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Embrace Infant Warmer: Design, Disruption and Distribution

CASELET, ENTREPRENEURSHIP & STARTUPS
ET Cases, 6 Pages
AUTHOR(S) : Vandana Jayakumar and Dr. Nagendra V. Chowdary

Case Preview

Embrace Infant Warmer: Design, Disruption and Distribution

The three Ds – Design, Disruption and Distribution – characterize Embrace Infant Warmer, a life-saving product born out of a course assignment. In 2007, Rahul Panicker, Jane Chen, Linus Liang and Naganand Murty, met at the ‘Design for Extreme Affordability’ course at Stanford’s d.school. The team was given ‘The Extreme Challenge’: “Incubators cost many thousands of dollars. Can you make something that is 1% of the cost of those devices?” With diverse educational backgrounds – electrical engineering (Rahul), aerospace engineering (Naganand), computer science (Linus), MBA student (Jane) – and having no idea about complexities of premature birth in developing countries, the team members did not know that they were destined to stumble upon a product that can save lives of millions of babies. The initial project was to create a low-cost infant incubator for use in the developing world.

Design

Every year, about 15 million preterm and low-birth weight babies are born and nearly 1 million of them die within 24 hours of birth, with 98% of the new-born deaths occurring in developing countries. The primary reason is a preventable condition called neonatal hypothermia where babies struggle to keep themselves warm. Incubators in hospitals can keep them warm and help them survive, but, cost around $20,000 and require stable electricity supply. Being unaffordable for many hospitals in developing countries, hospitals either do not have incubators at all or the number is inadequate.............

Disruption

At the end of the class, the team members considered closing the project with the working prototype, due to professional and personal commitments, but, could not let it go. They had designed a disruptive product priced at less than 1% of a traditional incubator. It could save millions of babies while also disrupting the market with its low-cost. The team decided to pursue their project as a business and in 2008 founded Embrace Global, a non-profit organization (Exhibit II).............

Distribution

‘Embrace Global’ focused on healthcare facilities for new-borns in developing countries, distributing warmers for free. ‘Embrace Innovations’ manufactured warmers and sold them to government hospitals in developing countries. By 2018, Embrace had saved 2,50,000 babies across 20 countries...........

Assignment Questions

I. Analyze how the Co-founders of ‘Embrace Infant Warmer’ could develop a disruptive product for the developing economies using Design Thinking methods.
II. Discuss how Embrace’s working model helped fulfill the company’s business and societal goals.
III. ..........

Exhibits

Exhibit I: Embrace Infant Warmer

Exhibit II: Embrace’s Timeline

Exhibit III: Embrace’s Comprehensive Program Model

Exhibit IV: DAS - Embrace’s Challenges

Teaching Note Preview

Embrace Infant Warmer: Design, Disruption and Distribution

Synopsis

In 2007, four students with diverse educational backgrounds, met at the ‘Design for Extreme Affordability’ course at Stanford’s d.school where they were given ‘The Extreme Challenge’ – to design an incubator which costed 1% of state-of-the-art incubators costing $20,000. The low-cost incubator would help pre-term and low-birth-weight babies in developing countries survive, many of whom died within 24 hours of birth, due to neonatal hypothermia, where babies struggled to keep themselves warm. Incubators in developing countries’ hospitals could help them survive but were unaffordable and required a stable electricity supply.

After several design iterations in-keeping with the requirements and limitations of the target audience, the team invented ‘Embrace Infant Warmer’, a portable incubator that costed less than 1% of a traditional incubator and could run with or without electricity. Later, the team decided to pursue the project as business and founded Embrace Global, a non-profit organization, in 2008, and Embrace Innovations, a separate for-profit social organization, in 2011. By 2018, Embrace had saved 2,50,000 babies across 20 countries. The case study enables a discussion on disruptive innovation and the challenges faced by the Co-founders in creating awareness, developing a robust distribution model and scaling up the business.

Prerequisite Conceptual Understanding/Before the Classroom Discussion

The students/participants may be asked to read about the concept of ‘disruptive innovation’ from published sources to be able to connect with the concept being discussed through this case.

Preamble to the Case Analysis

This case study aims to help understand the concept of ‘disruptive innovation’ by profiling the story of ‘Embrace Infant Warmer’. Accordingly, first the concept of disruptive innovation is explained and then the students are asked to judge if ‘Embrace Infant Warmer’ was a disruptive product. Next the class discusses how a diverse team was united by their social mission which led them not only to develop a disruptive product based on their class project but also to pursue it as a business for larger social good. The discussion can be concluded by discussing the challenges faced by the young team and the ways to overcome them. The classroom discussion was orchestrated accordingly [Exhibit (TN)-I]...........

Exhibits

Exhibit (TN)-I: Classroom Discussion Dashboard

Exhibit (TN)-II: The Disruptive Innovation Model

Exhibit (TN)-III: Disruptive Innovation and ‘Embrace Infant Warmer’, An Analysis

Exhibit (TN)-IV: Embrace Infant Warmer – Iterations in Problem Statement and Goal Setting

Exhibit (TN)-V: An Analysis of Embrace’s Program Model

Exhibit (TN)-VI: Challenges and Possible Solutions

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Abstract

This case study can be used to illustrate how a structured classroom pursuit can result in a game-changing product. In 2007, four students with diverse educational backgrounds, met at the 'Design for Extreme Affordability' course at Stanford's d.school where they were given 'The Extreme Challenge' - to design an incubator which costed 1% of state-of-the-art incubators costing $20,000. The low-cost incubator would help pre-term and low-birth-weight babies in developing countries survive, many of whom died within 24 hours of birth, due to neonatal hypothermia, where babies struggled to keep themselves warm. Incubators in developing countries' hospitals could help them survive but were unaffordable and required a stable electricity supply.

After several design iterations in-keeping with the requirements and limitations of the target audience, the team invented 'Embrace Infant Warmer', a portable incubator that costed less than 1% of a traditional incubator and could run with or without electricity. Later, the team decided to pursue the project as business and founded Embrace Global, a non-profit organization, in 2008, and Embrace Innovations, a separate for-profit social organization, in 2011. Embrace tried leveraging the infant warmer as a catalyst for sustainable impact on maternal and child health outcomes in developing countries. By 2018, Embrace had saved 2,50,000 babies across 20 countries. However it was faced with challenges like developing an ideal distribution model to reach the last mile, creating awareness about the affordable warmer and scaling up its business. Can there be a sweet spot addressing these 3 challenges?

Pedagogical Objectives

  • To understand how Design Thinking can aid in developing a game-changing product, especially for developing economies
  • To understand how a diverse team can come together to develop a new product with very high societal benefits
  • To discuss and debate on the challenges faced by a young team to penetrate the developing market with their innovative product

Case Positioning and Setting

This case study can be used for any of the following courses:

  • MBA Program – Entrepreneurship Course – To understand the nuances of setting up a for-profit business alongside a not-for-profit business
  • MBA Program – Strategy Course – To understand the challenges in developing solutions for pressing human needs at the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ in developing countries; and also the ways to overcome those challenges



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- Caselet
- Teaching Note (**ONLY for Academicians)
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