2012: Jane Cheng and Linus Liang

Jane Chen, CEO of Embrace Innovations and co-founder, Embrace, and Linus Liang, COO and co-founder, Embrace

2012: Jane Cheng and Linus Liang

Jane Chen and Linus Liang speak in Herrick ChapelJane Chen, 33, and Linus Liang, 31, are honored for their organization Embrace, which they co-founded in 2008. As part of a Stanford School of Design class titled "Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability," Chen and Liang were tasked with designing a low-cost infant incubator suitable for use in the developing world. Chen and Liang not only met the challenge for the class, but their infant warmer, which costs about one percent the cost of a traditional incubator and is designed specifically for the needs of resource constrained conditions, became the basis for Embrace. Embrace now distributes the infant warmer in India, China, Somalia, Zambia and Uganda, and has saved the lives of thousands of premature babies by safely regulating their body temperatures. Chen and Liang have combined their complementary skills — Chen with a background in business and nonprofit health care work and Liang with a background in computer science and technology startups — and have grown Embrace into a thriving organization dedicated to providing health care solutions to the world's most vulnerable populations (along with two other co-founders, Rahul Panicker and Nag Murty). Learn more about both Chen and Liang.

Full Presentation

>>ELIZA WILLIS: I'm Eliza Willis, a professor of Political Science and a member of the Grinnell Prize Committee and it's my pleasure to introduce to you Jane Chen and Linus Liang, 2012 winners of the Grinnell Prize in Social Justice. Jane and Linus received this award in recognition of their innovations in designing and distributing a low cost baby warmer that has already saved the lives of thousands of premature and low-weight babies born in India, China and Zambia. And very soon, it will be introduced in Afghanistan. Their goal is to distribute their baby incubator to one million families in poor countries over the next 5 years. If you've had the opportunity and privilege of meeting Jane and Linus or hearing them talk over the past few days, you know that they will achieve or probably surpass this goal.

Jane and Linus have founded two companies – Embrace, a non-profit and Embrace Innovations, a for-profit. I'm sure they'll talk in more detail about the division of labor between these two companies. In examining their nomination, the Prize Committee was struck by Jane and Linus' innovation beyond their original invention to figuring out how they could continue to provide infant warmers to parents in need while also applying their creative energies to developing other affordable health products for poor communities in the developing world.

As a professor who teaches about poverty alleviation in the developing world, I was excited to learn that Embrace grew out of a class project. Jane who completed her undergraduate work at Pomona College and Linus who received his Bachelors in Computer Science at UC Berkeley were both working on their respective Master Degrees at Stanford when they enrolled in the course "Entrepreneurial Experience in Extreme Affordability." Their major class assignment entailed designing an extremely low cost incubator to be used in rural conditions across the globe. They met that challenge by designing a low cost incubator that cost just 1% of a traditional incubator and deciding to take their invention to the real world through Embrace.

While this week we are celebrating their selection as Grinnell Prize winners, Embrace and its founders have been honored with many awards and other forms of recognition. Embrace won gold at the International Design Excellence Awards and is a 2012 Tech Awards Laureate and one of twelve global innovators recognized for developing technology that benefits humanity and sparks global change. It is also a finalist for the 2012 Fast Company in Innovation by Design Award.

Jane has received several honors. She's a TEDIndia Fellow – I first got to know her by watching one of her TED presentations actually – TED Senior Fellow, an Echoing Green Fellow and was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2012.

Linus was a recipient of Stanford's 2008 James W. Lyons Award for Service Contributions. He also received a First in the 2007 Charles River Entrepreneurship Idol Competition and a Second at the Stanford BASES Business Plan Symposium. He's received two patents – one of which involves the system and method used to regulate temperature in the Embrace incubator.

One of the goals of the Grinnell Prize is to identify young innovators for social justice whose accomplishments to date provide a strong predictor of future contributions. If past is prologue and the Prize Committee strongly believes it is, then we look forward to many more exciting and transformative innovations from Jane Chen and Linus Liang. Please join me in giving them a warm Grinnell welcome.


>>JANE CHEN: Alright, thank you so much for having us here today. I hope we're as exciting as ice cream. [Laughter] So I'd like to start by taking the audience through a short exercise. Please close your eyes and hold out your hands in front of you. Now imagine what you could place inside your hands – your keys, maybe your wallet? Open your eyes. What about a life? What you see here is a premature baby. He looks like he's sleeping peacefully when in fact he's struggling to stay alive because he can't regulate his own body temperature.

Sadly, 20 million low birth weight and premature babies are born every year around the world. 4 million babies die in the first 28 days of their life - that's 450 babies every hour. One of the biggest problems these babies face is staying warm because they are so tiny they don't have enough body fat to regulate their own body temperature, so as a result of that many either die or grow up with severe, long-term health problems. Baby incubators are the primary solution to this problem but they are expensive – they cost up to $20,000 – they require a constant supply of electricity and they are difficult to operate so you're not going to find them in rural areas where many of these babies are dying.

