Accept, Adapt and grow. The COVID-19 lifestyle may last longer than you expect. The sooner you can accept it and adapt to it, the sooner you can start growing. If you are a small business owner, perhaps adapting to working from home can save your business a lot in real estate. Perhaps the changes you can make can become permanent and increase productivity. Since we are now forced to try this new lifestyle, this is the perfect time to make changes, establish systems, and integrate it as part of a long term strategy.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Priska Diaz.
After the success of her consumer product, Bare® Air-free infant feeding system which provides unprecedented health benefits compared to baby bottles: Bare® significantly reduced Acid Reflux symptoms in 75% of babies, in the first two weeks, Priska Diaz, M.S., founder and CEO of Bittylab, is currently in the process of regulatory compliance. Bittylab aims to launch the first low-risk and non-pharmacological medical device for treatment and prevention of infant GER and GERD. Due to Priska’s baby experiencing painful gas and colic, she designed and engineered a feeding system, based on a syringe, that feeds the baby AIR-FREE milk, while in an UPRIGHT position and lets the baby control the FLOW/PACE of feeding. Priska is a mom of two and explains how she is adapting her family to the “new normal” of working and schooling from home while social distancing.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Becoming a mom was, without a doubt, one of the most remarkable, life-changing events I’ve ever experienced. Due to a low milk supply I had to supplement with formula feeding. The motherhood joy soon turned into the typical nightmare involving a gassy and colicky baby, sleep deprivation and wiping projectile vomit off furniture and rugs every day. I quickly learned I was one of the 80% of moms who go thru this and there’s nothing to do about it. “The baby will outgrow it,” “He may have a little reflux,” “change the formula,” “change the bottle,” “use gas drops,” were some of the most common responses from the Pediatrician and mom boards everywhere. “Let the baby cry to sleep” was one of the cruelest suggestions I’ve ever heard. Furthermore, I learned that my baby was part of the alarming national statistics: two-thirds of infants suffer from severe GERD symptoms (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
I refused to accept that humans are born sick and must endure the GERD epidemic. So I made it my mission to find a solution that worked. After several months of research, I learned that the air inside the baby bottles plus free-flow was causing my baby’s problems. Utilizing my skills as a professional designer, I designed an Air-free feeding system, based on the function of a syringe, that feeds the baby air-free milk, while in an upright position and lets the baby control the flow/pace of feeding. The realization of this product gave birth to Bittylab as a company.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
After 6.5 years of developing my design, we launched in Babies”R”Us stores nationwide. This was pretty exciting for a small startup company like Bittylab. Soon after the launch, parents replied with a surprising feedback: “My baby’s diagnosed acid reflux is gone” in addition to gas, colic and spit ups which are not diagnosed as a diseased. The unsolicited testimonials began to pile up with the same message. I wanted to see — with my own eyes — the effects of Bare® Air-free and started a campaign where I visited the moms at their home, help them use Bare® Air-free, and observe their babies not having GERD symptoms after the first feeding. It was then when we decided to do a clinical study with the help of Dr. Evelyn Remirez-Coombs who, after the study, concluded that 75% of babies no longer had GERD after using Bare® Air-free for two weeks.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, due to the unprecedented efficacy Bare® Air-free has on reducing GERD symptoms, we want to make Bare® Air-free more attainable to moms of babies with severe symptoms of gas, colic, and GERD, in-hospital, NICUs (neonatal intensive care units), and at-home. We are working tirelessly to go through the regulatory process of the FDA and obtain clearance for a medical device followed by insurance reimbursement. Today, the only solution to treat infant GERD is with prescription drugs, which are proven to render harmful side effects, such as lethargic behavior, blood in the stool, liver disease, bone fracture, pneumonia, gastroenteritis, candidemia, and necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has advised against using acid-blockers to treat infant reflux. Studies during the past decade have tied these drugs to infections and necrotizing enterocolitis, a condition that can destroy intestinal tissue in newborns.
Bare® Air-free as a medical device will help doctors make a safe and effective choice to treat infant GERD, will save insurance companies billions of dollars per year, will bring relief to tiny little babies dealing with the painful symptoms, and will alleviate the burden this epidemic has on desperate parents.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have met a lot of great individuals, institutions, and publications that have been incredibly supportive and helpful. Without any of them, Bittylab wouldn’t be what it is today. Some of them are The banks, CCNY (Community Capital of New York) and Pursuit that quickly processed loans to be able to meet our launch deadline. Marty Levine from SCORE who helped us with financial projections and loan paperwork. Rob Walsh and the 1010 Wins Small Business Challenge grant of $10,000. Dr. Ramirez-Coombs and her clinical expertise to design and execute the clinical study. CNBC who posted a 1-minute video on their facebook timeline and quickly went viral with 29 million views and hundreds of thousands in sales. Authority Magazine with syndicated features of my story. I can go on and on, everyone I have crossed paths with has left a positive impression, and I’m deeply grateful for this unique experience.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
2020 is one of the busiest times for Bittylab as we have embarked on the FDA challenge. COVID-19 is making things very difficult, and yet, it’s just another learning experience that we must adapt. The fact that I am a mom has added the challenge of homeschooling for my now 11 and 12-year-old. The lack of socialization means I have to figure out how to keep the kids busy after schoolwork as well. Last but not least, finding a quiet place in my house is now impossible. However, despite these challenges, we are thankful that we have covered the bare needs of food, shelter, and health.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
In the beginning, I had the kids doing the school work in their rooms so I could do work in a quiet place, only to get interrupted every 10 minutes with all kinds of questions. So I changed to a shared-space style and had everyone sitting at the dinner table with their computers and headsets. This way, I can address their questions and help much faster while supervising that they actually do schoolwork and not video games. I found that establishing routines and schedules were very helpful. We follow a program similar to the school’s, where we allow 45 minutes for each subject. We break for snacks and lunch together. After 2pm they have two hours of free time, which I encourage them to go outside and play ball. While I’m making dinner, they do 1hr of reading or educational apps to review the lessons from the morning. Then we have dinner together followed by movie time. Yes, we all stop doing what we are doing and sit together in the living room to watch a good movie. Disney+, Netflix, History Channel, and cable tv have enough variety for daily entertainment.
