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Lumify's Jennifferre Mancillas on YCombinator Breakthrough and Nurse-Led Innovation

Koren Thomas, DailyNurse

  • nursing hackathons
  • Lumify
  • uNight LIght
  • nurse-led startups
  • nurse entrepreneurs
  • nursing and healthcare innovation
  • healthcare product development
  • Lumify Care, the nurse-led start-up featured in the New York Times early this year, is on fire. Healthcare workers love the uNight Light, and the Lumify team are blazing new trails as the first start-up fully run by nurses to receive backing from the fabled seed-money startup accelerator Y Combinator


    DailyNurse first covered the Lumify story in February, when the focus was on Anthony Scarpone-Lambert, the nursing student-entrepreneur who partnered with Jennifferre Mancillas, BSN, RN, RNC-NIC at the fateful Johnson & Johnson nursing hackathon where their uNight Light concept won first place. We met with Jennifferre to learn more about their big break and discuss the distinctive skill sets that make nurses a vital – and as yet, barely tapped – force in the world of healthcare innovation.


    DailyNurse: Can you recap the background of Lumify and the uNight Light? How did you end up becoming the first nurse-innovators to get backing from Y Combinator? 

    Jennifferre M: Well, we created Lumify Care because of experiences that we had at the bedside - not having the tools and resources we needed to be able to care for our patients. 


    DN: Then, in February, Lumify caught the attention of the New York Times!

    JM: The Times article was really surprising. We were completely shocked and didn't anticipate that it [the uNight Light] would be so readily adopted by nurses and healthcare workers. But it makes sense that it was - because we understood the problem and the pain point, and we've experienced it. Between February to today's date, we have some 15,000 users at over 400 different hospitals. And we're getting ready to finish up our design for our second version of the light, and our second product that will come out later this year. So we are exceptionally excited by all the growth that we've seen. 


    DN: Can you tell us how things happened with Y Combinator?

    JM: When we applied for Y Combinator, I didn't think we were going to be selected because the acceptance rate is exceptionally low, About one and a half percent of the companies that apply get selected to participate for a cohort. And there had never been a fully nurse-led team to be selected or accepted into Y Combinator to participate. So when we got the Yes - the phone call that we were accepted - we were completely floored. We're super grateful for the opportunity to be able to kind of pave the way for other nurses and nurse entrepreneurs and innovators to be seen on a bigger playing field than just within the nursing profession. But a year ago, if you had told us that we would be in Y Combinator, we'd have thought you were silly.

    DN: What is your perspective on the nurse-innovator movement?

    JM: Being a nurse isn't just working at the bedside clinically - that's what's so amazing about nursing. It's taking your experience as a nurse or what you've learned within nursing school and what that means in relation to patient care and such. And nurse innovators are using that knowledge in sometimes an untraditional way. Sometimes it's problem-solving and creating solutions, and it's innovation and entrepreneurship. Sometimes it's case management or working with insurance companies. 


    What's so amazing about nursing is that you can affect change in ways that aren't just bedside. Don't get me wrong, I loved working bedside. I worked in the NIC queue for about eight years, and with adults prior to that. I really do love it. That's what was so hard about transitioning and being working with Lumify full time. I really appreciated the [NIC] team I worked with, the babies that I took care of, and the parents that I worked with, so it was really difficult to leave. I always am a big advocate for clinical work and bedside work. That's when your ideas come from the problems that you're experiencing at the bedside. 


    DN: Maybe that's another reason your product concept was such an immediate hit. Our nurses and healthcare workers are just shredded at this point, and there's a real hunger for something positive.

    JM: Nurses are tired and burned out - and it's scary for nurses to have to get to that point. While building Lumify Care and speaking with hundreds of nurses, what we have found is that the healthcare system in general is very siloed and disjointed. If you're wanting to purchase scrubs, apparel, shoes, visit your professional nursing organizations, or your scheduling apps or credentialing, all of those systems have to be visited individually and accessed independently of one another. It's inefficient, and it's costly. 

    About 85% of the nurses we spoke to, admitted that they were overwhelmed by navigating that whole system. So, in response to that Lumify Care built the Lumify Hub, a digital “nurse’s station”, where in addition to our own products, we unify the brands, resources and organizations that nurses love and need, and support them with candid reviews, transparency, and rewards and discounts. We're partnering with some of health care's biggest brands and organizations, leading to a disruption for how healthcare pros access all the gear and resources they need to excel.


    DN: Can you tell us how the uNight Light managed to reach so many hospitals so quickly? 

    JM: Yes, we're at 250 different hospitals right now. We like to call it the Trojan horse method. We knew that if we targeted our niche community, the nursing community that we were already a part of and immersed in, that they themselves would buy the light and take it and use it within their hospital systems, and that the hospital systems would be more apt to purchase it. [This] validated that it was in fact something that helps nurses do their job while allowing their patients to sleep. We sold direct to consumers through healthcare professionals and nurses – [which led] to nurse managers and CEOs approaching us for larger quantity orders. And so that's how we have been, that's how we have been working to date with that with the product itself. 


