Regina Vatterott is no ordinary 23 year-old. The only lady in the quartet that makes up the Elliegrid team has proven herself an invaluable member of the entrepreneurial scene in Houston, but also as the sole woman of a 4-man team and co-founder of smart pillbox Elliegrid. She is a rare find in someone in the under 25 year-old mark who has achieved so very much and continues to devote her time to promote this product that will continually give back to the health and wellness of those who use it.
Illness, weakness, strength are all friends or adversities to the human condition at one stage or another of our long lives - and whether you’re an under-the-weather, overworked college student or a 70-year-old retiree - we can all forget to take our vitamin D or daily med. Elliegrid intelligently pairs with an app on your phone to notify you when to take your vitamins and prescription medicines, as it would to wake you up everyday - easy as pie. It also looks nice - almost like a futuristic gameboy with no screen, and a sleeker finish.
The heart-warming story behind the concept derives from Vatterott’s co-founder Abe who found his grandfather in a less than desirable condition after forgetting to take his medication for multiple days in a row due to how complicated and intricate his routine had become. According to Vatterott, Elliegrid was thus born out of Abe’s drive to help his grandfather and those like him to keep up with their medication. The product's immediate popularity has now spread to those millennials who work and play too much to remember their own daily doses.
"It’s really hard to find medical supplies that don’t make people feel like they’re a patient."
Vatterott’s personal relationship with the box comes from the passing of her aunt from cancer. While she acknowledges that of course the help of a simple pill box would not have saved her aunt from the disease, she posits that perhaps her last months would have been less painful and stressful with the aid of something such as Elliegrid.
One of Vatterott's goals, in fact, is to create a new patient standard for those going through medication-heavy conditions like cancer. This drive to help others in a similar situation to her aunt or Abe’s grandfather has lead the team to enormous success, with a campaign driven by empathy.
“There were other smart pillboxes on the market - we’re certainly not the first, but they were all very complicated and very expensive.”
Having received an offer early on for $1 million for half the company - Vatterott and the team decided they would make the money themselves keeping ownership of the product. Today Elliegrid’s initial Indiegogo goal of $40,000 has been substantially surpassed and continues to grow, as the initiative has caught the eye of some big industry names. Athletes like Venus Williams, who have a requirement of more than a few medical aids or vitamins have come out openly to back the product, are perhaps the most noteworthy. Along with this star-studded support, the box has received attention from all aspects of the entrepreneurial and tech industries, with accolades in the past year like placing in the TechCrunch Pitch-Off 2016, the Health 2.0 Takeda Challenge, and the Regional Hardware Cup hosted by AlphaLabs.
"It was always just really hard to organize the medication - I remember just boxes upon boxes. At that point it was very critical. I’ve always wondered whether we could have made that process more efficient"
Vatterott sounds almost astonished at how successful her Indiegogo campaign has been - having vacillated about what platform to launch Elliegrid’s crowdfunding from in the beginning. Indiegogo’s receptive and encouraging team aided Vatterott and her teammates who never once had to outsource for their campaign - all of the graphics and campaign detail were done by themselves. Among co-founders Regina, Abe, Nicolas and Hieu, the group appears the perfect millennial amalgamation of tech, marketing, logistics and engineering - and having grown Elliegrid from nothing but sticky glue and an idea.
It is perhaps one of the most desirable qualities attracting investors and awards to the product - the team’s ability to utilize its capital efficiently and with great effect. There are perhaps no limits to the fierce foursome’s capabilities given what Vatterott refers to as their ‘cockroach’ nature - being able to survive on so little for so long.
What’s next for Elliegrid? Vatterott says a pink version is in the works - meeting every girl’s smart pill box dream.
I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.