How a family emergency inspired Felicia Jackson to create a vital CPR aid

The healthcare entrepreneur discusses her startup journey, fight for funding and the importance of increased access to CPR.

By Camille Kail

Courtesy of CPRWrap

Ahead of any other descriptor—before her career as a healthcare worker and physical therapist, before her identity as a mother, partner, and Tennessean, and before her role as a founder and CEO—Felicia Jackson considers herself an innovator.

Since her childhood, the owner of CPRWrap has dreamed of inventions, waking in the middle of the night to jot down ideas in a notebook she keeps by her bed. “When I was a kid, I was always tinkering with something or trying to improve an aspect of my daily life,” she says.

While Jackson’s creativity came out in sketches and descriptions, procrastination and the realities of everyday life kept her from bringing her ideas to fruition. “I never did anything with my inventions, and years after the fact, I’d turn on the TV and see one of my ideas. My mentors would always tell me, ‘You have to move quickly because someone out there is trying to fix the same thing.'”

A call to action

It took an emergency to motivate Jackson to take action and bring one of her innovations to life. When driving with her family, her 2-year-old son began to choke, and despite her healthcare background and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification, Jackson found herself frozen in the moment. “I looked in my baby’s eyes, and I couldn’t do anything. I was paralyzed with fear. And my husband saw that I wasn’t doing anything, took our son from my hands and saved his life. And I was upset with myself and kept thinking, What would’ve happened if my husband were not with me?

Shortly after this incident, the idea for a CPR-centric product landed in her invention notebook. But, she says, “my procrastination kicked in. I sat on that drawing for five more years until I realized that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. After that, I knew I finally had to take the next step.”

CPR is a common emergency procedure used for people having trouble breathing or are experiencing cardiac arrest. According to the American Heart Association, CPR is an important component of the “chain of survival,” as keeping a person’s blood flow active is essential for successful resuscitation. The faster CPR is performed in an emergency, the higher the chances are for survival. However, outside of a healthcare environment, the likelihood of CPR being performed correctly is low; only 46% of people receive CPR from bystanders, and men are 1.23 times more likely to receive bystander assistance than women.

Jackson’s product adds an extra layer of support to traditional CPR. The medical-grade plastic overlay is printed with easy-to-follow instructions that guide its user through the recommended steps of resuscitation. The disposable wrap is also AED (automated external defibrillator)-compatible and comes in sizes for adults, children and infants. Whether the user is CPR-certified or not, CPRWrap promises to “take the guesswork” out of providing critical assistance during a medical emergency.

Beginning the business journey

Felicia Jackson at a speaking event. Photo courtesy of CPRWrap.

Once Jackson decided to pursue CPRWrap in 2016, it took more than mocking up a prototype and looking for distribution to get it in the hands of customers. Although she had worked in the healthcare and physical therapy industry for years, she had never created her own product or run a business, and had to learn about design, manufacturing, FDA approvals and entrepreneurial basics from scratch. She also threw herself into market research and discovered that there was a sorely underserved customer base for her invention.

“I wanted to see who I was really going to help with [CPRWrap], and I was surprised to see that women are less likely to receive CPR from men, and that Black and Latinx populations are also less likely to survive in these situations.” In fact, research published in the AHA Journal showed that race, in addition to income, education and other risk factors contributed to much higher incidents of sudden cardiac death in BIPOC communities than white communities.

There was also the matter of funding her fledgling company. “When I first started, I was a 100% owner in my business,” Jackson says. “I needed money, since I had quit my job to work on CPRWrap, and I didn’t understand that a lot of investors did not want to diversify their portfolios with a minority-owned business. And the people that did want to fund the company presented me with outrageous terms.”

I wanted to see who I was really going to help with [CPRWrap], and I was surprised to see that women are less likely to receive CPR from men, and that Black and Latinx populations are also less likely to survive in these situations.

—Felicia Jackson, founder and CEO of CPRWrap

This experience is familiar for many BIPOC business owners looking for capital—the racial funding gap means that minority entrepreneurs receive a fraction of the startup funding that white-owned businesses get, and are more likely to rely on personal savings and the support of family and friends than a traditional loan from a bank.

Deciding on the future

Courtesy of CPRWrap

Jackson leaned heavily on her mentors and professional network during this time. “We’d almost lost our home, and I had a meeting with a group of investors that wanted to buy [CPRWrap]. They brought the money with them to the meeting, and I was so excited by this offer that had the potential to take care of everything.”

But, in speaking to her advisors, she realized that making the decision to sell would be the easy way out. “They didn’t tell me whether or not to take the money. Instead, they told me to think about my reasons for starting the company and what it would mean to sell. I went back to the table and said that I wasn’t ready to take the deal—and I’m glad I did, because now we’re worth so much more than that offer!”

Among the partnerships that helped CPRWrap get to where it is today—including Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network—Jackson worked with venture capital firm Rise of the Rest and consulted with entrepreneurial heavy hitters like Andy Dunn, the cofounder of Bonobos, on business decisions. After a series of savvy moves, CPRWrap is now available at nationwide retailers and has an international presence. Jackson credits conversations with Dunn, in particular, for the decision to make CPRWrap affordable; once pricing was lowered, Jackson saw her sales numbers jump.

Ever the innovator, Jackson is working to expand both her team and product offerings. Between fundraising rounds, negotiating deals with retailers outside of the U.S. and developing a CPR tool for pets, CPRWrap is moving into its third year with an eye on the future.

“I still have my dreams,” Jackson says, “but I no longer write my ideas down into a notebook. I’m embracing technology, so I’ve started using my phone.”

Lead photo of Felicia Jackson courtesy of CPRWrap