It’s been almost 40 years since Novo Nordisk launched the first insulin pen, which has since made life easier for people with diabetes all over the world. However, a quarter of the globe’s insulin users, equivalent to some 12-15 million people, still use a syringe – especially in developing parts of the world.
Having seen the challenge first-hand, including in his work at Novo Nordisk, Ole Kjerkegaard asked himself: Does it really have to be this way?
“I had a query with my friend Michael, who has worked for Novo Nordisk as a consultant for 18 years, and asked: Why is it that no one has invented a pen that everyone can afford? We agreed that this was strange, so we had to run with it. And that’s what we did,” says Ole Kjerkegaard, who, together with Michael Ejstrup Hansen, is the founder of the company GO-Pen.
The startup has designed and patented a simpler version of the insulin pen that is as cheap to use as regular syringes. This way, everyone can afford a better solution – which might also offer less plastic consumption and medical waste as an added benefit (the latter part is still being researched in a comparative life cycle study).
It’s not a market we need to cultivate or think is there. It’s people who are already using an inferior solution every day. We know they have a need, and that is one of the reasons why we have been able to embark on this journey. We want to create something that can provide equal access to health – especially for the poorest.
CEO and founder, GO-Pen
A professional start
GO-Pen was founded, and its patent was filed in early 2019. Shortly after, the company raised money from Innovation Fund Denmark before being accepted into Danish Tech Challenge in 2020. A program that has played an important role in the company’s start.
“One of the things that got us the first investor was that we were accepted into Danish Tech Challenge – the investor told us afterwards. They knew that just the fact that we were accepted meant that the company would become more professionalised – and that made them dare to invest,” says Ole Kjerkegaard.
The investment has been crucial for the initial development of the new insulin pen. At the same time, the intensive learning process has created the foundation for GO-Pen as a professional, growth-ready company, says Ole Kjerkegaard:
“Of course, there was a lot we already knew, but when you’re exposed to an environment like DTC (Danish Tech Challenge ed.), you realize how many places you’re actually colourblind. We make physical products, and DTC excels in that discipline. We were forced into some disciplines that we might not have thought we should be doing – but it has helped us a lot.”
Long journey on a strong foundation
Three years have passed since team “GO-Pen ApS” graduated from Danish Tech Challenge. Since then, the company has raised additional funding – including a large amount from the European EIC Accelerator – and is currently in the process of getting both FDA approval and a CE certificate.
“It sounds very simple, but getting the product approved, making simple yet sophisticated instructions understood and showing that it’s safe in practice is a special discipline. It’s incredible how many tests you have to do. When we submitted the file to the FDA in April, there were 3,500 pages of documentation,” says Ole Kjerkegaard.
The solution has the potential to change the lives of 15 million people with diabetes. However, the journey to market is long and has had its ups and downs. Therefore, Ole Kjerkegaard also sees a special value in the community with other DTC graduates who are on the same journey:
“There are three companies in our building that were also part of DTC with us, and we have a very special connection. We know each other’s challenges, and it’s great to have peers like that to talk to,” says Ole Kjerkegaard and adds:
“A good startup also has a good amount of recklessness and ignorance. If you knew what you were going through, you might not have even started. You get to experience all the emotions on a journey like this – you have to dig deep, and your heart may feel like flipping. But of course, it’s also the great feeling of happiness when things go well.”
GO-Pen is currently in the process of raising its next major round of investment, with €4.5m secured for the €6m round. Once the investment is in place, the company is ready to launch its first product a year later.