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Thursday, May 24, 2012

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Dr. Wei-Shin Lai, MD, Doctor and Inventor Our Coverage Sponsored by Maine Woolens

Dr. Wei-Shin Lai

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We have been highly recommended by Whom You Know:
Maine Woolens, affordable luxury and tradition.  Peachy Deegan is always snuggled in a Maine Woolens blanket when she is using SleepPhones!


Dr. Wei-Shin Lai, MD, is a family doctor, inventor of SleepPhones and RunPhones, and founder/CEO of AcousticSheep LLC, highly recommended by Whom You Know. SleepPhones are a patent-pending design that combines headphones and a headband to create a drug-free sleep solution for insomnia. RunPhones are a headphones/headband combination designed to enable users to exercise to music more comfortably than with earbuds. 

Dr. Lai was inspired to design SleepPhones when she was on call for the emergency room. She had a hard time falling back to sleep after being awoken in the night by a phone call. As a compassionate doctor, her mind was occupied with patient concerns that kept her awake, so her husband recommended listening to something to soothe her mind and lull her to sleep. Since she did not want to disturb him while he slept and earbuds were too uncomfortable, she tried sewing very thin speakers into a soft fleece headband. They worked, and Dr. Lai and her husband decided it was such a good invention they had to start selling them. SleepPhones was born and AcousticSheep LLC was founded. She later developed RunPhones, a similar product for exercising to music that includes both a summer version to wick away sweat, and a winter version to keep ears warm. 

Under Dr. Lai’s leadership, AcousticSheep LLC emphasizes environmentally-friendly materials and manufacturing processes. She strives to use local resources, stay on the technological cutting-edge, and run a socially responsible company. Despite the recent economic downturn, AcousticSheep LLC continues to expand and provide employment during a recession. 

Along with being the CEO of AcousticSheep, Dr. Lai is a family physician at Penn State University, seeing patients as part of University Health Services. She is board certified in family medicine by the American Board of Family Practice and a member of the American Academy Family Physicians. She was selected as one of “America’s Top Family Doctors” in 2007-2010 by the Consumer’s Research Council of America. Her specialties include family medicine with a special interest in sleep. 

Prior to practicing medicine at Penn State and running AcousticSheep LLC, Dr. Lai was a private practice family physician at High Ridge Family Practice in the greater New York City area. Prior to that, she was a family medicine resident at Hunterdon Medical Center, where she served as an infection control committee member and a residency daily noon conference coordinator. While there she received the Natural and Alternative Medicine Award.

Dr. Lai received her Bachelor of Science degree in cellular molecular biology from the University of Michigan. She received her MD from the University of Virginia School of Medicine. 

In July 2011, Dr. Lai and her husband had a son, Brynach Wolfe. Along with raising Brynach, Dr. Lai enjoys hunting for wild mushrooms, listening to music, watching films of all kinds, gardening, and cooking fresh, healthy food.   We are so pleased to present her as our latest Mover and Shaker!  Peachy Deegan interviewed Dr. Wei-Shin Lai for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: As a child did you invent anything and would you like to share those 
stories if so?
Dr. Wei-Shin Lai: When I was very young, I thought I would create a new beautiful 
insect. I caught some butterflies and some dragonflies and put them 
all into a mailbox. I figured that they would mate and and produce 
butterflies with iridescent wings like dragonflies! That was probably 
my first failed invention.

What inspired you to become a doctor?
It was a long convoluted road, but the excitement of studying the 
deadly Ebola virus in high school biology opened my eyes to the 
complexities of the human body's interaction with disease. My
fascination with biology and my passion to contribute to the world 
made studying medicine a natural choice.

What is the difference between having a good idea and talking about it 
and having a good idea and going through with it and inventing a 
product-what separates the truly great concepts?
To be successful in business, you have to have an idea that makes 
money. There are plenty of good ideas out there, but if it can't make 
enough money to sustain itself, then the idea would need to be 
re-worked. The only way to figure that out is by doing lots of 
research. Check for patents, competitors, and alternatives. Figure out 
step-by-step how you would implement it. Once you have an idea that 
remains unique, better than alternatives and competitors, and 
deceptively simple, you might be on to a truly great concept! When 
you've proven to yourself that it's fantastic, then you can't help but 
to make it happen.

What should everyone know about SleepPhones that they have yet to learn?
I personally sewed the first 500 SleepPhones on my Singer sewing 
machine my husband bought for my birthday the year we started the 
business. My husband soldered them. We still have epoxy and needle 
holes on our kitchen table.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
My father demonstrated applying intelligence to a strong work ethic. 
My mom pushed me to excel in a typical tiger mom style.

What are you proudest of and why?
As a sappy new mom, I'm proud of every new thing my baby does. From 
growing 2 little teeth to crawling so fast that he trips and falls to 
picking up his blueberries without smashing them. He is adorable and 
I'm proud that I've been versatile and organized enough to grow the 
SleepPhones business while still practicing medicine and raising a 
family. Running a start-up business growing at rapid pace is hard work.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the 
opportunity to do?
I would like to teach a college course on practical health. It would 
include everything from how to take common medications to how to 
prepare to see a doctor to how to cook and eat!

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
I received a scholarship for medical school, on the Natural and 
alternative medicine award in residency, and was voted Best Family 
Doctor by the Consumers' Research Counsil of America for 4 years in a 

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
Grand Central Station. It sounds corny, but all of the movement, 
people with purpose, live music, and smells of the subway make me feel 
like I'm in the center of the entire world.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
Garden of Eden on 14th street. I'm a foodie.

What is your favorite drink?
Anything with Bailey's

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
Honestly, I think I've been to 2 cocktail parties that I could 
remember. One was with sleep doctors, so you can imagine how soporific 
the conversation was.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan?
Queen of Sheba. I love Ethiopian food, and it's so rare to find a restaurant!

What is your favorite Manhattan book?
Does Zagat count? I don't read much, but I do like looking through The Strand.

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
I'd like to be a Taoist priest for a day. To be at peace with the 
world and to forget all desires would be wonderful. Just for a day.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it 
be and why?
I really like hanging out and shopping around Union Square. I'd like 
to be on one of the benches there.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
Find a huge variety of mushrooms sold at the Greensmarket.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would 
it be and why?
Actually, I'd currently like to meet Matthew Glenn of EasyBloom and 
PlantSense. He is an entrepreneur with expertise I'd like to know more 
about. I don't know how to track him down though, so here's a shout 
out to him.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?
When my husband was still my boyfriend, he took me around the city to 
look at as many buildings designed by Stanford White as we could find 
because he knew that I liked architecture.

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
We try to be as environmentally conscious as possible. Half of our 
employees live within a 5 minute walk of work or can work from home. 
We reuse and recycle packaging material. The products are made from 
recycled plastic bottles. Our headquarters are run with wind power.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
Being able to hang out around town all night long is overrated. Most 
businesses close, so it hard to find food after midnight. The 
tremendous underground infrastructure is underrated. I love figuring 
out how things are built.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom 
You Know column and what do you like about it?
Tasty Tidbits and Peachy's Picks. I especially enjoyed the Delmonico post because it gave 
a lot of history and information about the specialties.

Have you drank The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not?
I am nursing my baby, so I can't drink yet, but I'd love to try it next year!

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
I love growing and eating mushrooms! We have shiitake mushroom logs in 
the backyard fruiting a few times a year. It so fun to watch your own 
mushrooms growing!

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
Email is fine. Please use

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