Manuela Aiken dreams of plastic urine specimen cups.
The Canadian pharmacy technician left her doctor's office in 1989 frustrated that urine specimen bottles were, to put it bluntly, messy for women because they were designed for men.
But what exactly to do about it vexed her until she had a dream a short time later.
``I know this might sound a little strange,'' she says, but the image of a funnel contoured to a woman's body appeared in the dream.
She woke up and sketched the image. Eight years later, after striking deals with Baxter Corp. and several plastic companies, a soft, white low density polyethylene cup similar to the one in the dream is ready for the market.
Since that dream, Aiken has spent thousands of dollars and lots of free time searching for molders and scouring patent files. A patent search early on even turned up another design that she says was very different from hers, but it prompted her to put the idea on hold until 1996 because she thought the other product would be introduced.
But it never appeared on shelves, and Aiken, who lives in Mississauga, Ontario, decided to dust off the idea.
The response in trials and from partners — some of whom see growth potential and offered cut rates for ``future consideration'' — has been good. But it is difficult predicting demand in the cost-conscious Canadian market where it will debut, according to Aiken and her partners.
About 4 million urine specimens are taken each year in Canada. About 70 percent of them are by women, because women tend to see doctors more for tests that require urine, said Vince Morelli, marketing manager of hospital supply for Baxter's Canadian unit in Mississauga.
But the cost pressures on Canada's government-controlled health-care system may make it difficult for the system to absorb the C$1.2 million (US$861,000) it could cost if, for example, 25 percent of those 2.8 million women tested wanted the funnel, according to Morelli.
But the market in the United States is likely to be more lucrative because patients can, and are willing, to pay more for comfort in its profit-minded medical system, Morelli said. Baxter eventually will market the device in the United States, he said.
``We think it's a great product,'' he said. ``She's taken a real entreprenuerial risk, spending a lot of her own time and money.''
Patent searches and market research have not turned up similar products, according to Aiken and Morelli. Other specimen containers come with funnels but they are square or rectangular, not contoured to the body, Morelli said.
The product is being tested in Canada, and production should start in September at Canadian Moulded Products in Mississauga, said Perry Budovitch, president of the custom injection molder. A four-cavity mold is being made, which will give the company the ability to produce as many as 11 million cups a year on a 120-ton machine, he said. The firm will be the product's only molder, and will, along with Aiken, handle retail sales in kits priced at about US$2.25, he said.
The teardrop-shaped funnel posed some design challenges in making the mold because the walls are thin and it has a thread on the bottom for attaching to the specimen cup, said Valdir Prospero, president of Prosin Mold and Tools in Brampton, Ontario.
The product also has a second funnel inside the main funnel to protect against spills, which also made designing the mold more challenging, he said.