When I reflect on anyone who has made a great contribution – Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama, Madam Curie, Wangari Maathai, Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla – I doubt a single one was thinking,
“What can I do that would massively impact a large swath of the human population, so that what I did would be considered in history as worldchanging?”
These changemakers were acting, wholeheartedly, from passion, a determination to find solutions to problems they cared deeply about, and had a tireless commitment to contribute to something bigger than themselves.
In my opinion, worldchanging is not the exclusive domain of the brilliant minority who have the genius, resources, and the support networks to invent something that’s game changing – anyone who wants to make a difference can be a world-changer.
You don’t have to be a disruptive technologist or inventor – everyone has a unique zone of genius and can make a valuable contribution.
So “What’s the Most Effective Way to Change the World?” For me, there are 2 answers, which can both occur simultaneously.
- The outer game approach. Create a game-changing solution that addresses an urgent social or environmental concern that creates significant positive and minimal negative impact on people or the environment.
- The inner game approach. Change yourself – be the change that you want to see in the world.
So what does it take to design a game-changing solution to one of the world’s most pressing social concerns?
Jane Chen, co-founder of Embrace Innovations will tell us how. Embrace Innovations is a hybrid social enterprise that produces a low-cost infant warmer, designed to help the millions of vulnerable premature babies born every year in developing countries survive and thrive. Unlike traditional incubators that cost up to $20,000 and require electricity and skilled technicians to run, the Embrace infant warmer costs around $200 and can be handled by anybody. The device is safe and intuitive to use – it requires no electricity, has no moving parts, and is portable, washable, and re-useable.
Jane received her Master’s in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Prior to her graduate studies, she was the Program Director of Chi Heng Foundation, a nonprofit organization that sponsors the education of children affected by AIDS in central China. Jane was also formerly a management consultant at Monitor Group.
In this in-depth interview, Jane shares her in-the-trenches story of how she and her co-founders were presented with an urgent need, designed a high-tech, low-cost solution, and validated their market to verify that their product would truly serve those at the bottom of the pyramid.
You will learn:
- The market research process they followed in order to come up with a viable product idea.
- The market validation process they used to determine whether their prototype truly served their target customers, and how it needed to be improved.
- Why they chose a hybrid for profit, nonprofit business model, how this structure allows half the organization to focus on developing the best health care products for their market, while the other half distributes them profitably.
- The 3 stages of designing for innovation.
- Keys to finding and approaching impact investors to fund your social enterprise.
Mentioned in this interview
Chi Heng Foundation
Harvard Kennedy School of Government
Clinton Foundation – Tanzania
Impact Investors Vinod Khosla’s Impact Fund
Capricorn Investment Group
Where to Find Jane
FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
Lorna: So Jane, it’s such an honor to have you with us here on the show. I have to give you a confession. I’ve always dreamed about doing something that you guys have done with the Embrace. To come up with a truly game changing, world changing technology innovation that has really improved the lives of many, many people who desperately need it. So I’d love for you to introduce to my audience, who you are, what you and your company does and how you got to where you are now.
Jane: Sure, well, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be on the show and about Embrace, so I’m one of the co-founders of Embrace and Embrace Innovations. We are a social enterprise that’s developed a low cost infant warmer to help vulnerable babies around the world.
The back drop to this is about 20 million premature and low birth weight babies are born every year, primarily in developing countries. Three million babies die in the first 28 days of their life.
One of the biggest problem they face is regulating their own body temperature or staying warm. And that is the primary function of an incubator. But incubators cost up to $20,000 and they require a constant supply of electricity, they’re difficult to operate, so you’re not going to find them in rural areas in these countries.
And so what my team and I have come up with is the Embrace Infant Warmer. It looks like a little sleeping bag for an infant.
The core technology is a pouch of a wax like substance. It’s called the phase change material that has a melting point of 37 degrees Celsius or 98 degrees Fahrenheit, so human body temperature. And the key to this is once you melt the wax, it’s able to maintain a constant temperature for up to eight hours at a stretch and you can reheat it over and over again.
So that wax pouch sits on a little compartment in the back of the sleeping bag and it’s a really safe, effective way to regulate the temperature of newborns.
