Fuusje: bringing colour and smiles to children’s hospital stays

Alumnus Edward Hoogendoorn (MSc Strategic Entrepreneurship, 2020) has found a way to make hospital stays for children less unfamiliar and scary and bring them a little joy. In 2017, Edward came up with the idea to create kid-friendly covers for intravenous (IV) infusion bags that could be used for children in hospital. Edward and his friend Julian Hoogendoorn co-founded Fuusje alongside doing their studies and day jobs, and have so far distributed over 18,000 covers – and they are not planning to stop anytime soon.

How did you come up with the idea for Fuusje?

“In 2017, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and there wasn’t a lot of time left. It was clear to us within weeks of her diagnosis that it wasn’t going well. Her health deteriorated quickly, and I remember our family and friends constantly spoke about her medication and her illness. It dawned on me that it would be nicer if we spoke about the happy memories and beautiful moments in her life instead. Fuusje actually came from one night when our family was taking our mom out to dinner at a high-end restaurant, but her catheter needed to come with her. The two didn’t really go together so I took a pillowcase, tore it up and covered her catheter bag with it so it looked like she was just carrying a handbag with flower print. She liked it so much that she ended up leaving it on for days after the dinner.”

What does it do?

“I saw the effect it had on my mom; she was basically able to say that even though she was sick, she wouldn’t let it define her or what she did. I got a lot of praise from others for it, from family and friends but also from medical staff. When she died and I took a moment to think about what I was proud of before, I thought of the cover. I decided I wanted to do something with it, so shared the idea with Julian and then we started to visit hospitals to pitch the idea of covers for IV-bags.

“The idea started to focus more on children because I realized that a lot of children are quite afraid of the IV-bag. Out of all the medical equipment and furniture in hospital rooms, the IV-bag is the only thing that you’re connected to the entire day. There’s a bed there, a monitor, and all these things that kids might already be familiar with, but the IV-bag gets taken everywhere you go and there’s literally a tube going into your arm. At that point, it became clear that goal was to make a cover for the IV-bag.”

For a couple of months, their idea was dismissed by medical professionals, although they understood why that might be. “Medical staff are already running around with everything that they need to do so doing something extra, even if it takes just two seconds, is a big ask. Plus, because they are so used to the IV-bags themselves it’s difficult for medical staff to understand that equipment can be scary for children. It might also be hard for staff to comprehend why a small change like this can have a significant psychological effect to help hospitalized children. We also got a lot of pushback because the IV-bag needs to be visible so staff can see how much medication is left in it – if it’s empty there’s a risk of the patient’s blood running back into it.

“What worked in the end was simply sending the covers to hospitals for free. We realized that staff who found the covers worked would get in touch with us to ask for more when they had run out – and that’s exactly what happened.”

What have you achieved so far?

“For three years my co-founder and I have worked on Fuusje alongside our day-to-day jobs. The number of hours varies every week, but by January 2020 we had distributed 18,000 IV-bag covers to hospitals in the Netherlands. In July, Fuusje won the audience prize in RSM’s I WILL Award 2020, and we are using the € 2,000 prize money to develop the German and Austrian markets. We are translating everything now, and we are eager to apply the exact same approach as we did in the Netherlands. We want to start handing out free covers in Germany soon.”

What drives you?

“Of course my past experience has influenced me but it isn’t the main driver; I believe every person has something in their life that really sucks. No life is perfect. But don’t expect other people to make it better. Put your hands on the wheel and go for your own destination. Look at what happened to you and try to make it as positive as you can. When I get a picture from a sick child who is laughing in bed with tubes in their nose, first I am shocked at the image but then I feel glad because they’ve got an IV-bag with a lion on it and I get words of gratitude from their family.”

What’s next?

“Our big goal is to make sure every hospitalized child in the world has the funniest cover ever for their IV-bag. We’ve always made sure that this is a social business and not a for-profit business. We make and send the covers and there are various ways that they’re paid for. Hospitals purchase them; we also give them to families who have reached out to us in return for a donation of any size; we accept open donations from anyone who wants to buy one for another family; and we also order them in bulk so our production costs are low.”

Do you have advice for aspiring entrepreneurs or peers?

“I typically don’t like to give book recommendations and don’t like to tell people to read a specific book, but The $100 Startup is literally our story. A lot of people tend to think they need to quit their job and live on instant noodles for an entire year for their start-up to succeed, but that’s not necessary. It’s really doable to work on it a few hours a week, it’s the best way to start working as an entrepreneur.

“There are a few million children hospitalized in the Netherlands and my initial goal was to sell 10,000 or 100,000 covers in the first year. Instead, it took us three years to reach the 10,000 mark. As long as you make sure you’re fixing a problem and focus on small impact, it will give you much more energy. Appreciate the small, start small, and if it’s good it will work out. It’s also good to remind yourself that everything is possible, you just need to try really hard. As an entrepreneur, you should be quite stubborn – it’s a fine line between lunatic and dedicated! The funny thing is that after three years people are telling me I’m not a lunatic and that we have something that they quite like. That’s also a part of it.”