It is probably easier to convince investors to take a risk on you if you can prove the business model by showing customer traction and revenue; it may mean you can increase the equity value too.

TNW: What is one leadership lesson you learned the hard way, but wish someone had told you at the beginning?

Hire people with the right attitude.  Make sure you recruit star performers who have tremendous skills but also the right attitude – attitude is what makes employees give 100% effort.

Sign Up to our Newsletter

So you enjoy The NextWomen. Why not sign up to our monthly newsletter?
You get a Letter from the CEO :-), the chance to catch up with the best of our recent articles - and some extra things we throw in once in a while.

We try hard for smart reading.