Instead you hear stories like this. This is a woman Sujapa who I met on one of my first trips to India. She lives in a village in South India. Sujapa gave birth to this premature baby. He was two months premature but she didn't have the means to access a hospital. So instead she and her husband, who grows silkworms for a living, placed their baby under a light bulb to provide him with warmth. He died about two days later. Even in places where there are hospitals and there are facilities, this is the scene that you often witness all across India.

>>NARRATOR IN VIDEO: She says her final goodbye to her son. Rikshana gave birth to Sirajathim just 8 days ago but his loss today will remain with her forever.

>>INTERPRETER FOR MOTHER: We couldn't afford to take him anywhere else. But if we knew he was going to be treated like this, we would never have brought him here.

>>NARRATOR: Sirajathim is among at least 41 children who've died at this hospital in Maltar District. In wards like these, mothers are left to take care of their sick children on their own. Almost all of them tell us there aren't any doctors here. Some, like this woman are too shocked to even take their dead babies back home. There's still no official explanation as to what's causing these deaths, but in wards like these, we see the inhuman conditions patients are treated in. Three or four babies crammed together on a single bed. No doctors are treating patients and families like these, lying on the floor.

>>REPORTER: This is what a typical day at this hospital looks like. This general ward can probably accommodate about 40 children at best but as you can see there are more than 200 children crammed into this tiny space. There's garbage strewn all over the place, the conditions here are extremely filthy but people say that despite these horrific hygienic conditions, they literally have no choice. That's because this state hospital services hundreds of villages across this area.

>>NARRATOR: This isn't the first time that infants have died here. Last year 120 infants died within a month from November to December. But despite those earlier deaths, this hospital hasn't upgraded its equipment. Nurses here tell us they got this machine just yesterday. Despite the alarm buzzing, they don't do anything. They just don't know how to use it.

>>LINUS LIANG: So as Jane was saying, this is the situation we've seen all through India. I actually travelled to Nepal to visit hospitals similar to these and talk to the doctors and the nurses and meet with them to really understand the issues and the constraints that they are dealing with. So I went to Nepal, I talked to a lot of these doctors and then eventually, I came back to Stanford. Jane and I formed a team along with two other co-founders to really try to figure out how we can really make progress in this. So we met in this class that is called Extreme Affordability. The idea of the class is to actually teach design but use that method of product design and apply it to a social cause. So the challenge was to build a low cost incubator –normal incubators as Jane was saying was $20,000 – and our challenge was to build it for 1% of the cost.

So sort of the first step in design is to really understand, observe, and really understand the problem. That is what I was doing in Nepal and that is what we did when we came back to California. What we realized was that most of the time, babies are often born one or two weeks premature and all they need is a constant supply of temperature – they need to stabilize their body temperature. Because even at one or two weeks premature, their systems are not developed enough to actually regulate their own temperature. So this is actually very, very harmful for them and if they get stabilized they can actually grow up very healthy and lead productive lives.

So we came and got together and we experimented with all these different types of ideas and we focused on temperature stabilization – the main function of an incubator. So here are some early sketches – very cliché – but back of a napkin type of sketches and we came up and we rapidly prototyped. In the picture on the right, we actually used butter to see how we could use that to store and release temperature easily.

Our first idea was actually – the thing they actually teach you in this design class is rapidly prototype, try different ideas, fail early and fail often. So what we actually did is that we got together and went to Salvation Army and got all these baby supplies and we actually put our first prototype – there's a pipe, if you can see it, where you can put hot water through and try to warm the baby up that way. But then we realized that that pipe is very dangerously close to the head so that was an idea we scrapped out. So we constantly iterated throughout that quarter at Stanford and we came up with other ideas. We realized that babies don't wear diapers oftentimes in these countries so we had to make something that was waterproof, that was easily cleanable. Here's another prototype as we went along the way – this one where we realized that, well, if they're going to go to the bathroom in the sleeping bag what we needed to do was actually make something that was very medical grade that was not going to gather bacteria. This is another prototype with a specialized material that is actually very easily cleanable and doesn't harbor bacteria.

Then when we were done with that, we actually started going into the field and testing these with mothers and users just for usability. We really believe that we have to be very close to the user to really understand them in order to build something that people want, our users will need and is easy to use. So we all moved to India shortly afterwards – the four co-founders – and began showing these prototypes to mothers and doctors and nurses.

When we got there, we realized that they didn't want to put our warming device directly on top of their babies. This was actually a big learning for us because we didn't have that problem in the US. Because doctors in the US said it should be as close to the warmth as possible but mothers were not very comfortable with that. So, we quickly changed that design. We also found later on that the doctors and the mothers wanted to see the baby's chest moving because that's how they actually tested that the baby was breathing correctly and that it didn't have any problems. In the US we have all these monitoring devices and electronics but in these countries, they don't really have that type of stuff so they want to do this visual inspection. So we created a window in the front of the device for that.

So again, more testing. We did fitting testing. This is a picture of actually Jane's nephew a couple of days after he was born and we put him in another prototype. So it's pretty cute.

