How Dawn Williams Invented the Endo-i From Her Kitchen Table
If you’ve been out caring for horses, though, you may not have heard this story. It’s the story of Dawn Williams, a single mother of two, who invented the Endo-i® veterinary endoscope and revolutionized mobile care for equine veterinarians. All from her kitchen table.
Traditional endoscopy systems aren’t portable. But performance horses are at the farm or the racetrack, not in the clinic. Many veterinarians had been making do with endoscopes that were passed down from the human medical industry – complete with short scope lengths, lack of portability and an inability to send images to colleagues. Williams, formerly a broker for vet equipment, found that whenever she would call on an equine customer who was trying to perform an upper airway exam or the like, the veterinarian would inevitably ask, “Why isn’t there a wireless solution for this?”
And whenever the Why isn’t there a wireless solution for this? question came up, Williams would give the same answer, “Well, it hasn’t been invented yet.”
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
The next question equine veterinarians would ask was, “Why don’t you invent it?” Williams laughed it off. But asked enough times, she started to consider it. And soon, she couldn’t shake the thought. Why don’t I invent it? she thought. And if so, how would I begin?
Those questions swirled for a while. And the feeling wouldn’t go away. But as a busy mom to two young girls, homework and family time took priority once the workday was done. Finally, curiosity got the better of her. Williams sat down at her kitchen table and decided to take a scope apart. “I wanted to see what was in there and what made it work. I decided to start with reverse engineering,” said Williams.
Next, Williams started to research smartphone cameras. She got some duct tape and hot glue. She got tech samples from China. She learned how to solder on YouTube. She asked tech questions of anyone who would listen. “This was self-taught in every way,” said Williams.
In the end, it took eight months to reverse engineer the existing technology and create her own prototype scope. “One night, after several attempts, I put all the components in place to see if it would work,” Williams said. “I turned it on and it worked – I went live!”
Proof of Concept
So Williams brought her prototype to a patent firm. A patent check would see if there was anything else out there on the market like her prototype. After a week, Williams was given the green light to move forward. She would be going into the endoscope business.
The next year and a half was a wild ride. Traveling to trade shows around the country eventually led her to an agreement with Animal Health International, now part of the Patterson family of companies. It also introduced her to Greg Sharp and the STERIS Corporation. In 2015, STERIS purchased Williams’ company, iScope International, LLC, which helped Williams bring the Endo-i to the veterinary market.
Reverse Engineering Her Way into the Market
While so many products used in the veterinary market see their debut in the human medical market, that, too, was something Williams wanted to revolutionize. The Endo-i, which was introduced with a 1.5-meter and 3-meter scope for horses, is now being introduced to companion animal veterinarians and is especially useful for veterinarians running mixed animal practices. The 1.5-meter scope works perfectly to examine upper airways in horses and for foreign body removal in large dogs. A shorter scope is being developed for smaller dogs and cats.
Williams set an example for her two daughters, too. “When I tell my story to a doctor, they look at me like ‘You did this?’ and I can say ‘I sure did!’” Williams said, noting that being female in the world of inventors is still somewhat of a novelty. She’s proud to be a role model not only for her two girls, but for women in all industries. And she wanted to be sure it started where it all began.
“No more hand-me-downs from the human medical industry. It was very important to me for veterinarians to have the Endo-i first,” Williams said.
Working with STERIS Animal Health and Patterson has also been very important to Williams. They help her get her invention into the hands of those who need it. In fact, STERIS manufactures and repairs the Endo-i and all its components at its dedicated 33,000-square-foot manufacturing and service building in Birmingham, Alabama, ensuring that the Endo-i is made and serviced in America. Patterson is spreading the word about the scope at Guiding Practice Success (GPS) events created for veterinarians who are looking to build a new practice as well as at major industry trade shows, like NAVC and the Western Veterinary Conference.
And it all started with the question that essentially asked: Why not you?