Cover Story: Amy Cowperthwait, CEO of Avkin

Sep 5, 2017

Meet Amy Cowperthwait, CEO of Avkin. Avkin is the leading manufacturer of sensor-enabled wearable technology for healthcare simulation education. Founded by a simulationist, nurse educator and former emergency room nurse, Avkin is an education-based company focused on improving patient-centered care through patient actors and formative simulation.

We've known Amy for several years as a founder scaling her business. Here's what she had to say now:

Why did you found this company? I knew we had to improve the way we educate our healthcare providers so that we could improve healthcare delivery.

What’s your core business philosophy? We want to improve safety in the way healthcare is delivered through sensor-enabled high-fidelity wearable technology for healthcare simulation education.

How did you fund the company when you first started, and why? The University of Delaware and its engineering students supported us in the beginning through a six-credit undergraduate course. All they wanted was a small stipend to cover the increased cost of faculty. We also benefited from the Spin In program of UD’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Partnerships, which was set up to help students and faculty with early-stage technology. We got grants. Now, we have two investors, John Martinson of Martinson Ventures and Annarie Lyles of Bio-Geist Ventures, so we can really begin to accelerate.

How do you keep a competitive edge as your company grows? I am still a simulationist working at UD and attending conferences, including the National League for Nurses simulation leadership conference. I mesh the two worlds together. It keeps us current and innovating all the time. We entered a poster at the International Meeting on Simulation in Healthcare in New Orleans and won first prize for technology and innovation. We beat Harvard!

How do you measure success? I go back to the fundamentals, why we started the company, which was to improve patient safety. If it improves the patient experience, if it increases humanity at the bedside, we succeed.

What motivates you? Seeing the wonder and amazement of my colleagues at what we can create keeps me moving forward.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned? Being a CEO was not on my bucket list. Although I had leadership experience, I had so much to learn about business. I’ve learned that you cannot get enough advice and guidance. I read 220 books on business. I got mentorship through University City Science Center and AWE’s Building Bridges Fellowship. I learned that you have to treat your company like an infant. Nobody is going to take better care of your company than you.

How has the AWE network has impacted you and your business? AWE has been huge and I have yet to realize the full impact. It’s a stiletto network, having lunch and getting the support of women who have great business acumen. There is no doubt that every woman in the organization is for me and for my success. Katherine O’Neill encouraged me to pitch at JumpStart New Jersey Angel Network and that is where we found our first investors. 

What’s the most influential book you’ve read in the last five years? Playing Big by Tara Mohr. It talks about stepping outside your comfort zone and going for it.

If you weren’t involved with your current venture, you would be: I am by nature a problem solver. I am teaching a class on developing empathy in the next generation of health care providers. It’s part theater, with students playing patients. I want to take that message of building empathy far and wide.

The goal of the Cover Stories series is to profile female founders scaling companies to counterbalance the constant flow of cover stories that only focus on 20-year old men dressed in jeans and a hoodie. High-growth women founders exist, and their stories should take a leading role in shaping how we see entrepreneurship. If you know a female founder we should cover, please contact us.