And then finally, there are all these different things that we learned, that we didn't know about until we went into the field. For example, this was a temperature indicator. So we indicate the temperature of the device and we use this things called thermo-chromatic inks that sort of turn colors at a certain temperature. But we realized after talking to these mothers and doctors and nurses that when we told them that it should be at body temperature, which is 37 degrees Celsius, they oftentimes tried to warm it up higher which is really very interesting. Usually, they said, the reason is because when doctors tell them to take a certain amount of medicine, they don't believe really that. They'd rather do even better. It was a big learning that we had. What came out of that was that we needed to change it into something that was a little bit more visual, where it wasn't a certain number, where it was actually just a visual indicator. And these types of things you actually don't learn designing in the US. We actually had to go into the field and spend a lot of time talking to our users.

So here is a progression of all the different types of prototypes that we had. This is over a year or two of work, just to design a sleeping bag, which is very, very simple when you think about it, but when you have to deal with all these nuances it's actually very, very complicated. But here is our final product, the one that is saving babies around the world in 8 different countries right now.

I'm going to explain a little bit how it works. You saw some pictures of this wax and it's a very special sort of wax and it's called phase change material. When you heat it up, it actually melts. This is a solid right now but it eventually turns into a liquid. We engineered this wax to have a very special property. So, it releases, as it changes back into a solid, it releases its heat very, very slowly at a constant temperature of 37 degrees Celsius – which is body temperature - so this actually will stabilize the baby at body temperature. And then you put it back in the pouch behind here, and then you zip it up – to insulate it and insulate the baby and then you put the baby inside. So it's a very, very simple device but it actually solved a lot of constraints that we had. For example, you can melt this again with or without electricity, which was a very key component because in these developing countries, electricity is either non-existent or very intermittent. So, you might get, you know, one or two hours of electricity and then a couple of days of no electricity. Jane and I, we lived in Bangalore and even in a major city like that, we would still have power outages for four hours a day – and Bangalore is considered one of the tech hubs of India, which is kind of crazy if you think about it.

The device is also very portable, so as you can see you can hold it in your hand and that actually allows for two things. One is that if the baby needs to be transported to a major hospital with better equipment or better care, the baby can be transported very easily because most of these births are occurring in the rural areas. So that's one advantage. The other advantage is it allows the child to be very close to its mother and we got a lot of feedback that mothers really like this – so the mother can care for their child and give it proper care so this solves that. And then also, it is very reusable. So one thing that we wanted to make sure –to bring down the cost – we wanted to make sure that this can be re-used over and over again. It's not a one-time use thing. So this wax can actually last over 50,000 times and so pretty much the sleeping bag will probably wear out before this wax wears out. So these are some of the constraints that we had to deal with and then we were able to bring down the cost of the device from the $20,000 incubator to 1% of that. I'll pass it on to Jane now who can share some more stories about the device in the field.

>>JANE CHEN: As Linus said, it took us about two years to iterate, test, go into the field, do a new version of the product, test again and the most exciting part of this, has been now that we've launched the product, is seeing it in use in the field and seeing it affect the lives of babies and mothers. So I'll share just a few of those stories from the field with you guys.

This was one of the very first babies to be kept in the device. He weighed about 850 grams or 1.8 pounds and when I went to this hospital – it's a government hospital – the doctor said to me, 'There's no way this baby is going to live. In fact without your product, we would just leave him to die.' I went back and visited two weeks after this photograph was taken and the baby was still alive, he was gaining weight in fact and two weeks after that he had stabilized enough to go home with his family.

This is a woman Munjala who lives in a tribal area in the state of Karnataka. Munjala, like many of the women that we meet, lost her first two babies and then gave birth to a second baby that was about two pounds. What is unfortunate in many of these cases is not only do women lose their children but they are then blamed for the loss of their children and ostracized in their communities. In this particular case, as Munjala's baby got healthier as he was kept in our device, you could visibly see her confidence starting to come back and that's one of the most wonderful aspects of this product. It's not just about saving babies but empowering these women to save their children.

This is one of my favorite stories. This is Kirti. Kirti lost her first baby and gave birth to a second baby that was about three and a half pounds that was immediately put into the Embrace Warmer and this was the baby three months later. So you can see, she is at a very healthy weight now. The family was so excited about the product; they had gone back and told all of the local villagers about Embrace. So we were met with a very warm welcome when we went there including a dance that her 110 year old great grandmother did for us. [Laughter] And the mood was so festive in the house as they were debating what to name the baby at the nine-month naming ceremony. And yet it was also a stark reminder to us that in India, you don't even name your babies until nine months because it's so common that they'll die before then.

This is an orphanage that we work with in China that rescues abandoned babies. They rescued this baby literally off the side of the street in a village in Central China. They brought him back to the orphanage and kept him in our product for about 30 days and this is baby Long seven months later. I went and visited just a month ago and he was healthy, totally interactive – the nurses told me in fact he cries when he's not held – and I think that's because he was very comfortable in our warmer for the first 30 days of his life. It was so wonderful to see this. They informed us that this was the first time a baby of this size had survived in the orphanage.

