Beware the scavengers

David Higgins
The new age of web marketing and mass merchants has spawned knock-off artists and eased the process of stealing from innovators

The entire world depends upon creative leadership in all walks of life, from the creative arts to better living. The world of health care is certainly no exception. Where would we be without the medical and scientific brilliance to save lives, prevent illness and find solutions to epidemics? However, those that thrive on creation, innovation and problem solving are often not the ones reaping the rewards of their endeavors. In this world of human beings, sometimes emotions like greed, jealousy, or just plain envy can drive us into unintended consequences.

Each of us is the sum of our environment, those who came before us, our teachers, our associates, and all those accumulated life experiences. It will serve us well to always remember that whatever we create, invent or innovate, it came from all those before and a healthy dose of gratitude can help carry us through frustrations.

My goal herein is to share experience, and in doing so, pay it forward to the future leaders and entrepreneurs who are so vital to our human evolution. So, before you begin the journey of solving the world’s problems by presenting the next great business idea, product innovation or marketing breakthrough, beware! Beware of the scavengers of the creative, the ingenious, and the inventive. These may be companies, brands or just individuals with more resources than those held by the original innovators.

It saddens me to share, but market channels are full of low integrity firms and individuals that prey on bold entrepreneurs. Quality and function, to these scavengers of ideas, are often a low priority. Is it legal, maybe, but stealing an idea and making something cheaper or selling at a lower price usually does not best serve the consumer/patient or the HME channel.

No amount of intellectual property will guarantee protection from those waiting in the shadows. Of course, patents, trademarks, copyrights are all critical issues, but these can be small hurdles for companies who make a living off selling less functional look-a-likes. Unfortunately, many patients are not discerning enough to know they have been duped.

My first experience, as a young, naïve start-up entrepreneur/inventor, was in the business of diabetic care. My business partner, Dr. Douglas Richie, Jr., and I conceived the idea of making socks designed with more protective features for those with at-risk feet, specifically diabetics. Armed with research and considerable credentials, we began the process of convincing the diabetic health community that typical socks were dangerous to those with diabetes. Today the diabetic sock market is approximately $500M. More than 75% of these socks are made with inferior features that provide little or no protection to a diabetic and often even the reverse.

The advent of the Internet’s multi-product shopping sites allow and even invite scavengers to confuse the best deal for the best value. In reality, it is often the mass retailers that play out this unscrupulous strategy, or at least support the laggards who live off the new ideas of others.

The home health markets have stood as a barrier to design copiers, knock-off artists and the like. The HME retail channel has historically stood for offering the best or latest technology in products. I sincerely hope that this continues, even in the face of competitive challenges from the web or mass merchants.

To entrepreneurial creators, I say arm yourself! Arm yourself with knowledge, clear expectations, and a fearless drive to serve your end consumer. Arm yourself with all the intellectual property you can afford but remember that sometimes it is simply best to know how to keep a secret. Don't be afraid to make promises you can keep. The knock-off artists are afraid of knowledge and bold promises. Your new idea will be copied and most likely by much more powerful competitors. Plan your story of differentiation from the start.

To quality-focused health providers/retailers, I say stay true to the companies who innovate and create anew. Expand your knowledge: Know your products, conditions and categories better than anyone else and build into it your business strategy. Health products most often need associated service and education. This is not the strength of mass pharmacy or Amazon.

Making money is great and profit, after all, is the life-blood of creative success. But, long-term success comes from commitment to our consumer/patients and our shared vision.

Be fearless, but be aware! Get ready...then launch that next idea!

Dave Higgins has been in the technical textiles field for more than 35 years, educated in his home state of North Carolina as an undergrad and then at Stanford as a post-graduate. He has served as a top executive for many corporations in the field of health and sports products. Mr. Higgins has consulted with large vendors in product design, development and sourcing. He is known as the creator of the diabetic sock market. Most recently, he is the creator and CEO of a health and sports medicine products business with his patented innovations under the OrthoSleeve brand now widely distributed in the home health markets.