Q&A: The innovator making life more comfortable for premature and sick babies

This week we chat with to Seona Emanuelli, the founder of Bidibots. As a neonatal nurse, Seona observed that the nasal cannulas used in most hospitals for premature or sick babies pull on the baby’s nose, causing irritation, sores and sometimes disfiguration. So, Seona developed the Bidibot, a new nasal cannula designed to sit comfortably on the baby’s face, overcoming the common risks associated with regular cannulas.

ISB: What was the inspiration behind you founding Bidibots?

SE: I have been in neonatal nursing for over 23 years and from very early in my career, I identified issues with products we were using for our neonates. One was a nappy. Preterm or sick neonates need minimal handling and to be positioned perfectly for developmental care, but nappies were too big, causing hip issues, skin irritation and didn’t withstand the environment babies were nursed in. I was passionate about a solution for these tiny babies that better accommodated their needs.

I decided to design and manufacture a nappy that fit the requirements. It was challenging and when I began 16 years ago, the population of patients was small. Over the years the number of preterm babies has grown, and our Bidibots nappy is in now many units and on thousands of babies. However, I continued to see problems other medical devices caused to babies, so I set off to design more equipment to improve neonatal outcomes beyond discharge..

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced getting the enterprise off the ground and how did you overcome it?

SE: The biggest challenge was financial investment and the time required to get any medical device into the market, but my team of engineers, designers and manufacturers see the light when things get tough. Being in the industry, I have great working relationships with neonatal teams across Australia and Europe that keep me passionate and give input on the devices. After nine years of research and development on our latest respiratory device, I keep going because I understand once hospitals are equipped, babies will have an improved journey through neonatal intensive care.

Our respiratory device will deliver critically needed pressure into premature lungs without the current problems of nasal trauma. We have gone back and forth with stages of the design, but it’s exciting to be on the home stretch. We are patented across the world and can’t wait to see it extend beyond Australian shores.

ISB: I understand you are also an educator and an advocate – please tell us briefly about the work Life’s Little Treasures Foundation does.

SE: I am currently on the Board of Directors for Life’s Little Treasures Foundation (LLTF), which supports families and their premature or sick babies throughout their journeys and beyond. LLTF offers many types of support, including events and fundraising, education, parents’ groups, and morning teas for families in the units. I feel very privileged to be part of the foundation and can see the rewards of their hard work in the frontline.

In education, I have been part of an amazing leadership team developing the fifth NICU in Melbourne. The education requirement has been substantial in training nurses to care for a sicker, smaller patient then they previously had to. My win is seeing new nurses love neonatal nursing and helping develop their careers.

ISB: What is your vision for the development of the business in the next couple of years?

SE: Bidibots has been established for more than 16 years and continues to drive me to design, trial and market new, innovative products to help babies. Bidibots will establish the new respiratory product into the market and a very busy couple of years will follow in manufacturing, supply, and grants. I also aim speak at our Australian and overseas conferences on behalf of Bidibots, along with a team of neonatologists in Melbourne who are writing medical journals on their trial findings.

ISB: And, finally, what is the #1 lesson you’ve learnt on your journey you’d share with others looking to start their own business?

SE: Research your business idea in the relevant market first. Establishing your forecasts for growth is important, particularly when applying for business/financial support. It’s important to get like-minded people around you as well; I joined business communities that I could throw ideas at and felt they understood, which kept my passion alive.