Early Journey: From Concept to Pilot – MIT Social Entrepreneurship Alumni Group (SEAG) Webinar


>>Hi, I’m Whitney Espich, the CEO of the
MIT Alumni Association and I hope you enjoy this digital production created
for alumni and friends like you.>>Hi everybody. Thank you very much for joining us today. This is a webinar that is sponsored by the
MIT Social Entrepreneurship Alumni Group alumni group — MIT Social Entrepreneurship Alumni
Group. Today is part of a series on social onto burners
— social entrepreneurs. Let me do a quick introduction of SEAG. Our purpose is to promote MIT community participation
in creating, fostering, and supporting social enterprises. With that in mind, this year we are sponsoring
two webinar series. Investor track and entrepreneur track. We have the first two investor webinars so
far and today we are doing the second entrepreneur track webinar. For those that missed the first one, you can
catch it on YouTube. It was a very inspiring story. You can go back to it if you missed it. This slide is just to encourage you to be
actively involved. This is our first operating year and we are
having quite a bit of webinars but next year we would like to have more dissipation — more
participation and more discussion. participation and more discussion. If you’re interested in getting involved,
please let us know and we would love to hear you. In order to participate with us, we encourage
you to join the SEAG through the MIT alumni website or join us in our LinkedIn group. That is the end of the intro. I would like to turn it over to our two great
speakers. It is Sona and Rebecca. Sona is CEO and founder for her organization. They can tell their stories so much better
than I can. Let me just turn over to them. Sona , welcome.>>Great to meet everybody. Thank you for being here. I am going to go ahead and show my screen. Sorry, give me one second. Can you see my screen OK? OK, perfect. Good morning everyone or afternoon wherever
you are based. I am Sona and I am CEO and founder of Neopenda. Before I dive into some slides, I wanted to
give my background and how I start of the company and how I got to where we are today. In 2011, I had graduated from Georgia Tech
with my undergrad degree. I finished a semester early and wanted to
travel and do something different before starting to work. I decided to go to Western Kenya and a really
remote community out there. By remote I meant fetching water from the
river and then they would have to boil it to drink. I was there for several months and loved it. The culture and the community was beautiful
and warm and very different from the life that I was accustomed to. I was a teacher in this village and I mostly
taught English and math but I once taught a course in Swahili but that did not go so
well. A lot of the culture in the community did
stick with me but I did notice a number of inequities that also stuck with me. Fast-forward, I started a job at Eli Lilly,
a pharmaceutical company. I was doing research and development. I loved the health care side of things and
the engineering side, understanding more about product development, just kind of the process
for how a health care company exists. Through that process, I could not help but
think that my kids in Kenya may never receive medication I was helping make. The inequities or to eat away at me so I thought
I should go back to grad school and figure out how to provide more acquittal — more
equitable access to health care. I went to Columbia University for my Masters
in medical engineering and in my second semester, I met my co-founder and we were taking a design
course together. We were challenged to think about why inventory
tell of the is so much higher in low resource settings. We started doing initial research. We used funding to travel out to Uganda and
this is what we saw. We saw a room or a field called the equipment
graveyard. It’s a place for nurses and doctors to put
broken medical equipment. Why does this exist? It exists in pre-much every facility we went
to in Uganda. It exists because most medical technology
is not designed for 85% of the world population. There are unique constraints in these communities. Anything from the instability in power or
difficulty in maintaining wireless connectivity, or the dust gets in the equipment and breaks
it. All sorts of conditions really make equipment
fail. Using our biomedical engineering backgrounds,
we decided to devote ourselves to Neopenda and really help focus on solving this issue
of medical equipment not designed for the communities in emerging markets. Patients are the ones who suffer the most
from this drain on equipment. This is a war in Uganda — ward in Uganda. These are critically ill babies, it is a matter
of life and death for them. When we were in this ward, nurses were walking
around trying to figure out which may be needed attention. In the U.S. there is very different equipment
and I will show that in the next slide. The lack of equipment contribute to a lot
of the statistics we see on this slide. Too many newborns are dying from preventable
causes. This is things like hypothermia. We have known methods that can improve the
quality of care, we just don’t know when they are sick. I want to give you a landscape of what does
this look like around the world. The image on the left is what we see in the
U.S. Every baby is hooked up to thousands of dollars
of medical equipment , including continuous monitors. There is a much higher nurse to baby ratio. Babies have a better chance of surviving here
because we can detect that something is wrong. There are a lot of global health interventions
that exist around the world. People asserting to look at specific disease
dates — disease states. A diagnostic for hypothermia or pneumonia,
so this is kind of what we see in emerging markets and global health. In reality these nurses have to use manual
methods, counting breaths. And this time, baby that are in trouble go
unnoticed and that is when they die from preventable causes. But is why we created Neopenda. It is a wearable vital signs monitor that
is worn on a babies forehead. It measures four different vital signs, pulse
rate, respiratory, temperature. All of this is displayed on a tablet where
he nurse can get real-time alerts and a baby is in distress. She can provide more timely and appropriate
responses. We did not just start out with an idea and
get to the final product. It took many years of iterations and I wanted
to kind of highlight what that looked like. Here is a slide of the different iterations
we did have. We started in 2015 with the idea of putting
a monitor in a baby hat. Without the baby hat would add additional
warmth to the patient. We took that out to Uganda and the nurses
hated it. They said it’s difficult to clean the hat
and difficult to maintain and it is not single use. Any single use product will in evitable get
reused so it introduces more risk than benefit. They did love the idea of a vital signs monitor
and being able to continuously monitor patients. The second idea is what we did in the lab,
it was fun when I was bread boarding and coming up with the electronics. I would not want to put that on my face so