So we developed this as a team while at Stanford in 2007. We’ve launched the venture once I’ve graduated in 2008 and then the whole team relocated to India where we spent the next couple of years refining, prototyping, doing clinical testing.
The product has now been in the market for about two years and we have helped about 50,000 babies largely in India but with pilots now happening in 10 countries around the world. And our vision is to create a whole line of innovative medical technologies that are targeted at people on emerging markets that can’t access traditional health care.
Lorna: So how much does embrace cost?
Jane: So we have two versions of the product, one cost is sits in a hospital setting that costs less than $300. And there’s one that sits in the home or community setting, and that cost about $100.
Lorna: And typically who is purchasing the Embrace? Would it be the hospital or the community health care center, or the mom?
Jane: So it’s all of the above. We sell directly to hospitals. We sell to governments. Currently, government is our biggest customer. And once the government purchase it and brings it to their health care infrastructure then it’s provided free of cost to parents.
We are also doing a pilot now where we are sending this home with community health care workers. And one of their mandates in India is to provide newborn care in the community setting. So the idea is eventually every one of these community health care workers will have an embrace device that they could cycle through these communities.
Lorna: So it’s actually reusable? It’s not a disposable type of device?
Jane: Exactly! Everything is made to be reusable. It’s a very rugged product, very, very easy to clean. So all of that has been given careful thoughts.
Lorna: Wow, I love it. This is so exciting and I’m so intrigued by how you guys actually came up with this product idea. I think that one of the things that I’m hoping to do one day is something similar. Come up with a really game changing business idea. But since I haven’t quite come up with that idea yet, I’m really having a great time interviewing entrepreneurs like you.
So help me understand what was the Aha moment that really caused you to decide that this was a product worth developing?
Jane: Sure. So, this actually came out of a class project at Stanford. There is a course at the design school. I was doing my MBA at that time but there’s a course at the design school that combines graduate students of all different disciplines to come together and develop affordable products for developing countries.
So in my class there were people from the engineering school, the medical school, the law school. It’s a very inter disciplinary course. So the year that I took this course, I teamed up with a computer science master student, a PhD in electrical engineering and another MBA. And the challenge that was post to us was build a baby incubator that cost less than one percent of the cost of the traditional incubator, which I mentioned is about $20,000. And the class had partnered with NGO in Nepal to come up with this challenge because they recognize a lack of incubators as one of the big problems and one of the things that was leading to this very high rates of infant mortality.
And so the first thing that we did was go out into the field and understand firsthand what was happening. And something very interesting happened as we did this. The first trip we made was to Kathmandu, to the capital of Nepal. And we would go to this tertiary level hospitals where there were in fact many donated incubators. And so cost wasn’t the problem. But there was no electricity to power these incubators.
Lorna: I know, right. And a lot of these countries, they’re constantly faced with blackouts.
Jane: Right. Exactly. And there was no one trained on how to use them. And if a part broke, there were no spare parts for replacement. Oftentimes, the instructions would be in German. And so there are host of other issues that were leading to these incubators not working in these facilities.
So it wasn’t a matter of cost. It was the fact that these machines that were developed for western market were just not suitable for these developing country contexts. You couple that with the fact that in many of these countries, 50% or more births take place in the home. They’re not even happening in the hospital, right? And so you also need something that can be used in a home setting that’s easy enough for a mother or midwife or a community health care worker to use. And so I think that was our Aha moment when we realized, “Hey we’re not just developing a lower cost version of what exist today that sits in a hospital, that’s used by a doctor. We’re trying to serve a very different population.
Our product is going to small clinics in rural areas that don’t have electricity or they’re going to go home directly with moms who are giving birth in homes instead of institutions. And so that really let us to our insights because now, we’re talking about a product that doesn’t require constant electricity, that is super, super intuitive to use, such that an illiterate woman, or an uneducated woman can use it.
It’s got to be portable. It’s got to be reusable. It’s got to be really easy to clean. And so I think once we framed the problem in that way and figured out what were the specifications that were needed for this contacts then the answer came to us rather easily.
