Jane Chen: Embrace the Entrepreneurial Journey | Summary and Q&A

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October 26, 2016
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Stanford eCorner
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Jane Chen: Embrace the Entrepreneurial Journey

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Summary

In this video, Jane Chen, the co-founder and CEO of Embrace Innovations, shares her journey in creating a low-cost infant warmer called Embrace Warmer. She highlights the problem of infant mortality due to lack of access to incubators in developing countries and the challenges faced in designing a solution that can function without a constant supply of electricity. She explains the design process, from sketching prototypes on a napkin to testing different materials, and emphasizes the importance of empathy and cultural appropriateness in creating a successful product. She also discusses the challenges she encountered, like a funding crisis and the need to re-evaluate their strategy, and how they overcame them. Chen concludes by sharing the lessons she learned through her journey, including the importance of leading with purpose, having persistence and courage, embracing impermanence, and choosing to see the world through the lens of beauty.

Questions & Answers

Q: What inspired Jane Chen to create the Embrace Warmer?

Jane Chen was inspired to create the Embrace Warmer after witnessing the struggles of premature babies in developing countries who lacked access to incubators. She realized that the high cost and requirement for constant electricity made traditional incubators unsuitable for these regions. She saw the need for a low-cost, easy-to-use solution that could function without a constant power supply.

Q: How did Jane Chen and her team approach the design process for the Embrace Warmer?

The design process for the Embrace Warmer involved going on the ground to places like Nepal and Uganda to understand the specific needs and challenges in these regions. The team initially sketched out the product on the back of a napkin and then focused on finding a material that could maintain a constant temperature without the need for electricity. They experimented with different prototypes, including using butter in ziplock bags, and eventually settled on a design that resembled a sleeping bag made out of waterproof materials. The team also received feedback from mothers, doctors, and healthcare workers in order to iterate and improve the design.

Q: How did Embrace Innovations overcome the challenges of lack of electricity and training in developing countries?

Embrace Innovations tackled the challenge of lack of electricity by developing a product that could be melted with boiling water or a short burst of electricity, making it suitable for places with intermittent power supply. They also focused on creating a product that was intuitive and easy to use, requiring minimal training for mothers, midwives, and healthcare workers in rural settings. To address the issue of parts replacement, they designed the Embrace Warmer to be reusable and made it out of one entire piece of fabric with limited seams to minimize dirt collection and improve sterility.

Q: What impact has Embrace Innovations made so far?

Embrace Innovations has been able to help over 200,000 babies to date by providing them with Embrace Warmers. The product is currently available in 20 countries and has been used in various settings, including hospitals, clinics, and orphanages. The company has formed partnerships with organizations such as the Clinton Global Initiative and has received support from individuals like Beyonce who made a donation to distribute the product in nine countries across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Q: Why did Embrace Innovations decide to create a for-profit arm of the company alongside the non-profit?

Embrace Innovations started as a non-profit organization in 2008 but later decided to create a for-profit arm in 2011. The motivation behind this decision was to leverage both philanthropic capital and private capital to sustainably fund the distribution of the Embrace Warmer. The for-profit arm sells the product to governments and emerging markets, generating revenue to support the non-profit's efforts to provide the product to the poorest places. It also allowed them to attract impact investors and access funding more easily.

Q: What is the cost per Embrace Warmer and how do communities get chosen to receive the product?

The cost per Embrace Warmer is around $200, which includes the sleeping bag, the wax insert, and a separate heating unit. The product is designed to be reusable, making it cost-effective in the long run. When it comes to choosing communities, Embrace Innovations works with local partners, such as NGOs and non-profits, who are already involved in newborn care and have a presence on the ground. These partners help implement the product, provide training, and monitor its usage. The selection of communities is based on a combination of factors, including the prevalence of infant mortality, the existing healthcare infrastructure, and the readiness of local partners to collaborate.

Q: Can the Embrace Warmer be used in developed countries as well?

Yes, the Embrace Warmer can be used in developed countries. The product has undergone a study at Lucile Packard showing that babies can be weaned off traditional incubators and placed in the Embrace Warmer. However, entering the developed country markets would require obtaining FDA approval and overcoming challenges related to changing doctor's behaviors and healthcare systems. While it is a possibility, at the present time, Embrace Innovations has chosen to focus on emerging markets and use the profits from their consumer product, called Little Lotus, to fund the expansion of the Embrace Warmers in developing countries.

Q: How did Embrace Innovations address criticisms and gain trust in the product?

Embrace Innovations addressed criticisms by providing clinical studies and evidence that the Embrace Warmer is as effective as the standard of care in the target markets. They also showcased their local presence and involvement in understanding and addressing the systemic issues faced by these communities. Trust in the product was gained by working with influencers, key opinion leaders, and other organizations already involved in newborn care. Word of mouth and positive experiences shared by these influencers helped build confidence and credibility in the Embrace Warmer.

Q: How did Jane Chen and her team overcome a funding crisis?

Embrace Innovations faced a funding crisis when a major medical device company pulled the plug on their financing due to a change in leadership. With only seven days of cash left, the team reached out to Marc Benioff, the founder and CEO of Salesforce, whom they had met previously. Marc generously agreed to fund the company, saving them from closing their doors. This experience taught Jane Chen the importance of reaching out for help, fostering connections, and being open to opportunities that can come from unexpected sources.

Q: What are the future plans for Embrace Innovations?

The future plans for Embrace Innovations include expanding the reach of the Embrace Warmer to every baby in need and making it a universally adopted technology. They are also working on integrating sensors into the product for remote monitoring and leveraging AI for predictive diagnostics. Additionally, Embrace Innovations has launched a consumer product called Little Lotus, which uses a similar technology to create baby products for the U.S. market. For every Little Lotus product sold, Embrace Innovations aims to save a life in a developing country using the Embrace Warmer. The goal is to create a global community of parents helping other parents and have a one-to-one impact model.

Takeaways

Jane Chen's journey in creating the Embrace Warmer highlights the power of design thinking and empathy in creating impactful solutions. By addressing the specific needs and challenges faced by infants in developing countries, Embrace Innovations created a low-cost, easy-to-use product that has saved the lives of thousands of babies. However, the journey was not without its challenges, and Chen emphasizes the importance of persistence, courage, and embracing impermanence in overcoming obstacles. She also encourages individuals to lead with purpose, see the world through a lens of beauty, and focus on the journey rather than just the destination. With plans to expand their reach and explore new technologies, Embrace Innovations continues to make a significant impact in reducing infant mortality globally.

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