UrgentRx is reinventing pills

March 20, 2013: 11:21 AM ET

The Denver-based startup is pushing an alternative to standard-issue pills. Sam Zell, Hillary Swank and Herb Simon are fans.

By Doron Levin, contributor

130320104512-urgentrx-340xaFORTUNE -- Jordan Eisenberg, 31, was carrying a Benadryl around in his wallet back in 2009 when it dawned on him that he should find a better way to ensure his own safety in case of an allergy attack. He's violently allergic to carrots, peanuts and many other fresh fruits and vegetables. "It's unsanitary, the pills fall out and they disintegrate," says Eisenberg, the chief executive officer of UrgentRx, his Denver, Colorado-based startup. His father and friends also carried aspirin in their wallets in the event of a heart attack.

His solution? Flavored powder in a credit card-sized, moisture-proof envelope. The powder comes close to emulating the taste of candy products like Pixy Stix. Creating a fruit-flavored powder that could deliver common over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin, calcium carbonate (for upset stomach) and diphenyldramine HCl (for allergy attacks) "wasn't easy," Eisenberg said. "Our drugs aren't candy, it's really hard to mask the taste of medicine through micro-encapsulation."

Following its launch in January, UrgentRx powders have been sold in 3,000 stores nationwide. The goal is to get them into 25,000 stores, including such major chains as CVS (CVS). Each packet sells for a suggested retail price of $1.39.

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Eisenberg, a double major in engineering and mathematics from Vanderbilt University, originally worked as an investment banker before taking a job with the noted inventor and patent-holder, Maurice Kanbar. Kanbar created Skyy Vodka and other well-known products. "I always thought I wanted to be a venture capitalist," says Eisenberg. "I came to understand that entrepreneurship is a rare commodity, it's what I was meant to do."

In the process of trying to raise investment capital, a mutual acquaintance introduced him to Randall Kaplan, a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur and investor who was a co-founder of Akamai Technologies (AKAM).

UrgentRx, with $5 million in funding, two years ago had a limited rollout to pharmacy chains and other retailers that sell remedies. "We made packaging and other changes," Eisenberg said. "The feedback was incredibly important." The company, which has eight employees, has just hired two vice presidents, one for sales and one for marketing.

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Eisenberg's hook is the claim that the company's powdered aspirin, which it says acts faster than pills, has saved at least ten lives of people who swallowed UrgentRx when they were having a heart attack. Another plus, he says, is that the product is ideal for the estimated 6% of the population that is unable or has difficulty swallowing pills.

After investing in UrgentRx and becoming the company's chairman, Kaplan is helping to raise another $2.5 million, which will be used in part to finance the marketing of the powders to more retailers. New investors include Sam Zell, the Chicago financier, actress Hillary Swank and Herb Simon, the shopping mall magnate.

UrgentRx follows on the heels of innovative delivery systems for medicinal products and caffeine, such as Vitamin Water and 5-Hour Energy Drink. The investors are hoping the packets will become a staple of home medicine cabinets—much like Alka Seltzer in the 1940s.

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