Embrace today has helped over 2,000 babies. We are in eight countries as you see pictures here from our projects in Somalia, Uganda, we're in Guatemala. We're just about to start a project in Afghanistan. And our hope is to get this into the hands of every baby and every family who needs it. We get requests everyday from people all over the world asking to purchase the product and I won't read all of these but I'll read out one that's always touched my heart. This is from a woman Crystal in Uganda who wrote to us - "The majority of premature babies are never given a chance to make it out of the hospital. Because there are no incubators, these babies are left to die. They are put on a table or directly in the trash without the comforting touch of their mothers in those final moments." Again we are heartbroken every time we hear stories like this and hope to be able to get these products as quickly as possible to every child who needs them. We're so grateful for this Grinnell Prize that will help accelerate that process.

I would like to come back to end with Sujapa. Sujapa lost not only one but all three of her babies. And when we showed her the Embrace Warmer for the first time, she began to weep. She said to me, "Maybe if I had this, I could have saved my babies. Maybe I could have been a mother." Those words run over and over in my mind all the time and I know through my experiences over the last couple of years in India now that a mother – no matter how poor, no matter how uneducated, will do absolutely anything to save her baby. It is my hope, our hope that through simple, affordable and locally appropriate technologies, like Embrace, that we can help mothers save their children and help prevent innocent lives from being needlessly lost.

So with that, I'd like to show you one last video of our product being used and what doctors are saying about it today.

>>NARRATOR IN VIDEO: Almost every second of every day, a baby is born premature or with low birth weight. Where they're born makes all the difference as to what happens next. In the developed world, these babies are placed in an incubator until they are able to make it on their own. But for babies born in parts of the world without reliable electricity or modern medical equipment, desperate mothers and fathers wrap their babies in blankets, pack them in hot water bottles or place them under bare light bulbs to keep them from freezing to death.

>>SUJATHA: I delivered my baby at 8 in the night. That night, because the baby was cold, my husband tried to keep the baby warm with hot water bottles and a burning bulb. But my baby passed away after one day.

>>VIDEO: 15 million preterm babies are born every year. Over 4 million die within their first month of life.

>>NARRATOR: In 2008, graduate students at Stanford University were assigned the challenge of designing a baby incubator for the people who need it the most. Compelled by the cause, these students abandoned their career paths, moved to India and dedicated themselves to testing and developing their design. After dozens of iterations and years of testing, the Embrace Infant Warmer is being distributed to disadvantaged communities and is saving lives.

Using an innovative phase change material, a pouch is heated with a short burst of electricity or boiling water. Once activated, it maintains a constant temperature for up to 6 hours. One unit can save dozens of lives and it costs a fraction of the price of an incubator. Kirthi's baby weighed less than four pounds at birth and was in danger of dying. An Embrace Warmer kept her alive and three months later, the baby has doubled in weight and is doing well. When baby Long was abandoned at an orphanage in Beijing, he weighed only two pounds and was hypothermic. The orphanage had no incubator, but they did have an Embrace Nest. After 30 days in the Embrace Warmer, baby Long has stabilized and put on weight. He is now a healthy and happy 7-month old.

>>VIDEO: Yesterday we saw that there was a 1.9 kilogram baby who was wrapped very well but still had a temperature of 34 centigrade and that baby was not suckling. Two hours from the time of putting it into the Embrace Nest the baby spontaneously started to suck. The baby is doing well, and the rest of the babies from now on will be in good care.

The main advantage of the Embrace warmer is its portability, its ease of use and safety. There is no separation of the mother and the child. The mother can feed the baby and the bonding is improved.

We had a 900 gm [low birth weight] baby, we needed to put him on a radiant warmer, not a single warmer was available. Immediately we thought of Embrace and we put the baby inside that. As far as neonatal mortality in terms of low birth weight preterm babies, term babies with very low birth weight, all of them are safe, sound and comfortable in Embrace.

>>NARRATOR: Embrace has received international recognition and now has the manufacturing infrastructure in place to rapidly scale for global distribution. With your support, Embrace is poised to help one million babies in the next five years.

>> SUJATHA: I feel others should not face the tragedies that I have faced. The other mothers should benefit from the work at Embrace. This is what I wish for.

>>NARRATOR: Embrace. Every child deserved the opportunity to live, to grow, to dream.

Question & Answer Session

>>ELIZA WILLIS: We have time for questions. I'm going to ask the first question. I'm very interested in learning more about the distribution system and the funding for distributing the warmers.

>>JANE CHEN: I can talk about that a bit. So we have different partners that we work with to do distribution. We do private distributions directly to small clinics in small towns and villages. We work with government hospitals as well. This is primarily in India. So India is our home base, but we're doing small pilots in other countries. And then we work with NGO partners. These are both local and international NGOs that are really able to reach the poorest of the poor. Lastly, we work with institutional partners. So GE Healthcare is one of our biggest partners. They're our global distributors. And we're forming partnerships with other partners like that such as Novartis, for example.

