From local roots to lifesaving technology, Waukon native shares her success story

Waukon native Paula (Kerndt) Wickham (left in above photo) joins fellow Think Safe co-founder Annette Carter (right) in displaying the Emergency Instruction Device (EID) product and patent that helped launch their Think Safe company. From that initial EID product launched in 2006, Think Safe now sells thousands of emergency response products worldwide from its headquarters in Cedar Rapids. Submitted photo.

by Kelli Boylen
freelance writer

Most people are familiar with AEDs (Automated External Defibrillators) and their lifesaving value, but a Waukon native has been working to bring even more easy-to-use lifesaving technologies to regular folks.
Paula (Kerndt) Wickham graduated from Waukon High School in 1988. One would think her career path in finance may very well have never led to revolutionizing emergency healthcare, but it most certainly has in her current role as President of Think Safe.
Think Safe is a worldwide company based in Cedar Rapids, IA that offers innovative patented products such as the Emergency Instruction Device (EID) and Self-contained Emergency Treatment (SET) Systems. These talking first-aid systems operate similarly to an AED in providing immediate, easy to understand instruction of what to do in a medical emergency until trained personnel arrive. They also serve as invaluable training devices.

After high school graduation, Wickham attended the University of Iowa, graduating with a Finance degree in 1992. She held various interim positions, eventually landing at Firstar Bank in Cedar Rapids in the Credit Department. This began her commercial loan underwriting and loan review career in finance. During the next 15 years she had the benefit of analyzing thousands of businesses.
“I would review and analyze businesses for, minimally, the 5 C's (character, cash flow, capital, collateral, other conditions) and even loan portfolios of various banks that were purchased by my employer. It was invaluable experience because I saw a variety of models and successful (or unsuccessful) ways to run a business; never passing up a facility tour and meeting with management during the underwriting and review process,” Wickham said.
She graduated from underwriting into sales, becoming a top performer for US Bank as a commercial lender and winning awards for her work. “I found great satisfaction in helping clients to achieve their personal dreams and business goals,” she said.
During her banking career, she started to get the itch to do something more challenging, so she started avidly reading non-fiction business texts and volunteering in the community as a business advisor. About 15 years ago, Annette Carter, RN, Wickham's co-founder of Think Safe and concept "idea" inventor of the Emergency Instruction Device (EID), approached Wickham to ask for help with a business and marketing plan for her idea.

It was during this time Wickham was an investor in the Main Feature Theater and Pizza Pub in Waukon, with her mom, Pat Mitchell, actively running operations and managing staff. Wickham handled the finances and marketing plan while her husband handled purchasing and movie bookings. They eventually sold the theater when Pat wanted to retire to part-time work.
Think Safe came to life during those years they had ownership in Main Feature. It was a very busy time for Wickham. She was the mother of two, pregnant with her third child. She had her banking career and the Main Feature. About a year after starting to help Carter, she almost quit helping her build her model and plan.
Wickham recalls at that time she did not own even one first aid kit and had not had any formal first aid or CPR Training. Carter, who was a flight helicopter trauma nurse for over 15 years, shared a heart-breaking story with a bad ending about an accident involving a child. “From there on she had me," Wickham recalled. "Why? Because I would have done the wrong thing - the exact thing the parents of that child had done - and I knew if I would have done it, so many others would have too."
Wickham had her third child and went back to banking for a short time but then decided that she needed to do something for herself and her passions and goals in life. “I gave my notice, quitting my financially stable Vice President of Commercial Lending position to take on a risky start-up and launch a new product. I knew the risks but took them anyway to have a chance at helping people while bringing updated technology to the forefront,” she shared.
As a nurse, Carter did not want the burden of running the company but rather wanted help in getting the product developed and in the market while retaining reasonable ownership. Wickham took the reigns and immersed herself into the industry and has not looked back.

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