WESTCHASE — A shiny, white toilet sits on the floor of Colleen Meloff's living room.
The brand new toilet from Lowe's isn't waiting to get installed in a bathroom, but instead it is being used as a prop in a promotional video for her company's website. While this sounds crazy to most people, it's all in a day's work when you are promoting a product that involves urine collection.
In early 2015, Meloff, 34, left her job as an outside sales executive and used her savings to start her own company: CareFull Catch. The company sells long, curved, plastic handles that attach to urine specimen collection cups. The idea for her product came in 2013, when she was pregnant with her daughter and had to give a urine sample at each doctor's visit. She felt that the traditional method of collecting urine was unsanitary, and figured there had to be a better way.
"There is no reason that we have to be urinating on our hands when we collect a urine sample," said Meloff, who lives in the Westchase area.
In 2014, Meloff began doing market research by conducting surveys at an OB/GYN office, and at a pediatric urology group in Tampa. She quickly learned that people wanted urine collection to be an easier and more sanitary process.
Typically, collecting a urine specimen involves someone holding a small cup inside a toilet, but depending on the age and physical ability of the patient, this can prove difficult and messy. Children especially need assistance with this process from parents or nurses.
Pediatric nurse Gina Day said parents often drop the cup in the water and then have to repeat the process, which can delay diagnosis.
"It's definitely a stressor for parents," said pediatric nurse Gina Day. "There is questionable contamination in just the whole process of sticking your hand in the toilet with the cup," said Day.
Meloff worked with engineers to design a disposable handle that attaches to urine specimen cups, and then had it manufactured by a company in St. Petersburg.
"Getting the perfect design was very difficult," Meloff said. "There are all different size specimen cups."
The handle, which is patent pending, allows patients to sit while collecting a sample.
"It helps provide better results," Meloff said. "People aren't contaminating the sample, they're not touching the cup."
The handle also eliminates people dropping the cup, and provides patients with a sanitary and comfortable method to collect a urine sample.
Meloff first launched CareFull Catch locally by showing it to doctor's offices.
"The best way is to introduce it is to the users, the nurses who are actually helping patients get the urine sample," Meloff said. "The typical reaction is 'How has this not been around here for years?' "
After seeing CareFull Catch, Bay Care Medical Group put Meloff's company on their approved vendor list for use in individual offices and laboratories.
"They saw it as a huge value add," Meloff said.
Her next step was to introduce CareFull Catch on a larger scale, so she, and the shiny, white toilet, went to Florida International Medical Expo Convention in Miami Beach in August 2015. The convention is the largest international medical trade fair and congress in the United States, with over 50,000 attendees from around the world.
It features companies that offer medical technology, products, equipment, and services. Meloff showcased CareFull Catch at a booth, using the toilet as a prop to catch people's attention. She said the convention was a success, and she now has six national distributors for her product.
The trip to Miami Beach was not Meloff's first. In January 2015, she attended the open call for potential show participants for ABC's Shark Tank. As a huge fan of the show, Meloff felt she had to audition.
"I waited in line for 7 hours, and you get 2 minutes," Meloff said. "It's a long shot, but it was an amazing experience."
Though she didn't get chosen, she said the panel gave her great feedback on CareFull Catch.
In October, Meloff took CareFull Catch to the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in Washington, D.C. As a result, her product was written about in Contemporary Pediatrics.
"We've been getting orders from all over the United States just because of that article," Meloff said.
Most recently, CareFull Catch was named a 2016 Startup Scholar by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. Meloff will receive mentoring, guidance, and assistance from the chamber.
Meloff enjoys the success she's had so far, and plans to continue growing her business.
"I think people really see the need for a product that not only helps the patients, but also gets a better, more accurate result for the test," Meloff said. "The goal is for this to become the new standard of practice, the new way to collect a urine sample."
For more information on CareFull Catch, visit carefullproducts.com.
Contact Danielle Hauser at [email protected]