When my classmates and I invented a low-cost baby warmer for premature and underweight babies (the Embrace Warmer) in a Stanford classroom in 2007, we knew we had something special. Now,150,000 preterm babies helped later, we know we were right! Turning your vision into a major reality isn’t impossible. It just takes the right steps. Here’s what they are.
1. Identify a need
What big problem do you want to solve? Hunger? Access to education? A hurting ecosystem? To home in on your great idea, you first have to assess need. Be very specific about who you want to help, why you want to help them and most importantly, how you’re going to help.
2. Visit the people with the need
Looking into the grateful eyes of mothers in the developing world absolutely changed my life. A mother, no matter how impoverished, will do anything to save her child. It is this love that powers our technology at Embrace and Embrace Innovations. “Design thinking” teaches you first and foremost to have empathy for the customers you are trying to serve; how can you stand in their shoes and understand what their needs are? This is the key to developing a good solution.
3. Create your solution, and know that failure is part of the process
So far, 150,000 babies have been helped across 10 countries with the Embrace Warmer. But we went through a variety of prototypes, testing and re-testing each one!
You’re not going to get it right the first time. At Embrace, we live by the mantra “fail early, fail often.” Learn as much as you possibly can through your failures and keep iterating on your solution until you reach the right one. The Embrace Warmer went through hundreds of iterations over the years.
This is a photo of a happy child named Nathan posing with his Embrace Warmer; he was abandoned on the side of the road in China weighing just two pounds when he was rescued by a nearby orphanage and cared for with an Embrace Warmer. Nathan is 3 years old today, and living with an adoptive family in Chicago.
4. Try new models to help expand your mission
We’ve got incredible resources in this country. So, how can we pool these resources to help the less fortunate? At Embrace and Embrace Innovations, we were inspired by Toms Shoes to create a 1:1 model. We’re creating a new baby product line, Little Lotus, which includes blankets and swaddles that keep babies at the ideal temperature, leveraging similar technology used in the Embrace Warmers. For each swaddle sold, a baby will be helped by the Embrace Warmer in a developing country through our nonprofit arm. We’re trying this model to help bring in the funds to scale our work more rapidly. Just as product development requires iterations and out-of-the-box thinking, so do the business models that are required to scale solutions.
Little Lotus baby has just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the product; check it out here.
Image: Embrace Innovations/Kickstarter
5. Think of interdisciplinary collaborations to help you achieve your goals
I asked my incredible friend, contemporary artist Drue Kataoka, if she could team up with me to raise awareness about infant mortality.
Together, we came up with an idea for a global, participatory artwork project called “Touch Our Future,” which Drue created in collaboration with Embrace Innovations.
We’ve collected the hand tracings of mothers and babies in 14 developing countries, many who have been helped by the Embrace Warmer, which are featured in the constantly changing digital interactive artwork. In addition, leaders and activists across disciplines have already participated in the artwork by each lending their hand trace, including: His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Muhammad Yunus and 17 Nobel Peace Prize laureates/heads of Nobel Peace Prize-winning organizations, Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, Christy Turlington, Heidi Klum, Stella McCartney, Arianna Huffington, Stanford University President John Hennessy, award-winning Chef Daniel Boulud and many more. The artwork and mobile app both launch on April 14. Anyone in the world can lend a hand to the cause through the mobile app and use the hashtag #TouchOurFuture. It’s another way to engage people more deeply, invite them to participate and highlight the universality of infant mortality. A subset of the artwork, the hand traces of mothers and babies helped by the Embrace Infant Warmer, will be featured as the print on the Little Lotus products.
It’s incredible to intersect art, social impact, technology and design to advance our mission, and it’s been such an honor and joy to work with Drue, who is so amazingly talented.