Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Hi everyone, Spiffy here, your one and only interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. I’m thrilled to be talking to Michael Schrader, an entrepreneur working to make the world a better place as the co-founder and CEO of Vaxess. Are you ready to be enlightened?
Spiffy: Hi Michael, so good to have you here with us today. What challenge are you addressing through your startup?
Michael: Pleased to be here, Spiffy! What if I told you that the days of vaccines being associated with making appointments, traveling to clinics, and receiving uncomfortable shots will soon come to an end? Vaxess Technologies, along with teams at Tufts University and MIT, have developed the MIMIX platform: a vaccine patch technology. With the MIMIX platform, Vaxess is working towards a future where vaccines for the majority of illnesses—from flu to COVID— can be administered via a vaccine patch that’s as easy and painless to apply as a Band-Aid.
Spiffy: I’d say that sounds awesome! What motivated you to do it?
Michael: In the industry Vaxess is in, the need for disruption is clear. Today, more than 1.5 million people globally die each year from diseases for which there is a safe and effective vaccine. When you look at why many people remain unvaccinated, a couple of the main causes are that vaccines are either inaccessible, people have needle-phobia, or people fear side-effects like arm pain. Vaxess will show the world that the future of vaccines is injection-free and accessible from the comfort of your home.
Spiffy: Can you elaborate further on how you are working towards a more equitable world?
Michael: Today, distributing and administering vaccines requires extraordinary supply chain resources. First, vaccines need to be temperature-controlled while being shipped and stored. Second, once a vaccine arrives at its intended location, you need trained individuals to administer the vaccine via needle and syringe. Engineered for stability, Vaxess’ patch does not require refrigeration and can be self-applied. Our hope is that Vaxess will make vaccines more accessible in low-resource settings.
Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organizational milestone or initiative. What impact does that make on your community?
Michael: Recently, Vaxess announced $27 million in Series B funding, and launched a phase 1 trial for the H1 influenza vaccine delivered by an MIMIX Array Patch System. Our phase 1 trial builds on the groundbreaking research the company published in 2021, “Enhancing influenza vaccine immunogenicity and efficacy through infection mimicry using silk microneedles.” We’re also very proud of the GMP Manufacturing Facility we opened last fall. You can watch a video of the facility here.
Spiffy: Please share an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from it?
Michael: When we were first starting, I would take VC rejections personally. I’d think, “How can this person not see this is a really big deal?” What I learned over the years is that VCs have their own incentives, and oftentimes when they’re declining it had nothing to do with what we were building at Vaxess. The sooner you can understand the incentives that motivate the people and organizations you’re trying to work with, the fewer headaches you’ll have as an entrepreneur!
Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Michael: The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly accelerated the adoption of home-based care—from virtual doctors visits, to at-home diagnostics such as rapid tests. Much like we’ve seen COVID-19 tests come out of the clinic and into peoples homes, we expect vaccines will do the same in the coming years.
Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Michael—it’s been an honor!
Michael Schrader is co-founder and CEO of Vaxess. He has spent his career transforming complex technologies into transformational products. Michael received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University and his M.B.A. from Harvard. (Nominated by Alex Parks at the Harvard Innovation Labs. First published on the Ladderworks website on January 25, 2023.)
© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.