EDITORS’ PICK I Feb 28, 2020 I Daniel D’Ambrosio Senior Contributor Entrepreneurs

Nisha Sawhney, CEO of SnS Design in New York City.  

Imagine the impact a tamper-proof “smart” pill dispense could have in the midst of the opioid addiction crisis in America. It’s the latest design being worked on by Nisha Sawhney, CEO of SnS Design in New York City.

“If a patient needs only two pills every six hours it will only dispense that many,” Sawhney said.

Sawhney is working with her anesthesiologist brother on the medical device. Sawhney has a working prototype for the product, which will not only help reduce drug administration errors but will also automatically send codes for billing and drug database entry.

Growing up in Hyderabad, India, as the youngest of four children, Sawhney was surrounded by talented family. Her father was an electronics engineer who worked in defense laboratories. Her brother, now an anesthesiologist in the United Kingdom, was admitted to seven different medical, engineering and defense schools, and chose medicine.

Sawhney’s mother was a “doer,” stitching her children’s uniforms for school and making them “amazing snacks,” Sawhney said. Sawhney herself showed an early interest in design and architecture. At six years old she sketched a design for bunk beds that would create more space in the small bedrooms she shared with her siblings.

“One thing I really admired about my dad is he was not a typical Indian dad who would not let the daughter do what they want to do,” Sawhney said. “He allowed us to choose whatever field we wanted to. My brother became a doctor. My older sister went to fashion design institute. My middle sister went into hotel management. I did architecture and industrial design.”

Nisha Sawhney with the Zipz single-serving wine glass.

Sawhney, 43, earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the School of Planning an Architecture in New Delhi, taking an internship at an Indian architectural firm in the final six months of getting her five-year degree. At the firm, it became apparent that the only way to advance was to be a member of the family that owned the firm. As a consequence, Sawhney decided to switch her career focus to industrial design, earning master’s degree from the same school in two years.

After graduating, Sawhney began working with Michael Aram, the award-winning American artist whose home goods ranging from craft-based lifestyle designs to furniture are sold at Bloomingdale’s, as well as directly online. Sawhney contributed many designs for Aram’s collection, and also designed a two-story, lighted acrylic staircase for his apartment in New York City.

Next, LG came calling at a small design firm where she was working, and Sawhney spent the next two years working with the South Korean company’s R&D team. She designed refrigerator from concept to production in six months, flying back and forth to South Korea. She was 25 years old, just out of college. Sawhney said that while the LG culture was male-dominated, she was treated well. When she presented the full-size working prototype for the refrigerator to LG’s general manager in India he loved it, she said.

An electric car charging station designed by Nisha Sawhney.

LG wanted to hire Sawhney permanently, but instead, in 2003 she moved to New York City to launch her own firm, SnS Design. Her career took off and soon she was designing an air conditioner, an electric car charging station and a variety of other products for clients in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Japan, Israel, India, Brazil, Argentina, Ital Hong Kong and China, as well as the United States.

One of Sawhney’s most successful designs was for a to-go glass of wine for Zipz Wine. The single-serving glass has the look and feel of glass even though it’s plastic. A screw- on lid doubles as a coaster.

“I basically put myself in the role of a user and how I drink wine,” Sawhney said. “I don’t finish in one sitting. I would have half of it, have some food or a snack and come back to it.”

Zipz Wine got the biggest deal in Shark Tank history in 2014 when Kevin O’Leary invested $2.5 million in the company for a 10% stake.

Last year Sawhney filed patents in 15 countries for the IOT medical safety device. She’s working on getting FDA approval.

Sawhney’s device is in line with the World Health Organization’s 2022 target for reducing drug dispensing errors by 50 percent globally. Currently there are no devices the market to help realize this goal.

“I really want to bring this to market to save lives,” Sawhney said. “My brother has seen so many deaths (from drug errors and overdose) in his profession. Something has to be done.”

Daniel D’Ambrosio

I am a business reporter based in Burlington, Vermont. In the last eight years, I have covered everything from IBM’s “sale” of its semiconductor fab in Essex Junction to GlobalFoundries — a convoluted deal that involved IBM paying GlobalFoundries — to the existential struggle facing Vermont’s dairy farms. I have written about many startups in this entrepreneurial state, including Dealer.com, arguably Vermont’s most successful homegrown company. From its beginnings as the brainchild of a young group of friends who moved to Vermont together in the 1990s, this digital marketing company for car dealers grew to sell for nearly a billion dollars. I also wrote a series of investigative pieces about the aggressive business practices of Vermont’s largest hospital, the University of Vermont Medical Center, which make it difficult for private doctors to survive in Vermont.