Kiah Williams has gotten used to the limelight in the past year – or at least she should have, given how many times her nonprofit startup SIRUM has had her standing in it. Having launched in October of 2009, it’s probably about time, too. As the organization’s Co-Founder and Director, Williams most recently took the stage to accept a $50,000 novelty check (the money is very real) for winning top honors at the Women Startup Challenge 2016. This comes on the heels of taking home the first prize of $500,000 from the “$1 Million to Change the World” competition at Forbes’ Under 30 Summit last fall. In other words, SIRUM is killing it and they’re saving lives at the same time.
SIRUM is Disrupting The Pharmaceutical Industry Without Earning a Dime
According to SIRUM’s website, an estimated $5 billion worth of pharmaceuticals are destroyed every year when dosages change, patients don’t pick up prescriptions, patients die, etc. At the same time, millions of people in the United States don’t take their prescribed medications purely due to financial constraints (don’t get me started on health insurance again).
SIRUM – Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine – serves as a digital handshake between thems whats got pills and thems what needs ’em. Calling themselves the “match.com for unused medicine” (hey, at least it’s not another “Uber for…”), their site allows licensed organizations to donate unused and unopened medications. The donating organizations sign up, search for suitable recipients, print out a pre-paid shipping label, and send off a package. On the receiving end, organizations simply sign up, list what they need, and then wait.
SIRUM’s simplicity is one of the reasons for its stellar growth and a recent explosion in pace of which any startup would be envious. From rolling out in just a few states, SIRUM can now accept donations and send medication from/to from hospitals, pharmacies, and “safety-net” clinics in any of the 40 states that have passed relevant “Good Samaritan” laws (protecting donors of medicine from liability). The startup can also facilitate medicine exchange between health and assisted living facilities in California, Oregon, Colorado, and Ohio. Manufacturers and wholesalers anywhere in the United States can also donate medication. While individuals can’t donate directly, unopened medication may be handed over through a local hospital or other organization.
While SIRUM may not have a profit incentive, the small team of seven running the company is no less dedicated to their ultimately philanthropic mission. Since inception, the startup has helped fork over enough medicine to facilitate the required intake for over 85,000 patients. In doing that, they have avoided over 240,000 pounds of waste that would have resulted from the unnecessary production of medicine they have salvaged from discard. And if their list of backers is any indication, they’re one of the most dedicated startups around: they’re a Y-Combinator seedling, and have serious backing from Google.org, the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF), and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, among others.
The Women Startup Challenge 2016 was co-sponsored by Women Who Tech and craigconnects, the philanthropic/activist venture launched by craigslist founder Craig Newmark. SIRUM was co-founded by the more media-shy Adam Kircher and George Wang while they and Williams attended Stanford. The organization maintains strong roots to the school and other related organizations. You know, they’re “People” people.
Kirchner first had the idea for a prescription-matching service after a visit to Indonesia shortly after the tsunami in December of 2004 – he’s been at this for a little over a decade. The three co-founders are all in it as equals, though. another striking difference between this group and many of their startup peers is not only the willingness but the ability to share power and authority.
They’re not exactly your typical startup people. All three co-founders have been with the company on a full-time basis since joining up; this isn’t one project of many nor was it shunted to the side when some serialpreneurial spirit took hold. They don’t appear to be looking for the “exit” that drives so many founders through their innovation phase, but are in it for the long haul. Maybe it’s because what they do is so important, or maybe it’s because the pharmaceutical system is still far from perfect and SIRUM’s founders genuinely want to fix it. Maybe it’s both. Whatever it is, it’s more than a little inspiring that some of tech’s most promising people are driven to deliver something more than dividends.
Daniel A. Guttenberg is an Atlanta-based writer who fell into the startup world by accident and has been gleefully treading water ever since. He will be survived by his beard and his legacy of procrastination.
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