And the way the funding works, we have a mixed model. As was said earlier, we have a for-profit and a non-profit that sit side by side. The non-profit takes philanthropic donations to give away these products to the poorest communities, and that happens exclusively through our NGO partners. And alongside that we provide education. So hypothermia and temperature regulation is only one aspect of infant mortality. There are other important things like nutrition, breastfeeding, how do you manage diarrhea, so we try to incorporate all of those educational materials into the distribution of our product.

The for-profit side of Embrace manufactures the product and does more of the capital intensive activities. We sell the product to the clinics that are able to pay for it. And for every product sold on the for-profit side, a royalty payment is made to the non-profit. It's a way of creating a sustainable model that over the long run will not have to be dependent on donations.

We're happy to take more questions. Feel free to ask.

Yes, back there.

>>PROFESSOR DAVID HARRISON: [inaudible] ...As an educator, it's sort of flattering to think that the class was the intellectual incubator for the incubator. I'd like to know more about how that class was structured. What I mean is, what was the role of the professor? Were there prerequisites? I mean, did you, did everyone come into the class with a certain project that you were working on? How did the professor manage the projects? [inaudible] ...How was the class structured that permitted this to occur?

>>LINUS LIANG: I can answer that question. The class was actually really interesting. It's called "Extreme Affordability," you can look it up online. The idea of the class is to combine the seven different schools of Stanford together, graduate students together, to come together, be taught design and then apply that to a social cause. To answer your first question, the class is pretty competitive actually. I think it's becoming more and more competitive because more and more people are interested in this and hopefully have been inspired. But there is an application process.

For me actually, personally, I didn't get in the class originally. It's kind of a funny story. When it came out, when the class was offered, that day I applied, and I had this like Jerry McGuire moment where I was just writing, pouring my heart into why I wanted to get into this class. But then they said, "Why does a computer scientist, like what application or what skills can I add to this class?" because they're looking for product designers, mostly, or business school students, or medical students.

But I said, you know, design, anyone can do design. And that was the whole point of this class was that to teach that great products can be designed by anyone as long as you learn the methods about it. As long as you're diligent, and you're passionate, and you believe, you can actually achieve this. That is the purpose of the class is to show that products can be designed if you follow, sort of, their method, and you can look this method up online.

So you join the class. I actually called the professor and begged him to get in, pretty much, and he let me in, fortunately. But it's a very interesting class. It's no class like any other I've ever taken in pretty much my whole life. The first day, you prototype something. You build your ideal wallet. It's a very, very interesting way to think and be taught, but the structure sort of is that the professors are from the product design world, from the business world. So it's also the professors are very interdisciplinary. They come together and teach you something about how to build a business plan, or how to do an elevator pitch, or how to do prototyping. And so they kind of rotate around. It's very sort of, you have go in on your own. And you always partner with an NGO partner.

The problem itself wasn't actually defined or really planned out until we got into the class. The issue was presented to us pretty much when we got into the class. But the good part is it combines a lot of these students who are very passionate about making positive impact in the world. Which is good because there are so many problems we can tackle. It sort of narrows down the scope and focus. Once they list out the different problems, you get to pick and choose. Jane and I were very interested in this problem once we learned more about it.

It's two quarters, and it's quite intensive.

>>JANE CHEN: I can add just a little bit to that. The class really focuses on experiential learning. I think that's what makes it so fun- everything is super hands-on. You learn this entire design process that starts with needs finding and observation, really building empathy for your customers and being able to see things from their lens. Then you do rapid prototyping, testing, all the way up to product launch. By the end of the class you actually have this physical, tangible product that you can choose to do something with.

But prior to that as you, for example, learn about empathy, they take you through an exercise where you prototype a wallet for yourself. You're just given construction paper, bits of materials, and you create this wallet for yourself. And then you interview someone and you understand what their needs are and what they would like out of a wallet, and then you make one for them. That teaches you that the wallet you made for yourself and the wallet you made for the other person look totally different. It's a very simple exercise, but it really drives that message home.

Again, everything is very hands-on. And in addition to the process, you also learn a lot about team dynamics. So this is probably a very Californian thing, but we had a design school shrink that was in the class...


...that after each of our assignments you would actually debrief and understand how the team worked together, learn how to give each other feedback. We had sessions where we would just mediate. Maybe a little too hippie for here, but very fun nonetheless.

>>STUDENT: I was wondering if there's any interest in the developed world where you use the Embrace warmer instead of the traditional incubator? For example, I was a premature baby and I spent the first three months of my life in an incubator and my parents couldn't hold me. It seems like a major advantage of this product would be that physical contact. Is there any interest in possible expansion?