They were enrolled as sea cadets before the pandemic, so now they have cadet coursework and webinars to attend during the weekend. But weekends are mostly free time so we can all keep our sanity.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?
It was difficult enough to catch the attention of investors as a woman in STEM before the pandemic, and now it’s almost impossible as investors are turning their attention to COVID-related solutions. We are actively fundraising for our second and larger clinical study and start the 510k submission process.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We have regrouped and strategized to be more focused on MedTech investors only. We are working on including more Pediatricians that support our pilot study. We’re in contact with clinics and hospitals to produce type III evidence. We have increased the efforts to apply for grants. We are also increasing our online presence and social network on websites like Linked in.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
For the last month or so, the four of us (mom, dad and two kids) are besties, gym pals, teachers, students, bosses, workers, and co-workers. What has worked best for me, is to do things together with the children we wake up at the same time, we eat breakfast together, we start work (schoolwork in their case) together, we break for snacks and lunch at the same time too. We all look forward to exercising together on the weekends (something we have not done before) and movie time at the end of the day. Routines keep everyone calm as they know what’s coming and help manage expectations.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?
So far, schedules and routines have been successful for us. Everyone knows their day is full of schoolwork, activities, movie time, etc. The goal is to have too much to do, so everyone is busy and exhausted at the end of the day. Something fun like movie time can be seen as a reward after your very busy day. I have to work on integrating some physical activities in our daily routine and allow at least an hour, if not more.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Here are my 5 reasons to be hopeful during this corona crisis:
- This will pass.
We know this because we have come out from worse pandemics, historically speaking. We can also see this in other countries where the pandemic started, the panic took over, then they flattened the curve, and now they can cautiously ease out the quarantine. I saw this Timeline of Pandemics and Plagues (160s-2020s) video on my linked in feed on historically recorded viruses and their effects which graphically illustrate how the world has gone through pandemics.
- The cure and vaccines are around the corner.
We know that pharmaceuticals, large and small, are working around the clock to come up with a solution. It’s now a matter of staying safe long enough to take advantage of a vaccine. For example, Johnson and Johnson has activated a global research network against COVID-19 and are determine to create a vaccine.
- The quarantine is teaching us all a new lifestyle
While some of us may find it inconvenient to stay at home, think about the bigger picture. What will happen if we all go out and get infected? Staying healthy is the most important thing right now. Fears, panic attacks, and anxiety are a tiny part of it that only exists in your mind. This is the perfect time to learn how to manage your psychological issues and be supportive of one another. If reading the news gives you anxiety, then don’t read the news, read a novel instead. Your sanity is important for you and those around you.
- Accept, Adapt and grow
The COVID-19 lifestyle may last longer than you expect. The sooner you can accept it and adapt to it, the sooner you can start growing. If you are a small business owner, perhaps adapting to working from home can save your business a lot in real estate. Perhaps the changes you can make can become permanent and increase productivity. Since we are now forced to try this new lifestyle, this is the perfect time to make changes, establish systems, and integrate it as part of a long term strategy.
- What is the quarantine teaching us?
In my case, I am now as comfortable engaging with counterparts halfway around the globe in Hawaii as I am with local New Yorkers.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Definitely keep busy. I know most of us have our share of stuff to do, but the goal is to fill the day with activities, so there’s no time to get anxious. Here are some examples of new projects. This could be a great time to take those online dance lessons you never did. Learn how to make exotic, tasty dishes. How about start researching the market for that idea you have put off for ten years. Weight loss goals? Perfect time to get the carefully balanced meals to lose weight. Redesign your living room, change the color of the walls, and restore that old chest drawer that’s been an eyesore since you moved into your place.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Perseverance is 50% of it.”
We all know that an overnight success takes 15 years. On that principle alone, sticking to your dreams is essential. The idea of an air-free feeding system came to me when my son was born, he is now 12! Bittylab is nine years old, and we still have a lot to do.
How can our readers follow you online?
Yes, our social media handle is @Bittylab for twitter, Instagram, and facebook.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!