My son, Luke [pictured above], was diagnosed with diabetes at age four in 1991. He passive-aggressively resisted his multiple daily finger pokes by intentionally hiding his blood glucose meter.
My aha! moment came when Luke made me stop the car as we were pulling out to go on vacation because he had forgotten to bring his Game Boy. I unlocked the house and followed him in. He ran over to the sofa, lifted up a cushion, and grabbed his Game Boy.
I thought, ‘Huh. He’s “losing” his blood glucose meter all the time. What if I could marry the two types of media together—a medical testing device and a gaming system—to make testing his blood sugar levels fun?’ I started tinkering with the idea but couldn’t give it much attention because my job at an engineering firm required me to travel worldwide at least three weeks every month. Later that year, my marriage ended, and I lost everything in the divorce settlement.
[Wessel soon married Shelley, his “long-lost high school sweetheart,” in 2000.] Six months after promising her dad I’d take care of her, I quit my job. My idea had kept eating at me and so, with Shelley’s unwavering support and the knowledge that product life cycles of handheld electronics are very short, I devoted myself to my GlucoBoy product full time.
Over the next six years, I made more than 100 investor presentations. But even though we had won a Tekne award for Innovation of the Year, I didn’t receive a penny of funding besides small investments from family and friends. I did part-time consulting and other odd jobs, but times were tough. I drove home one night after picking up my quadriplegic son, Alex, at his mother’s. The utility company had shut off our power, so I couldn’t use the blender to grind up Alex’s food. I had to cook his meal on an outdoor grill and cut it up with my fillet knife. That was the low point.
I finally received $1.5 million from an Australian investment bank, in partnership with a London investment group in mid-2006, which allowed us to launch a limited commercialization of the product in Australia. More than a year later, the director of business development for Bayer Diabetes Care, a German company, called to say they were interested in my company. After eight months of due diligence, I sold it to Bayer for tens of millions of dollars.
Best of all, there are now tens of thousands of these devices all over the world helping kids manage their diabetes.