Lorna: Wow, okay, so at this time were you guys still students?
Jane: Yes, so were still students. We came up with the concept. We did lots of brainstorming, prototyping. By the end of the class we had an idea and we realized that if we weren’t going to take it forward, no one else was going to. And so we started applying to different grants, different business plan competitions and as we started to get our first bits of funding for this, we made the commitment that we were going to do this and that we’re going to move to India to get this off the ground.
Lorna: Wow, so in the beginning stages when you were still students in this course, when did you go to Nepal? Was this during your holidays? Did you all just pay for your own plane tickets to go?
Jane: So the class sponsors one student to go and that was my co-founder, Linus. And so that was all bunch of the class. And then I did a separate trip to India on my own shortly thereafter. And took some of the prototypes we had to the various villages. And so those were the first couple of trips.
But it became clear very quickly that in order to truly make our product locally appropriate and to truly serve the customers we wanted to, it wasn’t enough to be making these trips. We need to be living and breathing the culture and the environment that we all were trying to make this successful and so that was why the decision to move.
Lorna: That is a really big commitment to a mission and a vision because living in India is really not easy. [Laughs] Especially if you are used to the comforts of the West. I mean, I’ve been to India, oh gosh, at least twice and it’s so intense over there. It is like you see the whole cycle of life and survival right in your face. So there’s so many people and it’s really hard for a lot of them.
Where did you guys decide to relocate to? Where you going to more like the villages and living in like the rural areas or did you go to a big city?
Jane: No, we stationed ourselves in a big city because we needed the ability to access rural areas quickly but at the same time we needed access to prototyping facilities, manufacturing facilities, etc. So we moved to Bangalore which was a great choice for us given that there are many startups in Indian social enterprises, in particular that are setup there.
So it was a great ecosystem for us to do this work and as I said, it was easy to access the types of areas that we wanted to access within a few hours and yet we were able to find a lot of local partners and supporters that will really propel this forward.
But yes, living in India is very, very difficult. I’ve lived in Tanzania, I’ve lived in China and India by far is the most difficult place I’ve ever lived.
Lorna: Wow. I used to live in China too. I lived in Shanghai. Where did you live?
Jane: I lived in Nanjing.
Lorna: Oh okay. Yes, it’s challenging. Communist China can be a place that causes you to develop a lot of patience.
Jane: Yes, well I would say that about India. I think it teaches you to be both very aggressive and very patient at the same time.
Lorna: [Laughs] I love that. That’s like an incredible balance of personality traits. Okay, so first question before I hop in to your background as well.
The phase change material, who came up with that? How did you know that there was this phase change material that would be great and key component of your device?
Jane: Well, I think we basically wanted to figure out a way to warm the infant without the need for electricity. And so we went back to high school physics and the concept that when a material changes phases from a solid to a liquid, let’s say, or a liquid to a solid, it does at one constant temperature. And so the key was finding a substance with a very specific melting point of human body temperature.
So it was something that all of us brainstormed together. We actually read about the use of phase change materials and other applications because someone at MIT had tried to do a vaccine incubator out of phase change material.
It’s been used in the past to regulate temperature of buildings, of cellphone dialers and so this idea of phase change material for temperature regulation is not novel at all. It was really taking that concept and applying it to the baby incubator. And in my mind, that is what innovation is, in many ways. It’s connecting the dots and figuring out different pieces that are out there and then bringing it together and applying it in new ways.
Lorna: Wow, okay, cool. Because when I think about phase change material, I think about this hand warming packs that you can get in camping stores. And so I thought, “Oh wow, maybe some in their team was like, Oh I use this one when I go camping, let’s use this device for the incubator.”
Jane: Well, right. Well that’s exactly what the inspiration was. In fact, we went to an orri and bought a bunch of camping materials. The problem with those – yes, you’re absolutely right. But the problem with those, we discovered was they’re very prone to overheating. And when you’re dealing with a sick baby, you really need an accurate temperature, a very precise temperature. And so that’s what the phase change material was able to achieve.
Lorna: Okay, great. That’s so awesome that you identified how you needed to modify and improve that already existing product to serve your needs.