>>JANE: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. There is actually quite a bit of interest in this, and we're doing a study right now at the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford to show that you can wean babies off of incubators and put them in our device instead. Neonatal intensive care unit costs are amongst the highest healthcare costs in the U.S. You could actually drastically reduce those costs through products like ours. In fact, that's something we're thinking about as we think about future products. What are products that we innovate for developing countries and places with limited resources, but that we can then bring back to the U.S.

>>STUDENT: Being a senior at Grinnell, I have spent four years here engaging in academic discourse and figuring out what other people think, and engage in the broad field of knowledge, one of the things that I really like about this is the part that it's not just about researching the other, there is the research component, but it's a lot more sort of trial and error, try new things, and personally the prospect of doing that is very daunting, especially coming out of somewhere that values, and rightly so, basing a lot of new directions, new ways to solve problems on this sort of massive knowledge that we have. [Inaudible] As a twenty-one year old who's about to graduate and go off into the world, it's exciting to see the broad range of things people are doing now and there's lots of different things I'd want to go do, but in order to break into any particular area and change the world, as broadly defined as that is, there are so many different ways out there that people are already doing this, that it's very hard for me to motivate and get involved and starting something and engaging, even where to put the first steps in doing that. [Inaudible] What kind of challenges did you face with regards to that, and what advice do you have with going out and finding new, innovate solutions to problems?

>>LINUS: I can answer that question. There are a lot of problems in this world that are daunting. I think one thing that was very important for the class was actually, for me personally, I never thought I'd be doing this when I enrolled in Stanford. I knew I wanted to make some positive impact in this world, but I didn't know what it would be. That's why I really liked this class because it combined other people together. That's one thing for advice to do, is to really surround yourself with people who share that similar passion. And you're smart and you're very competent so you can probably come up with something and figure out what that need or what that interest is.

Luckily, at Stanford, I met with Jane and two other co-founders. And yeah, none of us had any clue about it, but it kind of narrowed down that scope from the class and we realized that yeah, this is something that we are very passionate about, we're interested in and then we kind of went forward to doing that.

So yeah, I would do that. And just try a lot of different things. I come from the startup world myself. I used to do software before this, completely different from like a physical product. We used to brainstorm all the time and come up with hundreds of ideas, kind of play with them a little bit. Luckily, software's a little easier to throw out an idea faster. We would always brainstorm, and it takes time. It won't come to you immediately, and it might take several months, but if you continue to just stick through it, eventually you'll find something that you're very passionate about.

>>JANE: I think that's the most important thing: is finding what you're passionate about, and then really taking the risk, taking the dive and pursuing that with all of your heart. And that doesn't mean necessarily starting your own company. It could mean joining someone else's. There are plenty of great ventures out there. So it could mean joining someone else, getting experience there, doing something on your own later. Innovation comes in many forms. It's not just about product innovation, but process innovation, business innovation that can happen within an organization. So I encourage you to think about it from that perspective as well.

>>STUDENT: Thank you. First, I think I'm going to have to work to bring a version of the "Extreme Affordability" course to Grinnell. That could be something that we might need. But I want to ask you real broadly about the role that technology plays in solving global problems, and then also, how did you implement that technology? How did you go about implementing your piece and what lessons we can learn from that as we implement other technologies? I think technology is a great thing, there's a lot good you can do with it, and the challenge is often getting it to the people who need it. I just want to hear your thoughts.

>>JANE: Yeah, absolutely. We often say internally, we've developed this technology but that's perhaps one percent of the solution. The real problem is how do you effectively deliver these technologies to people, and how do you think about it beyond just the technology, and more around the outcome? Because the outcome we're trying to influence, affect here is infant mortality. It's not about selling or getting technology out there, it's how do we reduce the death rates of these infants. That's where creating a whole ecosystem around the technology becomes very important and providing the education, the training to nurses, doctors and so on. So you're absolutely right, I think the dissemination is really important. And there, the way we think about distribution, we don't know what's going to work. In most of these countries, medical device companies haven't distributed to these very rural areas. So even there we take a very experimental approach. We do, this is more relevant for software testing, but we do A/B testing where we go to one village and we try one set of distribution tools, or awareness-raising tools, and we go to another village where we try something totally different. We collect tons of data and then we assess which is working better, and we keep refining our strategy along the way.

So I think what's most important in trying to solve problems out there that haven't been solved, is that notion, that culture of experimentation.

>>LINUS: Just to add. This technology, this PCM, is actually very, very old technology. It's not something that we spent time in the lab and wrote a paper on. It actually was used to warm cell phone towers and different things like that. It's been around for fifty years or so. My point is, yeah, you can invent new technology and I think there is a place for that, such as mobile technology and mobile health technology has become very prevalent and actually very effective, but you can also rethink existing technologies. What led us to this actually was we needed something that didn't require electricity that could provide heat. This was actually used to incubate vaccines as they travel long periods of time because they're very specific, these vaccines. We thought about it and said, well if it's being used to incubate vaccines, why not be used to incubate babies? So it's something that is very, very old and just thought of in a new light. There are many things you can do and you don't have to be a PhD candidate or something like that to come up with these technologies.

