by Kate Lockyer
Kerpow! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No – it’s Dr Kate Hersov! Nothing so far has stopped this entrepreneur in her tracks as she flies toward the stratosphere, driven by her need to help sick children understand their medical conditions with her innovative super hero comic books.
Hersov had never run a business when she hit upon the unique idea, but her lack of experience has not held her back. Financial support came from investors that swept this potential drawback aside and she has not let them down.
“Initial funding came from individuals in Europe and a handful in America,” says Hersov. “These angel investors saw Medikidz from an angle of doing something good as well as a potentially successful business, maybe because the idea had soul.”
Hersov was working as a paediatric doctor in her home country New Zealand when she and business partner Dr Kim Chilman-Blair struck the million pound idea. They were totally frustrated by the lack of medical information for kids.
“For the parents there were books, brochures and online communities that we could direct them to,” says Hersov. “For the kids there was nothing.”
Medikidz has become the place where sick children go to have their medical condition explained to them in their own language. The Medikidz brand was incorporated in Britain in June 2008 as a website for young people aged 10 to 15. Since September 2009, the official launch of the brand, they have published 16 comic book titles such as Medikidz Explain Diabetes and Medikidz Explain HIV and sold over 500,000 of them around the world. Not bad for a business which is effectively just a few months old. And Hersov has plans to publish 300 altogether.
Although the books are on serious subjects it was important for the writers to make them humorous and to develop characters that children can have fun with. The Medikidz are a group of five larger than life cartoon super heroes who live on Mediland — a planet shaped just like the human body. The superheroes give their information in a fun way that is accessible to children and their parents. Each superhero is named after a particular part of the body. ‘Skinderella’ answers questions on skin and bone; ‘Pump’ is the blood specialist; ‘Chi’ deals with the lungs; ‘Gastro’ is the tum and bum expert and ‘Axon’ delivers information about the brain.
Despite being cartoon comic strips, there’s no sugar coating. Hersov thinks children need real, down-to-earth information, but in a language they can understand.
“We’re filling a gap in the market. The concept is a first. We are the world’s first medical education company for children.”
And feedback from paediatricians and health professionals has been outstanding too.
“A colleague of mine called me up to tell me how an eight year old boy with ADHD and autism was wrecking his surgery and our books got him sitting down for a full twenty minutes,” she says. “The boy’s mother was very impressed.”
Hersov’s vision is to make the website more interactive. And social networking is the obvious next step forward – the opportunity for kids with the same medical conditions from all over the world to chat and make friends with each other.
The global market place is where the Medikidz is heading, with the books having already been translated into Spanish, Hindi, Tamil and Thai.
“Because the language is simple, it is easily translated. We already have a lot of business in Australasia and Asia, as well as Europe.”
Plans are underway to extend the line this year for five to nine year olds. By adding the Meditotz brand to their line of books, things seem set to become even more lucrative. It even seems immune to current financial stresses.
“Touch wood,” Hersov says, “medical businesses seem to be recession proof. Many of our revenue streams come from pharmaceutical companies and medical equipment providers who so far have been unaffected by it.”
These huge companies are enabling Medikidz to push their marketing into the US this year.
“We already have endorsements by some big organisations there, the American Cancer Society being probably the biggest,” she says.
And it’s not just appealing to children – adults with medical conditions are reading them too. “I had a woman who had had epilepsy for twenty years contact me who said that she read Medikidz Explain Epilepsy and understood her condition at last. I think that is fantastic.”
Hersov points out that adults enjoy comics too and even the most erudite of them can find medical language frightening and complicated. The comic books seek to address what are, by nature, difficult and frightening medical problems and make them understandable by everyone. Endorsements by Black Eyed Peas singer Will.i.am can only add to the popularity of the books with teenagers.
Hersov’s fast track success extends to her love life too. She married one of her investors, extremely successful entrepreneur Rob Hersov, in a fairy tale wedding fit for any superhero in Switzerland in August 2009, just one month before her books launched in the UK.
When asked if she would ever think about going back into medicine, she laughs: “Well, at the moment I’m working 27 hours a day, and I love the challenge of running my own business. I do miss clinical medicine and there’s something very precious about the doctor-patient relationship. But with Medikidz I feel like I can help a lot more people.”
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