Popsicles to Patents: A Story of Innovation

At the Nurse Innovation & Entrepreneurship Summit

last September, Marybeth shared with the audience some entertaining insights into the genesis of her and her husband, Dr. Francesco Pompei’s, product and company.

Nurse Innovation & Entrepreneurship Northeastern University
Dr. Marybeth Pompei (left), Dr. Francesco Pompei (center), Dean Nancy P. Hanrahan (right)

You can hear the story yourself in our archived video of the summit
(Marybeth starts at 31:30)

It goes something like this:

Do you remember those charming little jokes stamped on popsicle sticks? The little one-liners that appeared after you finished your popsicle.

What if yours read:

This popsicle will inspire you to do great things one day. 

Would you just write it off as a joke that missed the mark? I’m sure most of us would.

That is unless you’re Marybeth Pompei, a nurse by trade and currently the Senior Vice President & Chief Clinical Scientist at Exergen Corporation. For her, a couple popsicles was all it took for an innovative idea to take flight.

Dr. Francesco Pompei, or Frank for short, suffered a fractured ankle. “It was a real mess, it was awful,” Marybeth noted to the audience. Upon being taken to the hospital, the physician stated that Frank needed surgery immediately.

“Uh uh. Not on a Saturday night,” Marybeth responded, “not in this place.”

As you can imagine, Frank, a Harvard Research Scientist and Marybeth, a distinguished nurse, did not have much trouble smooth-talking a doctor out of performing surgery until the following Monday when the emergency room goers were less…inebriated.

Fast forward to Monday—

Frank ended up having his surgery and everything was fine. On Tuesday morning, however, still being confined to his hospital bed after missing two days of work, Frank was “anything but mellow,” as Marybeth politely puts it.

The nurses stated that Frank was not allowed to go home as he was running a fever, but if that fever was to go down he could leave.

By the time the nurse finished speaking, Marybeth was halfway down the stairs. Before long she returned with a pair of popsicles, quickly giving them to Frank. Shortly after the nurse arrived to take his temperature a second time.

“Well, he has no fever at all. I think this is working, she said, but he doesn’t have a fever,” Marybeth joked as she recalled the scene at the bedside.

Sure enough, Frank and Marybeth Pompei were on their way out of the hospital not long after.

“That started the whole process,” Marybeth continues, “Ya know, that worked for us, but we had to trick the nurses. And what good are we if we have products that are going to trick us?”

In her eyes, if we have products that can trick nurses (in this case into thinking the patient is afebrile), what good are those products in the first place? With this notion in mind, the Pompeis used the forehead as a foundation for a new, reliable type of thermometer.

At first it was difficult to get the consistent, reproducible results paramount to inventing a new instrument. So, during the patent process, Dr. Francesco and Dr. Marybeth Pompei took thousands upon thousands of temperatures. What they found was that the temporal artery has absolutely no vasomotor activity. The temporal artery is invariable—meaning the results are reproducible.

The rest is history.

All it took was a fractured ankle and a pair of popsicles to kick-start the innovation process.

So break a leg future innovators! (Just not literally)

 Dr. Francesco & Dr. Marybeth Pompei of Exergen Corporation

Dr. Francesco & Dr. Marybeth Pompei of Exergen Corporation