>>STUDENT: I'm curious about the whole process of coming up with something like this. You talked about how there were a lot of iterations of it, but were there any major setbacks or points where you thought it just was not going to work, or you weren't able to come up with something this cost effective? Were there major points when you thought that this project wasn't going to work? Or was it kind of smooth sailing the whole way?

>>JANE: I'd hardly call it smooth sailing. I often laugh that whenever I need comic relief, I read our first business plan where it says we're going to launch the product in three months, we're going to have global domination in six months, and it's only going to take two people to do this. And now, seventy people later, three years later, we've just started the journey. So there've definitely been setbacks along the way, but I think the key mark of an entrepreneur, and perhaps even more so of a social entrepreneur, is you always believe the impossible is possible, and you just never take no for an answer. As many times as we fell down, we got up and we just kept going. We didn't let anything get in our way.

>>LINUS: Just to reiterate what Jane was saying, yeah, it's tough. There were a lot of challenges. There were a lot of problems that we faced. I remember this one time, this is going to sound very hippie too, but, there was this one time where we couldn't solve a problem. We were making a prototype but we didn't know which direction to go or there were all these different things. So we actually all left the lab and climbed up a tree, and just sat in the tree and just talked things out. I still remember that moment with our other co-founder. And it actually really helped. We came up with a solution and then we came down the tree and started prototyping. So my point is, it's Jane and I here today, but there are actually two other co-founders, that really helped. These are really really big problems and I couldn't have done it without my other co-founders. They lend the support, they lend the drive. There's no way that I could have got this far without them.

I think that the key thing is that with big, challenging problems, you really need to find, again, the people that will share that same passion that will keep motivating you to continue on, and to make you believe too. There are a lot of times when I get a little sad or a little stressed, and if you don't have those other people, then you might quit. And so, it's that teamwork, that team effort that really carries us through.

>>STUDENT: Now, you mentioned that when you sell one of the Embraces to a country, or to a hospital that can afford to buy it, a certain amount gets put into the non-profit. How much is it that gets put into the non-profit, and at the same exact time, how much are you selling them for, and how much is the manufacturing cost itself for the product?

>>JANE: You should be a venture capitalist.


>>JANE: So the retail price of the product today. We have two versions: one that sits in a hospital setting and one that sits in a home setting, and there's different business models within this as well. But the one that sits in a hospital setting that uses a short burst of electricity, that one retails a little over two hundred dollars. And the one that is used in home setting that uses purely hot water, retails at about seventy dollars. Again, these products are entirely reusable, so the cost per baby is very low. Within this, we're experimenting with different business models. So looking at a rental model. Can a doctor or even a midwife carry this with her and rent it from household to household? And in terms of the royalties, it's a small percentage for every product sold that is given back to the non-profit.

>>RAYNARD KINGTON: What happened to the other two founders?

>>LINUS: Well so actually, one's in India right now. We all are based in India. So they're there. But actually this is really funny, they're coming back to the U.S. for the Tech Awards also this week. So we're all still together and hopefully we'll have a little reunion soon.

>>JANE: It's really fun team. It's a diverse team. The other two founders, one's an aerospace engineer, the other is a PhD in electrical engineering, and so what they're doing now, what all of us are doing now, is nothing really much to do with what we study, but it's just something that we all felt very passionately about.

>>STUDENT: When and how did you make the transition from working on a product in design class to actually mobilizing the idea and setting up a base for doing field work in order to implement the product?

>>JANE: I think it started as we, we knew we were sitting on a good idea. We knew that if we weren't going to take it forward, no one else was going to. But all of us were still in school at the time, we didn't know how we were going to do it. So we started applying to different business plan competitions. I think we won a couple thousand dollars at the first one, and then for a whole year we didn't win any of these competitions. But we kept plugging away at it until one day we won this prize. It's an Echoing Green Fellowship, and it requires that you be committed to the project for two years. And so at that time the four of us sat together and we said, hey if we're going to do this, it's at least a two year commitment. I think that's when things really got serious and we decided to take the leap forward.

But one by one, all of us started doing it full-time. We always laugh about the early days of this, where Linus and I used Starbucks as our office. We'd bring a long extension cord and a portable printer with us, and then any time we had conference calls, we'd run and take them from my car, as our little conference room.

>>STUDENT: I really liked what you were talking about how the warmers can help empower the mothers to feel like they can actually take care of their own children, which I'm sure would be a terrible feeling to not be able to provide and take care of your newborn baby, and I would love if you could talk a bit more about the social justice aspect of that, about how it's empowering women and affecting these communities, or how you'd like to see this affect communities?

>>JANE: Yeah, it's an interesting question, because when we first went out to India, a question we got was babies are dying in such vast numbers, it happens all the time, do people even care? Do women even care? I didn't believe that was true, but it planted this seed in my head and I wondered if that was the case. But as I said, over the last three years as I've travelled across the length and breadth of India talking to these mothers, it's become abundantly clear to me that these mothers will do anything to save their children. That intent is very important, because the power of technology, technology can only be effective with intent. It can only be multiplied if that intent is there. And it clearly is, and so I think that is going to be the enabler for us to make this huge social impact.