So let me understand your background too. Because this is not your first experience in working with an organization that is addressing social issues. You have a history of NGO work, is that correct?
Jane: Yes, that’s right. So my background is, out of college, I did management consulting for a few years. I had the opportunity to go to Hong Kong to do this work which was very exciting because it took me to many places across Asia. I got to do some very cool client projects. But it wasn’t something that I was necessarily very excited about. And I think I wanted to do something that just had a lot more personal meaning to me than making rich companies richer.
And so I ended up finding a cause that just really struck a chord with me. Reading the New York Times one day, this was back in 2002. I read an article about the AIDS epidemic in Central China, in Hunnan province and actually many of the provinces in that area. And what had happened was, in the 90’s, millions of poor farmers contracted HIV through selling their blood. But the way it was collected was unsanitary.
And so this was actually a big government initiative where they would pool people’s blood together, separate the plasma, which is what was needed and then re-inject every donor with the remaining red blood cells believing that it would allow them to generate blood more quickly. So as a result of this, about 60-80% of the adult population was HIV positive in the villages I ended up working at.
And when I read this, I was just horrified but light bulb kind of went off in my head where I realized that we are amongst the luckiest people in this planet. “We won the genetic lottery”, as Warren Buffett said. I could have just as easily born into this different life and suffered this terrible fate as a result. So I decided at that point that I was going to use the opportunities and privileges I’ve been given to do something about this situation.
So I quit my job. I joined an NGO that was providing support to all of the orphans that were left behind as a result of this epidemic. And over the course of a few years, we helped several thousand orphans obtain an education but more importantly, the Chinese government stepped up and began providing free education to all of the orphans in these afflicted areas and free Anti Retro Viral drugs to all of the HIV positive patients.
So it was really a special experience in that, I was able to see that as a small group of dedicated people through hard work and commitment could achieve social impact in a really big way. I think that really set the course for everything I wanted to do following. So after that, I spent a few months working with the Clinton Foundation in Tanzania, also on HIV/AIDS issues. And it was through this combination of experiences that I began to witness this enormous disparity in health care between developed and developing countries.
In the US, anyone who needs AIDS medication can get it. But in China, and in Africa, I would meet so many people who lost their lives because they couldn’t access these medications. And the most frustrating part of it was, these are medications that exist. And so it became a personal passion of mine at that time to try to bridge this disparity in health care that I saw and Embrace is a platform for me to do that.
The Embrace is not just about one product. It’s how do we use innovation and technology to create a line of products that is going to reduce infant deaths in a major way.
Lorna: Wow, I really love that vision and I look forward to seeing more of the products that you guys come out with.
So you guys have a hi-breed of for-profit, non-profit business model and I’m curious as to why you set it up this way. I actually interviewed another company that has a similar structure as well. It’s not at all that common but it seems to really work for Runa, which is a tea company that exports sustainably harvested guayusa from Ecuador to Western markets. So I’m curious how you guys setup the structure that allows both entities to mutually support each other in the work that you do.
Jane: Sure, so, I’ll just explain the rationale and then how it works.
We started as a nonprofit, as a 501C3 back in 2008 and about a year, a year and a half into this, we realized that we needed to raise a lot more capital than we anticipated to do what we wanted to do. I was laughed because whenever I need comic relief, I basically read our first business plans.
Lorna: [Laughs] So how much money did you think you had to raise and how much money did you actually have to raise? If you don’t mind sharing.
Jane: No, I don’t mind sharing. So we thought we would need about a million dollars and two people on staff and that we could achieve global expansion of the product with that. [Laughs]
Lorna: That’s really ambitious.
Jane: Yes, it was. And the funny thing is, so many people read this business plan and like, no one raised an eyebrow.
Lorna: Gosh, that’s such a straight poker face.
Jane: We selectively ignored it. But yes, we realized is we’re doing this. This is a medical device. We need to do clinical testing, manufacturing, distribution. I mean, it’s very expensive to do something like this. And so we ended up spinning out a for profit arm of the business because at that time you are also seeing the emergence of a lot of impact investors, like social impact investors who are interested in investing for for-profit companies with a social mission. And a number of them approached us saying, “If you guys were for profit we would be willing to invest in this.”
