Partner: Medicine Mondiale
Project Launched: Extreme Team in 2007, company formed in 2008
Current Status: First version of the product launched in 2011, for clinical settings, and is currently being distributed to clinics in South India, where dozens of babies have already been impacted. Partnerships have been formed with several multinational organizations to distribute the product. The Embrace team consists of 35 people, primarily located in Bangalore, India. The organization has received numerous accolades, including the INDEX People’s Choice Award, the largest international design competition. In 2010, it was selected as an “Innovative Technology for Public Health” by the World Health Organization. Media features have included TED, CNN, 20/20, Time Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and numerous publications.
Team: All original team members are still with the company. Linus Liang, Jane Chen, Rahul Panicker, Razmig Hovaghimian. In addition Naganand Murty from the other Extreme incubator team help found the company.
Each year, 20 million premature and low-birth-weight babies are born. In developing countries, mortality for these infants is particularly high because incubators are extremely rare. Most hospitals and clinics in developing countries don’t have enough incubators to meet the tremendous need. New incubators are extremely expensive, and donated incubators are confusing to operate and are difficult to maintain and repair. Design That Matters challenged our Extreme Affordability students to design a better incubator for the developing world.
The Embrace team began their need finding in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal. After spending several days observing the neonatal unit of the Kathmandu hospital, the team asked to be taken outside the city to see how premature infants were cared for in rural areas. They learned two alarming things: First, the overwhelming majority of all premature Nepalese infants were born in these rural areas. And second, most of these infants would never make it to a hospital. They realized that no matter how good their design for a new incubator was, it would never help these babies if it stayed in a hospital. To save the maximum number of lives, their design would have to function in a rural environment. It would have to work without electricity and be transportable, intuitive, sanitizable, culturally appropriate, and perhaps most importantly—inexpensive.
By the end of class, the team had created their first prototype of the Embrace Incubator. The design looked something like a sleeping bag. It wrapped around a premature infant, and a pouch of phase-change material (PCM) kept the baby’s body at exactly the right temperature—and maintained this temperature for up to four hours. After four hours, the PCM pouch could be “recharged” by submerging it in boiling water for a few minutes.
The Embrace Incubator is small and light, making it easy and inexpensive to transport to rural villages. The entire sleeping bag can be sanitized in boiling water. It is far more intuitive to use than traditional incubators, and fits well into the recommended practice of “Kangaroo Care,” where a mother holds her baby against her skin. Finally, compared to the $20,000 price of a traditional incubator, the Embrace incubator only costs $25.
The product uses an innovative wax incorporated in a sleeping bag to regulate a baby’s temperature. It stays warm without electricity, has no moving parts, is portable and is safe and intuitive to use. The Embrace Infant Warmer can be used in a clinical setting, for transporting babies, and in a community setting.
What’s Happening Now?
Since the class ended, the Embrace team has pushed forward. They strengthened their team with several new members, incorporated as a non-profit, and began to refine their business plan and seek funding. Embrace began to win awards and small amounts of seed funding from business plan competitions and attract media attention. Encouraged by these small victories, Embrace refined their design and is currently preparing for clinical trials in India. Recently, Jane Chen (CEO) and Rahul Panicker (CTO) won the Echoing Green Fellowship, a prestigious award given to the top 20 social ventures out of almost 1,500 applicants. They also won the BASES Social Entrepreneurship Challenge at Stanford. Together, these two wins will provide them with $125,000 to pursue Embrace further.
Embrace launched the first version of its product in India. Customers include private clinics, government clinics, and NGOs. Clinical studies have been conducted at multiple hospitals in India, as well as at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. The product has now helped over 200,000 babies across 20 countries. Most recently, Embrace Innovations launched a new line of baby products for the US market called Little Lotus Baby (www.littlelotusbaby.com). These swaddles and blankets use unique technology to keep babies at an ideal temperature, thereby helping them to sleep better. They have a 1:1 model of giving – for each Little Lotus purchased, a baby is saved in a developing country with the Embrace warmer.
Find out more about Embrace at www.embraceinnovations.com.