In The PathTM, we spotlight different women making a difference in the fashion, beauty, wellness, medical aesthetics, and more industries. Here, OcuMend® inventor Dr. Jo Polich shares her road to success.
Josephine “Jo” Polich, DC, has a list of accolades that most professionals can only dream about: A dual bachelor’s degree in material and mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan, and a master’s degree in engineering from the University of Virginia®. The Detroit native has years of experience working in semiconductors, fiber optics, and other engineering fields at companies like IBM®, Alcatel®, and Tele-TVTM. “I was very happily an engineer,” she recalls.
However, after her infant daughter experienced a health scare — and a serendipitous visit to Whole Foods® — that all changed. “She was very, very sick, and it went on for a year,” Dr. Polich explains. “I didn't know anything. I was just an engineer. I went to every doctor known to man, and nobody could figure out what was wrong with her.” After a year of no answers, she frustratedly walked into the nearest Whole Foods, bought a vial of a homeopathic remedy that claimed to help her daughter’s symptoms, and gave it to her. “For the first time, she was better in over a year,” she says.
Dr. Polich admits that she — a woman of science! — was shocked that the treatment worked. “That’s one of the problems in homeopathy,” she explains. “People think it shouldn’t work.” However, after seeing how effective it was after a year of trying all other available options, Dr. Polich realized her entire career path needed to change. “My contribution to the world would be much more positive if I was a homeopath than if I fixed somebody's cell phone,” she points out. She decided to start her own clinical homeopathy practice, which would turn out to be so successful that it would have a months-long waiting list.
Along her journey from engineer to homeopath, she learned of arnica, a plant from the daisy family that helps treat bruising and swelling. “It’s [one of] the most commonly used homeopathic [products] in the world,” explains Dr. Polich. “I accidentally figured out that if you put it on topically [vs.taking it orally], it works so much better.” She used it on patients, especially kids, that bruised easily, and realized that at high strengths, arnica could make a serious difference in a patient’s outcome. Seeing the potential in the market for a unique kind of product using arnica, she got to work.
“Before I even really started, I had to make sure I could make it in a gel,” she notes. “You want it to be something that lays on the skin and is comfortable, doesn't pull too much, and doesn't smell.” It took her three to four years alone to find the right kind of gel. After 12 years of working on her passion project — combining her backgrounds in materials engineering and homeopathy — Dr. Polich launched OcuMend®. The product is a stick-on hydrogel patch that delivers medical-grade arnica (50 times more potent than what you might find at the drugstore!). It is also patented.
It wasn’t easy getting to this point. She knew there was a bias in the medical field against homeopathic solutions, including arnica, so she had to plead with many doctors to get them just to try her product. She applied for a patent simultaneously, but the patent office wouldn’t even initially grant one for the product. “When I told them it was homeopathic, they refused to take the case — it was considered laughable,” she remembers. But Dr. Polich knew she had something, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. “My colleagues — both medical doctors, as well as homeopaths — told me that the results that I had were something they'd never seen before. Up until then, I didn't know it was as good as it is.”
So, she pushed back, confident in her product’s results. “Roy [Geronemus, MD] was absolutely skeptical,” she says, offering an example. “He wouldn't use the product for two years, and I basically had somebody help me beg him.” When he finally used it, however, he saw how effective it was, and became one of OcuMend’s biggest supporters. With his and the rest of her team’s help, she proved to the patent office that arnica’s efficacy wasn’t pseudoscience, and received her patent in 2018 (10 years after the initial application was filed).
Dr. Polich’s story of perseverance is a common one among many brand founders. Launching a product can be especially rife with challenges for female brand founders. “Of all the [venture capital] dollars that go to companies, only about two percent goes to female-only founders, when there’s no male on the founding team,” she shares. But if you’re in the same boat, remember that you’re not alone. “When it's really hard, know that there are lots of people in your shoes,” says Dr. Polich, who recommends finding a support group for professionals. Above all, believe in yourself and what you have created. “I am, at base, an engineer,” she says. “I am very scientifically based. I've spent more times than you can count solving engineering problems — and you can't fake this.”
OcuMend® is an Allergan®-owned product.