    DN: What do you think is fueling your early success? Did you have to do a lot of marketing? 

    JM: Not as much as you would think; there was a lot of word of mouth from the first nurses that purchased our product. We did do conferences, worked with Johnson and Johnson, and participated in the hackathons, so we did things very organically, using the platforms that we already had developed from relationships that we had prior to building Lumify Care. 


    The nursing community really aided in us being as successful as we’ve been in the adoption of the product. I think, ultimately, the fact that we were nurses, and understood the problem so well, [helped us] create a solution that really was able to resonate. So much of what is used at the bedside or is used clinically is there because an engineer somewhere created it. It's like a top-down mentality versus [solutions] made on lines for those who are using them. I think that's why our solution was so readily adopted by the healthcare staff that was using them. 


    DN: You have a new version of the light in the works, right? A sort of 1.1 or 2.0 release? How is it different?

    JM: Well, the original uNight Light is battery operated; the second version is rechargeable, with an option to just plug in and recharge. There's also better directionality of the light. When nurses are doing some particular intervention, being able to have more focus is important to us, so now, you'll be able to direct the light in a particular area. And we added an option to use the light colors independently, so nurses can go ahead and choose the color depending on the intervention that they’re performing.


    DN: Nurses have been buying the light on their own, too. It still seems shocking that, like schoolteachers, nurses are known for buying their own gear.

    JM: Yes. Nurses spend on average - if we're talking about all the CEUs, professional nursing organizations, all their scrubs and shoes and such - roughly two grand every year. Very few hospitals provide scrubs for their nurses or their staff, and nurses to date are pretty used to buying their own shoes, stethoscope, and so on. This is why we’ve created the Lumify Hub - to centralize these things in one location.


    DN: When did you start work on the Hub?

    JM: We had the idea loosely before going into Y Combinator. But I think that's what we really appreciate about Y Combinator and the partners that are paired with us. They’re really challenging us and pushing us to think bigger and better, and getting us to think: how can we grow our impact? And how can we use the community that we've built and the relationships that we've built along the way to really make a difference and disrupt the system that needs change. When we started at Y Combinator, we entered in with like a seedling, and then we were able to make it grow. So we have about 35 or so brands on it right now.

    DN: Is it even possible for you to continue nursing, AND be a full-time entrepreneur?

    JM: I was doing Lumify on my days off when I had free moments. And then when it started to get more intense and a bit busy, I worked part time. But once we were accepted into Y Combinator, one of the one of the requirements is that you become full time with the startup. And we knew that it was just going to be so busy and it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. So I left my clinical job the end of May, and we began and we began with Y Combinator around the second week of June.


    DN: Did you have any business background before you got involved in this?

    JM: I was really involved in the innovation space. I developed several different apparatuses or toolkits or different things within the clinical space to help bridge gaps or improve quality or improve safety, so I had a lot of experience with clinical innovation. And then my co-founder had previously worked on a nonprofit. So a lot of it was just utilizing our resources and reaching out and talking to mentors, and kind of building up our foundation. But as far as having an MBA in our back pocket, neither one of us did.


    DN: So, we need more nurse innovators, stat?

    JM: Nurses are great innovators, because we're able to empathize with the problem and the end user and know how it relates to patients much more intimately than anybody else. And I think a lot of the attributes of nursing translate into entrepreneurship, because of the level of like, triage that we have to do. Definitely the work ethic, the organization, the triage thing stem from nursing and just diving in and getting things done. And having a growth mindset and learning as you go. 


    I read an article not too long ago about what kind of businesses nurses can have, as entrepreneurs, and it was talking about life coaching and capabilities of advanced practice - and all of those are fantastic - but nurses are capable of creating apps and software and hardware that effect real impactful change within the clinical system. Sometimes we have to push ourselves into areas that make us maybe feel a little bit uncomfortable, but if you grow with it, and you go with it, you can impact the lives of so many others. That's what makes it so exciting that we are the first nurse led team to participate in Y Combinator. It's just a big joy and honor to be able to kind of raise the flag of nursing and kind of celebrate the profession in a way that it hasn't been today.


    DN: What does Y Combinator help you with most?

    JM: We've participated in a couple other accelerators, and have had different mentors along the way, of course, that have been fantastic. But Y Combinator definitely pushes you. And it's a little bit uncomfortable. You have to figure out, okay, bigger, better, brighter. And what does that mean? What does that look like? And how can we get there? And then come up with a plan of action, and run it by the partners in Y-C, and say, okay, does this make sense, and go back and forth about how we can execute that. But they've been really great at pushing us to succeed. And that's really refreshing, because in a lot of ways, over the last year and a half, there's been a lot of underestimating because we're nurses, because we don't have backgrounds in engineering or, or business degrees. And they are really proud of us and really surprised that we were where we were, but no one really pushed us until then, because we were nurses. 


    DN: So, what’s next for Lumify Care?

    JM: We enter fundraising, we'll finish our Y-C experience, continue to grow the company, do some hiring, and grow the marketplace, and develop new products. So I mean, the sky's the limit, but we're really looking forward to what the next year has to bring.