At the same time, we realized that not all segments of the population can be served by market forces. There’s room, not just room but there’s a need for philanthropy to serve the poorest of the poor.
And so what we ended up doing was creating two organizations, the non-profit holds that intellectual property for the infant warmers. It takes philanthropy donations to provide the product free of cost to the poorest areas or through NGO partners and in addition to that, it complements the products with programs. And by that, I mean, educational programs on things like hypothermia education, breastfeeding, kangaroo mother care, hygiene, all of the other things that are impacting infant mortality beyond just keeping the baby warm.
The for-profit licenses the technology from the non-profit. It sells the product to governments, to private clinics, to paying entities because there’s a manufacturing and distribution that supports that. And all of the research and development for the new products is done under the non-profit.
So it’s really a structure that allows us to leverage both private capital as well as philanthropic capital in order for us to help as many babies as possible.
Lorna: That is brilliant. Did you receive mentorship in order to figure this out, how to setup this structure?
Jane: Well we definitely brainstormed with a number of different people. But as we were looking for examples we couldn’t really find many out there, and so, we realized that we were doing something very new. And I think that’s what innovation is. It’s not just innovating around products or services but new business models as well, new structures.
And that’s what this is for us. So yes, we definitely got advice from many different people but given that it’s not a typical structure, I feel like we were writing the rules as we were going.
Lorna: So in the beginning when you started fund raising and when you spun off to a for profit model in order to attract impact investors, what was your experience in raising VC investment? Did you go to different specific organizations that were helpful or did you reach out to friends and family first? Can you walk us through that process of how you were able to eventually raise the funds that you needed to support that very expensive development process?
Jane: Sure. So the first thing we did was reach out to people who had supported us as a non-profit and test the idea with them. And there are a couple of individuals who were really on board with it and said, “Hey, if we can make this whole thing sustainable over time, then the impact of my contribution is going to go a lot further.”
And so we convince some of them to be the first angel investors. In the meanwhile, we started to reach out to all of the typical social impact investors out there. One in particular, ended up being Vinod Khosla’s Impact Fund.
At that time, Vinod had just started his Impact Fund and the funny thing is I had read about him doing this, probably a year or even more prior to him actually setting up the fund. And had reached out to him, I don’t know, maybe five or six times and he said no. He wasn’t able to meet with me all of those times. And then finally, he took a meeting with me.
It was great. He really understood what we were trying to do. He was on board with the vision. Vinod’s really a big thinker and I appreciate that. So it’s never been about this single product for him but about us changing the landscape of health care in these countries and he really believed in that. And so we met with him and I think it was on Friday. We met with him for three hours and by the end of the week, we had a term sheet. And so, that ended up being our first investor. And alongside that we raised money from Capricorn investment Group which is affiliated with deaf school and he’s also very much, kind of immersed and a thought leader in the social enterprise space.
So we found two investors that again really were aligned in terms of our values and the impact we wanted to create.
Lorna: Remind me what Vinod Khosla’s known for again.
Jane: So Vinod was one of the founders of Sun Microsystems and he’s one of the biggest venture capitalist in Silicon Valley.
Lorna: Okay, great. So, he now has an impact investing fund. So prior to that, he would invest in technology startups and now he’s looking towards social enterprise organizations.
Jane: Yes, that’s right. So he’s had Khosla Ventures, his typical venture investing arm and that’s been running for many years now. And then this Impact Fund was started about two years ago.
Lorna: Okay, great, wow. That is pretty persistent. So you guys approached him five times. [Laughs] I love that. I think it can be so discouraging especially when you’re just starting off and nobody knows who you are. A lot of these influencers, they’re busy. They don’t have the time. So to be able to be persistent and keep your chin up, even though you’re getting no’s from the beginning, that takes a lot of courage.
Jane: Right. Well, that I think is one of the most important aspects of being an entrepreneur is tenacity.
Lorna: Yes, definitely. Are you guys profitable?
Jane: No, not yet. We are a few more years before we are profitable.