But with regards to women's empowerment specifically, I think a part of this comes back to the education piece. It's not enough to just provide the technology, but to educate these communities that it is not the mother's fault, and to provide things like nutrition and things that help prevent these low birth weight or premature births from happening. So that definitely is being incorporated into the work we do today.

And part of this, Sujapa for example, she is a wonderful example of a women who despite having lost all three of her babies; she uses that experience to educate other women in her community. And so Embrace has employed Sujapa so she can be a community advocate to bring awareness and create tools, co-create tools with women in her village that we can then more broadly disseminate. We never want to take the attitude "we know best." We really want to integrate ourselves in these communities and take ideas from local people that we then help to distribute.

Interview and Highlights


>>ELIZA WILLS: Jane Chen and Linus Liang, 2012 winners of the Grinnell Prize in Social Justice. Jane and Linus received this award in recognition of their innovations in designing and distributing a low cost baby warmer that has already saved the lives of thousands of premature and low weight babies born in India, China, and Zambia, and very soon it will be introduced in Afghanistan. Their goal is to distribute their baby incubator to one million families in poor countries over the next five years.

>>JANE CHEN: Sadly, twenty million low birth weight and premature babies are born every year around the world. Four million babies die in the first 28 days of their life. That's 450 babies every hour.

>>LINUS LIANG: The challenge was to build a low cost incubator. Normal incubators, as Jane was saying, cost $20,000 and our challenge was to built it for 1% of the cost.

The reason, for example, we started Embrace was because we believe that just because you don't win that genetic lottery doesn't mean you shouldn't have an equal chance for a healthy lifestyle. This is really our purpose for the company, the organization and what we're really trying to help solve is because we believe everyone should have an equal chance at a healthy lifestyle. That equality and giving opportunity is sort of the broad definition for me for social justice.

>>JANE CHEN: Embrace in the next five years I hope that we have global distribution at that point, that we can impact the lives of a million babies and their families, that we can start distributing not just the technology, but the education that goes along with it, and having real impact on infant mortality.

>>LINUS LIANG: Now looking back has been really, really touching. Seeing all the pictures, seeing all the things that we've accomplished. It's very hard to take that step back, and I think actually this week has given us the opportunity to really take that step back and has really inspired me and really sort of re-energized me on what we're doing and the work that we continue to do.

>>JANE CHEN: The smile on this mother's face when she put her baby in the Embrace product and the fact that the baby was now six weeks later after being placed in our product for that time at a healthy birth weight. That smile on her face was just totally priceless. So beyond saving millions of lives, even thinking about each one of these individual cases it's the most gratifying work I could think about doing.

Blog Post

Travelling to the Heartland of America, Grinnell, Iowa.

Last week, Jane Chen and I travelled from India and China respectively to the heartland of America – Grinnell, Iowa! Even though the journey took over 24 hours, it was more than worth it to be able to accept the Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize. "The Grinnell Prize honors individuals under the age of 40 who have demonstrated leadership in their fields and show creativity, commitment, and extraordinary accomplishment in effecting positive social change." Even though this was only the second year that the Grinnell Prize was given out, it has received a lot of attention. The entire Embrace family feels incredibly honored to have been selected.

When Jane and I first arrived we were immediately greeted with a ton of excitement. It seems as if the whole college was preparing for our visit. We spent a week talking with various students, professors, and staff about Embrace's work. The students were extremely bright and asked relevant and thoughtful questions. Jane and I both wished we were as smart as them at that age.

In addition there was a special guest for the week – Jerry, from Ben and Jerry's Ice cream. Not only did we pig out on Cherry Garcia the whole day, we heard his incredibly insightful founding story. We also met with the other prize winner, Cristi Hegranes who started the Global Press Institute. Her organization is doing amazing work at empowering women all over the world. Please take some time to visit her organization's website.

The conference's highlight was the award ceremony where we accepted the $50,000 prize money. We are looking forward to using this money to get more Embrace warmers to those who desperately need it.

It was truly inspiring to meet so many people interested in social entrepreneurship, learning about our story and in supporting Embrace. In only a few days we felt like part of the Grinnell family. It was a wonderful experience and we both look forward to visiting again!

Linus Liang
Cofounder, Embrace

More about Embrace

Embrace is dedicated to developing health care products tailored for the needs of low-income communities across the world. In addition to distributing its infant warmer, Embrace is now working to create additional products that address the problems of infant mortality and maternal health. Embrace has set the goal of impacting the lives of 1 million babies in the next five years. Beyond its innovative products, Embrace has adopted an innovative hybrid organizational structure — by combining a for-profit organization, Embrace Innovations, with the nonprofit Embrace, the organization hopes to be able to ensure its own sustainability, so it can create a platform for creating social impact that goes beyond a single product. Today, Embrace is also partnering with other health care providers in order to expand its impact.