Imagine the impact a tamper-proof “smart” pill dispenser could have in the midst of the opioid addiction crisis in America. It’s the latest design being worked on by Nisha Sawhney, CEO of SnS Design in New York City.
“If a patient needs only two pills every six hours it will only dispense that many,” Sawheny said.
Sawheny is working with her physician brother on the project, which she has dubbed iPill. Sawhney has a working prototype for the product, which also automatically sends codes for billing.
Growing up in Hyderabad, India, as the youngest of four children, Sawhney was surrounded by talented family. Her father was an electrical engineer who worked in defense. Her brother, now an anesthesiologist in the United Kingdom, was admitted to seven different medical schools, and used to pass the time by doing detailed medical sketches.
Sawhney’s mother was a “doer,” stitching her children’s uniforms for school and making them “amazing snacks,” Sawhney said. Sawhney herself showed an early interest in design and architecture. At six years old she sketched a design for bunk beds that would create more space in the small bedrooms she shared with her siblings.
“One thing I really admire about my dad is he was not a typical Indian dad who would not let the daughter do what they want to do,” Sawhney said. “He allowed us to do and take whatever field we wanted to. My brother became a doctor. My older sister went to fashion design institute. My middle sister went into hotel management. I did architecture.”
Sawhney, 43, earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi, taking an internship at an Indian architectural firm in the final six months of getting her five-year degree. At the firm, it became apparent that the only way to advance was to be a member of the family that owned the firm. As a consequence, Sawhney decided to switch her career focus to industrial design, earning a master’s degree from the same school in two years.
After graduating, Sawheny began working with Michael Aram, the American artist whose home goods ranging from kitchen canisters to furniture are sold at Bloomingdales, as well as directly online. Sawhney contributed many designs for Aram’s collection, and also designed a two-story, lighted acrylic staircase for his apartment in New York City.
Next, LG came calling at a small design firm where she was working, and Sawheny spent the next two years working on the South Korean company’s R&D team. She designed a refrigerator from concept to production, flying back and forth to South Korea. She was 25 years old, just out of college.
Sawheny said that while the LG culture was male-dominated, she was treated well. When she presented the full-size working prototype for the refrigerator to LG’s general manager in India he loved it, she said.
LG wanted to hire Sawheny permanently, but instead, in 2003 she moved to New York City to launch her own firm, SnS Design. Her career took off and soon she was designing an air conditioner, an electric car charging station and a variety of other products for clients in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Japan, Israel, India, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Hong Kong and China, as well as the United States.
One of Sawheny’s most successful designs was for a to-go glass of wine for Zipz Wine. The single-serving glass has the look and feel of glass even though it’s plastic. A screw-on lid doubles as a coaster.
“I basically put myself in the role of a user and how I drink wine,” Sawheny said. “I don’t finish in one sitting. I would have half of it, have some food or a snack and come back to it.”
Zipz Wine got the biggest deal in Shark Tank history in 2014 when Kevin O’Leary invested $2.5 million in the company for a 10% stake.
Last year Sawhney filed patents in 15 countries for the iPill dispenser. She’s working on getting FDA approval.
“I really want to bring this to market to save lives,” Sawhney said. “My brother has seen so many deaths (from drug overdose) in his profession. Something has to be done.”