Lorna: Okay, okay. And so when you guys, design the product, was it the member of the team, your founding team that designed the product or did you find different designers to come up with prototypes and then from there identify a manufacturer in Bangalore?
Jane: No, it was really our team. We came up with the product, as I said, a concept at the end of our class. We took it to India. We figured it out how to do prototyping in-house and all the things that are so easily done at various sites or universities in the US. In India, you don’t have facilities like those. So we had to learn how to figure. We just had to figure out how to do everything in-house which is challenging and fun at the same time.
But I think, one of the core principles of the design school and design thinking which has become a popular term is that creativity and design, it’s not necessarily innate. If you follow a process, it can lead to creative outcomes. It can likely lead to creative outcomes. And that process involves, empathy to truly understanding who your customers are, what their needs are, being able to stand in their shoes, prototyping is just getting out there and building. And that’s what we would do, is get out there build with whatever materials we did have and then go test and iterate.
And so we would take those prototypes, go into the field. Ask mothers, midwives, nurses, doctors for feedback and sometimes co-create with them. And so the product is simple as it looks, actually went through hundreds of iterations through that process in order to arrive at what we have now.
So later in the process, of course we had to team up with local manufacturers who are also very critical on the prototyping process. But even that is interesting because many of the manufacturers couldn’t produce our product to the quality that we needed.
We ended up bringing a lot of those capabilities in house. So we currently do work with some contract manufacturers and we do some of our manufacturing. But everything is then quality inspected at the Embrace facility which meets International regulatory standards.
Safety is of utmost importance to us given that this is a medical device and then everything gets shipped out from our facility in India.
Lorna: So in the beginning when you guys are prototyping, was it one member of your team with a sewing machine?
Jane: Kind of. It’s really all of us. People always ask because there was one person that came up with this. It wasn’t. And that’s what we believe that there should be no ownership of ideas. Innovation and design is a group effort. And that’s exactly what happened. We will just keep building on each other’s ideas.
Yeah, I literally have pictures of us with sewing machines and lots of fake baby dolls.
Lorna: Oh my god. I love it. Would you be willing to share some of those photos with us?
Jane: Yes, of course.
Lorna: Okay, great. Wow. I picture you guys working really late at night trying to put these prototypes by hand.
Jane: Yeah, well, a lot of it was that. The professor who taught the class, his wife was a seamstress and so she ended up doing a lot of the nicer prototypes a bit later on. And then we would literally find people ran these little shops on the road in India who would stitch together some of those early prototypes.
So you just have to be really resourceful and creative in how you go about prototyping.
Lorna: Well hey, there’s a lot you can make using big stitch. [Laughs]
Jane: Yeah, that’s right. And duct tape.
Lorna: Oh yeah, duct tape. And Velcro also.
Jane: Yes, absolutely.
Lorna: Okay great. So, what do you love most about your business? Are you inspired to get up every day and excited about your day ahead of you?
Jane: Yeah, I am. I think about it from a couple of different perspectives. I think, entrepreneurs should, in general, I love being an entrepreneur. I love facing new challenges, figuring out how to tackle them. I think it stretches you to your fullest capacity every single day.
I just love that about my job. I think with Embrace, specifically, I love that I get to see so much – I don’t know how to phrase it, but so much altruism and good intention and so much beauty in that what we are trying to do here is making social impact starting with saving the lives of infants.
There is a period of time where I would get really frustrated. You know, living in India, you see some pretty terrible things ranging from some of the worst infrastructure and health care, corruption, to very unethical practices by doctors who are trying to make an extra dollar. And so you see these things and it’s easy to become jaded. And I understand why people do become jaded. But it struck me one day that for every terrible thing that I see, I also get to see something really beautiful and really amazing.
From all the people who’ve come to help this effort and there must be over 10,000 people in my estimate and maybe many more than that who’ve come together to donate, to volunteer, to help us in some way or another. To doctors out there that I meet who refused to charge their patients anything, who are up until 2am seeing patients because they genuinely care about their work. To the mothers that I meet whom no matter how poor or impoverished or uneducated will do anything, will go to any length to save their baby’s, and that’s truly, truly beautiful. And I think that’s what I hope our technology is able to capture. I hope it’s able to magnify the intentions of these courageous and selfless people. And that part of my work I really love.
