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Profile of an Entrepreneur: Chad Ronnebaum

Product Development: Personal Blood Alcohol Analyzers

Chad Ronnebaum, a 1999 pharmacy graduate from the University of Iowa demonstrated the DELTA Rx principles of entrepreneurial leadership through the development of the AlcoHAWK series and Q3 Innovations. Here are some insights to how he got started.

How did you come up with the idea for AlcoHAWK?  
Basically, when I was still at college at the University of Iowa, I took note that there were tests for drugs of abuse such as cocaine sold OTC. However, there was not a test sold OTC for alcohol, which surprised me because alcohol is legal for adults over 21 and is used much more commonly. Therefore, I felt there was a need for such a device.

What made you decide to pursue the idea?
Initially it was more of a hobby. When I graduated in 1999 the internet was really starting to progress forward as a place to reach customers.  Alcohol testing equipment was one of the more popular items we sold and as sales increased over the years it became more apparent it was worth pursuing.

What obstacles did you have to overcome to bring your idea to market?  
The biggest obstacle was time.  Working in pharmacy is very demanding and takes focus, concentration, continuing education, and in many case 8-10 hour days moving on your feet. There were many days it was tough after a long day to put in another 3-4 hours on this project. Another obstacle was clearing the device through FDA which was a long process that required a study, time and financial resources.

What is your background and how did that lead to your desire to bring a product to market?  I am 1999 Doctorate of Pharmacy graduate from the University of Iowa. Actually my background is quite useful in that we sometimes do research into what medications can influence a breath alcohol test. Also, the principle of how the units work is based on chemistry and physiology principles so background in that course work was helpful as well.

What advice would you give to others in this area?  
In general my advice to students is to always look at the bigger picture. The economic framework of pharmacy is being drastically changed by government and private insurance industries. It is vital for young pharmacists to be innovative in protecting the value of the services they provide. Patient counseling, formulating/compounding, and many other activities performed on a daily basis are vital to health care, but can be easily undervalued unless pharmacists are active in structuring proper reimbursement for them for the future.

Was AlcoHAWK the primary product you pursued or did it emerge by consumer demand?
It emerged by consumer demand.

Could you describe the process of getting AlcoHAWK FDA approved?
Breath Alcohol Testers are considered medical devices and therefore they require a 510K pre-market-notification before the can be sold OTC in the US. This requires a consumer study to show that the unit is safe and effective.

Did you have any non-pharmacy background that helped you bring AlcoHAWK to market?Not really, there was a learning curve to go through - understanding semi-conductors, fuel cells, and testing protocols etc.

What gave you the desire and the motivation to take the risk of starting a new business?
I have always wanted to own my business and was just looking for the opportunity and something to work with. Therefore, when this opportunity arose, I pursued it.