Eric and Evan Edwards are strapping young men but they would be easy to do in. Egg salad, PB&J — even a lowly fish stick would do the job.
But these 28-year-old twin brothers have parlayed their deadly food allergies into a promising pharmaceutical start-up company, Intelliject.
Growing up in Chesterfield County, Eric and Evan had to carry around “epi-pens” — bulky epinephrine self-injectors that launched a thousand middle-school “What's that in your pocket?” jokes. They had to take them everywhere. To school, to church, to the airport headed for a family vacation when they realized they had left them at home.
The trip was a post-high-school graduation vacation adventure to Europe. Eric had already been accepted to the University of Virginia where he planned to study engineering; Evan had gotten into a program at Virginia Commonwealth University that guaranteed him a spot in the medical school. So they really had no excuse. But it all was a hassle.
During the past decade they've developed a safer, more compact delivery device, slightly smaller than a box of Altoids mints. It even has a mechanical voice that walks a user through the steps for self-injection, finishing with advice to call 911.
Eric has since switched to a pharmacotherapy doctoral program at VCU and plans to finish his medical degree after that. Although the company has benefited from incubator programs at U.Va.'s Darden School of Business and the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park, the Edwards brothers made unorthodox decisions that have, luckily, played out in their favor.
The decision to stay in Richmond, for one, and certain key personnel decisions while building their company seemed audacious at first but have worked out. The twins credit their faith-based approach, but longtime observers of the Richmond scene might not be surprised that Jim Ukrop has filled a mentoring role for the young business — another article of faith.
They hope to have Intelliject approved by the Food and Drug Administration and on the market in two years.