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DripDrop is a rare startup that actually saves lives

By Michael Carney , written on March 27, 2015

From The News Desk

Plenty of startups claim to be changing the world. But how many can truly deliver on that promise by saving lives?

DripDrop, which offers a truly disruptive, medical-grade oral rehydration system can claim just that. After less than two years in the market, the product is now used by professional and elite amateur athletes, military and first responders, and in disaster relief and mainstream hospital settings. But despite these high-intensity use cases, DripDrop is a simple powdered beverage mix that is available over she counter in most retail pharmacies ($9.99 for eight servings).

Put simply, DripDrop is what Gatorade dreams of being when it grows up. The product is an improvement on a long-standing rehydration product known as ORS (oral rehydration solutions), which medical journals have described as “potentially the most important medical advancement” and which are used to save more than 3 million children around the world each year. Like ORSs, DripDrop offers between two- to three-times the electrolytes and half the calories of traditional sports drinks. But unlike traditional salt-laden ORSs, which most would described as revolting to drink, DripDrop is delicious. I know – I tried it myself.

After speaking to DripDrop President Kiernan McGuire two weeks ago, I headed out into the desert of Phoenix, Arizona product in hand for a weekend of intense sun, spring training baseball, too much alcohol, and late nights. It may not be a post-natural disaster environment, but to my liver and kidneys, the feeling wasn’t that far off. Not only was DripDrop delicious but I repeatedly woke up each morning feeling far better than I should have given the festivities of the day and night prior. I know, it’s hardly a scientific study, but compared to my compatriots on this weekend, from whom I concealed my secret recovery weapon, I looked and felt far less like road kill by the time the weekend came to an end.

Sure DripDrop is a great preventative measure and a potential cure for hangovers, which any seasoned reveler will know is largely about dehydration. But I also wanted to see how it performed under a more “traditional” setting. So, when I returned to Los Angeles, I scheduled a few particularly grueling workouts – one long run and one intense Crossfit workout – and put the product to the test. Per McGuire’s recommendation, I took one serving of DripDrop immediately upon waking up and another after completing each workout. Again, it’s impossible to rule out the placebo effect and difficult to quantify the impact of any therapy without a more extensive and controlled study. But these are fairly typical workouts I have completed many times in the past, and I certainly felt noticeably less parched during each, while recovering more quickly and experiencing less soreness after, for having taken DripDrop.

So having become a fast convert to the DripDrop religion, my question for McGuire turned to this: How does one make a business out of this stuff?

It turns out there are effectively three (and a half) distinct markets that DripDrop can target: medical, over-the-counter consumer, military, and disaster relief, which is an offshoot of medical. But as an early stage startup, the company still has to prioritize and choose one.

McGuire points to the medical market as the company’s primary focus today. Dehydration is a major problem even in the developed world, particularly among children. According to the Annals of Epidemiology, US hospitals billed $5.5 billion per year treating dehydration admissions, as of 2004. For DripDrop, the hope is that as doctors prescribe and endorse the product to parents and adult patients, over-the-counter sales will benefit from the halo affect. DripDrop is already in use at the UCSF Medical Center, the Stanford University Medical Center, and the Mayo Clinic, among other prominent institutions. The military and disaster relief markets have been growing organically, based entirely on word of mouth and the positive reaction to the product among end users.

Another factor supporting DripDrop’s adoption is the saline IV shortage affecting nearly 75 percent of hospitals across the US. These $1 hydration bags are the single most-used medicine in the US, meaning that hospitals, health clinics, dialysis centers, and emergency response groups have been searching for alternative ways to keep up with demand.

As mentioned above, DripDrop competes with sports drinks and their equivalents in the hospital setting, and ORSs in the field. On both ends of the hydration spectrum there are problems. Gatorade and Pedialyte are delicious, but are far too high in sugar and calories to be an ideal solution. Doctors view them as the best (and, frankly, most accessible) of a host of sub-par options. ORSs offer outstanding rehydration, but are generally detested by patients – even those like special forces military members and natural disaster victims for whom hydration is a life or death matter. Where DripDrop excels is in offering the best of both of these categories.

Effective and popular as the solution may be among those who try it, DripDrop still has a significant uphill battle to gain mindshare in the medical and consumer communities. Gatorade (owned by PepsiCo) and Pedialyte (owned by Abbott Laboratories) are both well-established brands, beloved by consumers, and are heavily funded by their parent companies. The collective sports drink market is worth $4 billion as of 2011 and continues to grow by double digits. As has been proven time and again across industries, simply having a “better product” is rarely enough to win a category. There’s far more that goes into disrupting an established incumbent brand.

DripDrop is the life-saving invention of Dr. Eduardo Dolhun, a graduate of the Mayo Medical School, who became obsessed with hydration during a 1993 trip to Guatemala amid a cholera outbreak. Now two decades later, his San Francisco-based startup is backed by $8.6 million in funding, including a $5.6 million Series B closed in August. The company’s investors include the San Francisco 49ers venture arm Aurum Partners, NFL hall of famers John Elway and Ronnie Lott, Van Halen frontman Sammy Hagar, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, guitarist Joe Satriani, and Pacific Advantage Capital, among others. With the fresh injection of cash, marketing is the number one priority for the next year, McGuire tells me.

The human body is more than 60 percent water, blood is 92 percent water, and the brain and muscles are 75 percent water, according to WaterInfo.org. A human can survive for a month or more without eating food, but only a week or so without drinking water. By tackling one of the most fundamental needs of human existence DripDrop is truly improving the world, and in doing so, delivers on a promise that so many startups make but most fall short of fulfilling.