Most companies won’t remember their
first customer, but for Inogen, she’d be
hard to forget. Mae, one of the founder’s
grandmothers, is the reason the innovative
oxygen concentrator provider was founded in
the first place.
After being diagnosed with COPD (chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease) in 2000, Mae
was given an oxygen tank. She hated wheeling
it around. It took away her freedom, and she
was always concerned about whether she
would have enough oxygen on hand or would
run out. Instead of taking her diagnosis lying
down, she shared her thoughts with the right
people and has been able to make a difference
for oxygen users in the United States.
Four years later, the founders of Inogen were
able to present her with their first portable
oxygen concentrator—the Inogen One.
“It was designed to our patient’s specifications.
It was a big departure from how things were
being done in the industry. What does Mae—
the patient—need, but more importantly,
what does she want?” said Scott Wilkinson,
President and COO.
The standard in the industry until this point
has been the big, clunky oxygen tanks that
Mae disliked so much. Oxygen tanks have a
finite amount of oxygen compressed within
them. It’s inhaled by the user until it runs out,
when it needs to either be refilled or replaced
with a new tank.
Oxygen concentrators, on the other hand, filter
and generate medical-grade oxygen. As long
as the battery that powers the machine has
life, the user has an infinite supply of oxygen.
Concentrators compress and purify the air,
removing nitrogen and other agents that could
complicate breathing. The air is delivered
through a nasal cannula, set to the desired
flow setting of the patient.
But this is only where the differences start
between Inogen and oxygen tank providers.
Another key difference between Inogen and
others on the market is that the company
designs its oxygen concentrators for the
customers, while its competitors design their
products for the home care company.
“If the home care company wants a lower
price, then our competitor designs a cheaper
model,” shared Wilkinson. “To them, it doesn’t
really matter if the patient wants something
that’s smaller, or lighter, or hands free, or quiet.
Home care companies also don’t really want
to see a new product inside of four years—
replacing the entirety of their inventory is
“We design for the end user. Our competitors
design for the middle man. It’s a very different
dynamic. We’re competing on different
Wilkinson shared an innumerable amount
of benefits from providing for the patient
instead of the middle man. By connecting
directly with the end user, Inogen is able to
garner direct, unfiltered feedback regarding
how the company’s product works, as well as
what else the customer is still looking for. This
drives the company’s product development
and innovation, and means that the innovation
cycle from idea to final product can be a lot
faster than other companies’.
Inogen is able to provide the market with a
brand new product every two to three years,
and significant product improvements and
upgrades to existing units every year to year
and a half because of this.
And because patients always want the latest
and greatest products—especially when
it comes to their health and products like
oxygen concentrators—Inogen is in a position
to command a premium price on their devices.