By Eric Ruble
During her last year as a master’s of public administration student at USC Price, Lanie Yeung (MPA ’20) had to rush her grandmother to the hospital. The 97-year-old, who Yeung calls “Popo,” was suffering from severe dehydration.
“After this scary experience, I looked into the problem and found out that 48% of older adults who are hospitalized with a principal diagnosis of dehydration die within a year,” said Yeung, who also received her Certificate in Social Innovation from Price.
Seeking a solution, Yeung began working on a product that would help Popo and other older adults consume the water they need to stay healthy. The result – dubbed Hydro Gummy – is set to launch in early 2022.
Looking for ways to solve a common problem
Older adults are often dehydrated for a number of reasons, including a weakened thirst mechanism, swallowing issues and a reluctance to drink due to fear of incontinence.
Popo has dementia, which further increases one’s chances of dehydration. According to research highlighted by the BBC, people with dementia are six times more likely to become dehydrated. Yeung said it often takes her grandmother over an hour to drink one glass of water with significant assistance from a caregiver.
“Typically, my family and I spend hours each day trying to hydrate her, with limited success,” Yeung said.
While finishing her degree at Price, Yeung began designing Hydro Gummy: solid, bite-sized water that is enhanced with electrolytes.
“It’s essentially water you can eat,” Yeung said.
Yeung said with the product, it only takes Popo about 12 minutes to consume one glass worth of water.
“Hydro Gummy makes hydrating more enjoyable and a habit that’s easier to sustain,” Yeung said. “It has really reduced the time, energy and stress that is involved in only one caregiving task, of many, which needs to be repeated many times throughout the day.”
The hydration supplement is 90% water, and Yeung believes it has the potential to lower overall health care costs by improving health care and wellness. “If you’re proactively making healthy decisions, like eating and drinking properly, then hopefully you can reduce your risk of hospitalization for dehydration. Hydro Gummy is an easy way to supplement healthy habits.”
A promising road ahead
With the product’s planned launch just months away, Yeung is focused on finalizing everything necessary to ensure its success. Part of that involves potential funding from the National Institutes of Health; Yeung is applying for a Small Business Innovation Research grant through the NIH.
“If we’re awarded this grant, it will help with product development and the research that’s very much needed,” Yeung said. “If we’re able to eventually perform a clinical trial on this, the evidence would be very compelling information for people who want more of that type of data.”
Just two years ago, Yeung did not envision herself as an entrepreneur. But now, endeavoring to help someone she loves, she is on a new mission to improve people’s lives.
“Even though I have not pursued the path a traditional MPA student would, I have been fortunate to learn the lessons that I have and apply it to my business,” Yeung said. “We need to give greater attention to and advocate for older adults and the people who provide care to our loved ones.”
An unexpected venture into entrepreneurship
When Yeung arrived at USC Price in 2018, she wanted to continue building her career in the philanthropy space. She was drawn to the School’s resources and specialties, specifically the Center for Social Innovation and the Center of Philanthropy and Public Policy.
“My lifelong passion is to help others. Part of why I chose Price is because of the alignment I felt with the Price mission,” she shared.
When she enrolled at USC, Yeung was working at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. She was previously employed overseas by the State Department and Treasury Department, and had also worked in financial services in Asia and New York. However, she had no experience as an entrepreneur.
“It’s a very steep learning curve, so, I’m very grateful for the lessons I learned at USC and the tight-knit Trojan Family.”
Yeung said while launching Hydro Gummy, she has had to learn about food science, packaging and manufacturing. The Trojan Family has helped her connect with people in a variety of fields, especially because she took her MPA classes at Price’s campuses in both Los Angeles and Sacramento.
“It’s inspiring being surrounded by so many like-minded, impressive and passionate individuals who want to help others and society,” Yeung said.
She has also received advice from faculty in Price, Keck Medicine of USC, the Marshall School of Business and the Davis School of Gerontology. She specifically pointed to Price professors Lois Takahashi and Christine Beckman as resources of support and guidance.
“I learned the importance of seeking diverse perspectives in looking at a problem, and co-designing with a range of stakeholders,” Yeung said. “I’ve been very lucky to have a wider network because of USC.”
As the American population ages, products like Hydro Gummy provide a novel solution to problems which will inevitably become more common. By combining her knowledge from Price with her altruistic attitude, Yeung is poised to make a lasting impact on health care.