Lorna: That is really, really inspiring. And I think that is the beauty and power of aligning a for-profit business with a social or environment mission and vision because I think that entrepreneurs really are – we’re trying to usually forge a new path for yourself or your business and there’s a lot of challenges that entrepreneurs face like having to confront fear every day or overwhelm, or not necessarily knowing the best path of action might be. In addition to dealing with other players in the market or who associate with your business, sometimes there’s agendas at play. You don’t necessarily know if everyone has a goodwill and ethical approach sometimes.
I can imagine in India it might also be a difficult business environment too because of all the corruption as well. So I cannot totally see how a lot of entrepreneurs would get very jaded or frustrated and give up. So congratulations, kudos to you guys for forging ahead with this vision that you guys have.
Jane: Thank you.
It’s been really rewarding and we obviously didn’t do it alone. There have been so many supporters along the way that have just rooted for us and been champions of this. So it’s an incredible team effort.
Lorna: What is your typical day look like these days, now that you’re not in India?
Jane: You know it’s different. So right now I involve in some fund raising. We are raising Series B round. We are looking at the international expansion of the product and so, looking at a number of different organizations that we can partner with in that effort or working on moving forward with an independent evaluation of Embrace that would for the first time not only look at the efficacy of the product, but how it’s impacting things like mortality and morbidity. How it’s impacting the outcome of these children and so we’re talking about a very large, large study that will take place for the course of several years. And we have some really exciting researchers at Stanford and Harvard who are going to be leading this and so we’ve been trying to just move everyone forward on this and that of course would also lead the way for this, hopefully to be adopted as a standard of care around the world.
In addition to that, looking at other opportunities for new products which the team is really psyched about. So going back to a lot of the design thinking that I mentioned. We have a team on the ground in India that’s starting to work on various new concepts, meanwhile I’m here in the US talking a number of partners, technology partners that we might be able to partner with in coming up with the next product.
Lorna: What are some exciting concepts are you guys exploring right now?
Jane: Well, it’s really too early to be able to talk about them.
Lorna: Okay, understood. [Laughs] Fantastic. Do you guys have a plan someday to IPO?
Jane: Maybe. I mean, I don’t think we have necessarily thought about it in terms of building a company to exit. You know, building the company to build the company. And so, I think we are more focused on this platform, this process, building a culture of innovation, coming out with what’s next and as I said figuring out what are the distribution strategies to enable the global expansion of this.
But, yes, an exit could be possible somewhere down the line.
Lorna: Knowing what you know now, if you were to look back at your experience growing Embrace, if you had the opportunity to potentially start over again from square one, what might you do differently? Was there any mistake that you made along the way that you would completely do differently and if you could help us understand what that mistake what might have been and why?
That would also help us understand what to avoid in our entrepreneurial ventures as well.
Jane: Yeah, I can probably talk about a million of this. I really embrace failure. I think it’s important to reflect on lessons learned. For the sake of time, I will focus on two very important lessons.
One is the kind of team that you build. And everyone talks about this but I think for the kind of work we are doing and especially working in an emerging market, it’s even more important.
We walked into this as founders having this very Silicon Valley approach of thinking. We just need to find passion in people, we’ll figure it out once we get there. And so that’s what we did. We hired other young people. None of us had any experience in medical devices, in manufacturing, in distribution, in sales. And in Silicon Valley you might be able to figure that out.
In a country as complicated as India, I would strongly advise against taking that approach. Because you are dealing with laws and regulations that are very great, that are uncertain, that may be arbitrary at times. You are dealing with a distribution infrastructure that’s not even there, that’s not established, that’s not setup. You’re dealing with governments that are very difficult to work with. And that ends up being one of your primary customers.
There’s so many things that compound the complexity of what you’re working. And you’re serving some of the poorest Caste people in the world.
