How Breast Cancer Sparked a Business Idea
Editor’s Note: YE’s Startup of the Month is a regular column that highlights new companies with interesting launch stories. To be considered for a future column, tell us about your startup.
When his mom was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple years ago, Koray Lucas saw first-hand how difficult the rigorous treatment can be. He would accompany his mom to the hospital for radiation therapy five days a week, for an hour at a time, for six to eight weeks.
Lucas’ mother hated the standard (read: frumpy and dull) issued hospital gown that she had to wear during treatment, she felt like her personality was taken away and was uncomfortable, cold and embarrassed. So, she designed her own practical and stylish alternative and when she showed Lucas her creation, he knew she was onto something.
After graduating from San Francisco State University with a degree in business, the now 23-year-old Lucas officially launched Radiant Wrap in November of 2011. The $64 wraps are currently available at eight hospitals and cancer centers throughout California and the bootstrapped startup is on track to bring in more than $100,000 in revenue this year.
“We want to give women with breast cancer an extra degree of comfort, beauty and wellness during a very trying time,” says the San Jose, Calif.-based young entrepreneur. “I saw how the garment my mom created benefited her as a breast cancer patient. I knew that if I could turn this idea into a business, I could provide that same benefit to women with breast cancer everywhere.”
We think what Lucas is doing is pretty inspiring, so for the month of January, Radiant Wraps is officially YE’s Startup of the Month. With that comes bragging rights for life, along with a copy of Entrepreneur Press’ latest tome: Ultimate Guide to LinkedIn for Business and a digital subscription to Entrepreneur magazine.
We chatted with Lucas about bringing a product to market, startup challenges and launching a business out of personal heartache.
Q: How are Radiant Wraps different from colorful hospital gowns?
A: For one, functionality. The wrap-around design completely covers you, yet allows for easy access to the back and chest areas during treatment. They’re also stylish and comfortable, made of soft and flowing fabrics in a variety of vibrant colors and patterns, complete with a trendy V-neck and sash tie at the waist. Women feel unique when they wear their Radiant Wrap -- not like just another patient. It’s their own and comes with a matching carrying bag.
Q: How did you develop a prototype?
A: We consulted tons of doctors and radiation technicians about regulations, gown requirements, design possibilities and fabric types. After several tests, we came up with a functional prototype that my mom wore to her treatment.
Q: How did you find a manufacturer?
A: While we considered going overseas, we ended up finding a great one here in the U.S. One of my college professors introduced me to a past graduate who launched a designer fashion and manufacturing business in San Francisco. This facility was a great small-run manufacturer and I used them for the first few production rounds.
Since the owner of the facility graduated from the same class I did, she was also very helpful in explaining manufacturing jargon and procedures. This was very helpful since I had to overcome many challenges in finding a trustworthy manufacturer including pricing, material issues, completion timelines, quality control and logistics, just to name a few. We now use a manufacturer in Oakland, Calif., that does larger production runs.
Q: What's been your biggest challenge?
A: The bureaucracy associated with working with cancer centers. For a purchase to be approved and a pilot program launched, there’s a very lengthy process that the cancer centers must go through. There are several decision makers who must first approve a purchase, then approval is needed from the purchasing departments, then approval is generally needed from the medical foundations as well. The process of coordinating with cancer centers takes months and it has been really difficult balancing patience and persistence while trying to finalize a sale.
Q: Advice for young entrepreneurs?
A: You can do it. Fulfill a need, and create value. Don’t let the idea of starting a business overwhelm you. You have the ability to make a job, rather than take one.