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According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 20 million low birth weight preterm babies born annually globally. More startling, more than four million die within their first month.
More than 60% of preterm births occur in Africa and South Asia, but preterm birth is a global problem. How global? Even the US, makes the top ten list of countries globally with the greatest number of preterm births coming in sixth with 517,400 preterm births after India (3,519,100), China (1,172,300), Nigeria (773,600), Pakistan (748,100) and Indonesia (675,700).
Issues of cost, cultural acceptance and limited access to healthcare facilities are the common denominator. Several students at Stanford University decided to tackle those elements and in 2008 a project they evolved into a non profit calledEmbrace and from there Embrace Innovations was formed with a product which now saves lives.
Embrace Innovations is a new kind of healthcare technology company with a mission to create and provide innovative, affordable and high quality medical devices for emerging markets. Their first product, is a low-tech infant warmer – portable, low cost incubator – to reduce the risk of death in preterm babies in developing countries. Known as the Embrace infant warmer, it’s a blend of existing materials and technology adapted to the environment of developing countries with an affordable price point.
Today, the company has two faces: Embrace, the nonprofit arm and Embrace Innoviations, for-profit social enterprise which is funded by Vinod Khosla’s Impact Fund and Jeff Skoll’s Capricorn Investment Fund. The nonprofit arm, Embrace, takes philanthropic dollars to donate infant warmers to the neediest clinics. Embrace Innovations, sells the warmers to clinics who can afford to pay for them.
According to Embrace Innovations, this type of hybrid structure allows them achieve our mission to supply infant warmers to as many babies in need as possible. And, in a strikingly unique turn of events for this fast food, crowd-sourced funding start up world we live in, Embrace Innovations didn’t run an Indiegogo or Kickstarter campaign to make it happen.
Because temperature regulation is the primary problem with preterm infants, the team created an infant warmer that could maintain a constant temperature for long periods of time and function without a continuous supply of electricity.
The Embrace infant warmer is small and light and looks like a miniature sleeping bag and is easily transported to rural villages. It uses a phase change material, a proprietary wax-like substance with the ability to maintain a constant temperature while still supplying heat to the baby. This allows the infant warmer to stay at a constant temperature (98.6 F/ 37 C) for up to six hours to maintain the babies’ body temperature. The infant warmer (miniature sleeping bag) absorbs heat from heater (phase change material) and slowly releases the heat over a period of time. After four hours, the infant warmer can be re-warmed by submerging it in boiling water for a few minutes and the entire sleeping bag can be sanitized in boiling water.
Price difference? $300 USD compared to the $20,000 price tag of a traditional incubator.
The infant warmer does require access to an AC power source, but can also run off of a generator or alternate AC power source. Embrace has obtained the CE certification and is ISO 13485 certified, which is the international certification for design and manufacturing of medical devices.
“I’m optimistic that many of the challenges the world faces today, creative minds with missionary zeal will take them on because they refuse to accept an unjust world,” said Rahul Alex Panicker, PhD, Co-founder and President, Products, Embrace Innovations. “Our hope is that Embrace can be a safe-haven for such souls – to make a difference, to show what is possible, and to keep optimism alive.”
The idea of creating and designing a product that incorporates existing simple technology and proprietary materials driven by human ingenuity and passion to bring to market affordable disruptive healthcare products brings into focus something overlooked in today’s sycophantic start up environment.
Passion for change through technology. We are now, thankfully, looking at a new generation of entrepreneurs with their eye on making a profound impact on the lives of millions of men, women and children around the world.