What I would have done differently is bring in people right away who had a skillset that complement the founders that did complement our visions, some of our technical expertise and our passion for this. So we did bring on people later on who – we have a VP of Quality Assurance, for example who has 20 years of experience in the field, was managing dozens of product lines. We brought in someone who spent his whole career doing sales of medical devices and pharmaceuticals in India serving one of the pyramid of markets.
We have a new CEO who was the former head of Baxter Asia Pacific and ran their operations for 10 years. So we’ve brought in people. Today I think we have a very strong team that I’m super excited about.
I wish I had had the foresight to think about how you build a truly complimentary team that combines again, both the passion of the founders and their vision with people who have some really solid skillsets and deep expertise in these areas.
So that’s one thing I would have done differently. I think the other [38:09] on a more personal note.
I would have paid a lot more attention to work-life balance.
Lorna: Oh my god. I think we all struggle with that. [Laughs]
Jane: Yes. Absolutely. And I think a lot of people struggle with this.
When I was in India, I was literally just doing Embrace 24/7. Every weekend I never went out, I never hang out with friends. I didn’t bother to build a community or a social network when I was out there because I was so focused on this one goal and I finally realized at one point that that’s completely unsustainable. And it’s actually doing a huge disservice to myself as well as the mission and as well as the company. Because unless you are happy then I don’t think you have the capacity to be a great leader or a great manager or a great entrepreneur.
And so I often say this to people, “Focus on what makes you happy especially when you are running a marathon not a sprint when you’re trying to create a change in a really big way.” That’s just going to take time and so you need to take care of yourself in the process.
Lorna: One of the key lessons I’ve been learning doing this interview series, in fact, is the importance of giving from a full cup.
Jane: Absolutely. Agreed.
Lorna: If you’re depleted, then you’re going to limit your ability to truly give. In addition to truly serve the people that you’re trying to serve.
It was funny I was home in L.A. one weekend, hanging out with my mom and I was so happy. At the end of that weekend, I was sending thank you emails to a bunch of my staff. And I kind of caught myself in the middle, I was like, “Oh this is unusual. I don’t usually do this.”
But I realized because I just had this lovely weekend and I was so happy that I was able to project that joy and be much more appreciative of the people who are working with me.
So, yes, I completely agree with you.
Lorna: So we are coming to the end of our interview. I’d like to leave you with the last few questions. I love asking this question especially for social entrepreneurs. Is this business your life’s purpose and if not, what is?
Jane: Yes, it is. As I said, this is something that I wanted to do from before starting Embrace. I think Embrace in its current form, in terms of just being a baby warmer company that is not my life purpose although I find that extremely meaningful.
My life purpose is building a platform by which we truly change the landscape of health care through these disruptive technologies. So absolutely, this is my life purpose.
Lorna: So as a social entrepreneur, Jane, what do you think is the most effective way to change the world?
Jane: Well, you know I think I’m biased towards healthcare given that healthcare in my mind is, it’s so critical and it comes before everything else. And that, there is no development if you don’t have basic health. And I think basic healthcare should be a right. It should be a human right. Health Care is one of the biggest drivers of poverty. Many people are living day to day and they experience – and I have seen this over and over again. I mean specific to Embrace, I’ve seen families take out hundreds if not thousands of dollars in loans. And these are families who are making $2-$3 a day.
They will be paying these loans back for the rest of their lives. And this is just one example. And so that’s why I’ve decided to dedicate my life to this particular field. But I do think another area that’s very important in development is job creation.
As I think of poverty alleviation, that does occur to me a lot because when I’m out there, I meet so many people in these settings who are eager to lift themselves out of poverty but don’t have the education. That’s incredibly important or the resources or the job opportunities.
And I think one of the most important things we can do is help people to help themselves.
Lorna: Thank you for sharing that.
How can we best stay in touch with you?
Jane: You can find me on Twitter @janemariechen or @EmbraceWarmer or @EmbraceInnov – Embrace I-N-N-O-V.
So I would love if everyone keeps updated on our work and what we’re up to and support us in any way that you can.
Lorna: Fantastic. It’s been such a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you so much for sharing your really inspiring and interesting story.
Jane: Thank you.
[END OF RECORDING]
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