we had to miniaturize it and create some initial prototypes. The next few images are the initial prototypes
and how we got to different stages. The final image on the bottom left is our
V3 version, the commercial ready product. It does take many iterations and many years
to develop medical technologies. We could not have done any of this without
the continuous feedback from our stakeholders. We would often host engineering workshops,
go to hospitals, shadow them, sometimes the night shift, sometimes becoming nurses. Putting ourselves in the eyes of our users
to really understand what the issues were, continuously get feedback so we could design
our solution for them. Just a couple of numbers. In the process we have involved over 400 stakeholders
in Africa, primarily in Uganda but across the continent. We have been to Uganda multiple times, even
though we are based in Chicago and we have a team that is full-time based out of Chicago
as well. In addition to our users, there are a lot
of different partners that enabled us to be here. We would not be here without the funding and
support, so in the early days we get a lot of funding from grants and competitions. When we were students, they were a lot of
business plan competitions and opportunities we could apply for. — and both of those were
prizes. It was good to be able to use the funding
to get that initial traction and validation prior to getting investment. When we transitioned to the investor around,
that is when we looked to get capital. They were our first institutional investors. We did quite a few different avenues to get
that initial funding. We need product develop and partners and as
a small and growing startup, we could not possibly hire a mechanical engineer, electrical
engineer, software developer, it is just too difficult to do that, so we needed to bring
on some partners that had expertise in developing medical technologies and could supplement
where our team needed the help. We needed piloting and if mentation partners. These were clinical partners for us that we
could actually go to and test the devices on patients. Of course there was regulatory approval for
that as well and our partners were influential in enabling us to get to that stage. Finally the category we had is mentorship. We could not do any of this without the mentorship
we had received. This is from a variety of angles. One to keep me sane in the process. There are so many angles in creating a start
up and bouncing ideas off of. Having support from various universities was
really beneficial, just to leverage existing teams and networks. We did do several accelerators throughout
the process. Are very first one was a product development
accelerator. We did this while we were still in grad school
and kind of starting the appendice. It was really influential in helping us think
about how to actually develop a product and let that drive the business model, especially
because our team at that stage was consisting of engineers and we did not have business
backgrounds at that point to it was really important to go through the accelerator process
to understand more of the business aspects because that is equally as important as the
product itself. We did a couple other accelerators that enabled
us to get mentorship from the technology realm. A lot of the mentors from that program, we
are still in touch with. They invested money into the company as well. We got one of our clinical partners in touch
with them at the Tufts Medical Center as well as Phillips. A larger medical device company. GSBI, a couple different accelerator programs
and the point is a lot of these accelerators are really influential but you have to know
what you want out of it. I think it is easy to get into the cycle of
doing accelerator after accelerator because the opportunities will exist. Going into the accelerator and understanding
you need mentorship and technology or — mentorship in technology or you need to expand your business
plan or you need funding or certain expertise, that comes along with it. When looking at accelerators, be sure to understand
what value they can provide to you and try to be a little bit selective about it. We have enjoyed every accelerator we have
participated in but likely would not be dissipating in additional exhilarated going forward because
we are focused on executing. Finally our team and advisory board. I think this is very important. I started this with my co-founder TEssess
while we were in — my co-founder Tess while we were in grad school. It was impossible to do this alone. It is important to have somebody with complement
three skill sets. There was kind of a Nasher — a natural division. I was interested in the business side. Tess was interested in the tech side and we
really couple meant each other — we really complemented each other. It was nice to bounce ideas off of each other. I would highly recommend having a co-founder. I got lucky by finding her while we were in
grad school but there are many other resources including accelerators that can help you find
a co-founder if you are stuck with that. We do have an incredible team that is based
in Uganda and the U.S. with dedicated expertise and we can coordinate our efforts. I just wanted to highlight some of the different
types of advisors who have helped us throughout this journey. We have global public health advisors, international
development, technology, intelligence, it is really important to have a variety of people
that you can call on. It also doesn’t have to be limited to your
advisory board. There right number of people I call whenever
I need help on brainstorming various ideas but having a formal advisory board has been
beneficial for us. To kind of recap where we have been, the first
few years we spent time doing market end-user research. This involved many trips to Uganda and involved
understanding how the business or product would go together. Then we did a heavy round of product R&D. We created several prototypes. This involved going back to Uganda several
times to understand the process and get feedback from our users. Then we filed a patent and did our proof of
concept and studies and formal testing and we are now going through our final clinical
trials prior to sales later this year. We are excited about the progress we have
made. It is different from software or other products
where there is not as much as a regulatory burden. Every country does have their own unique challenges
and I will just breeze through it. I just wanted to highlight it and if you have
questions there is a Q&A section, so feel free to ask your questions after that. User centric design approach does take time
in the field. We go out fairly often. We still do and we will continue to do that. Regulatory is challenging, especially being
in the markets that we are intending to sell product into and that is because they are
actively developing the regulatory bodies. We are working within cultural norms within
existing regulations. Funding has always been a challenge and will
always be a challenge I think for every startup. Keeping in mind how long it takes to get funding
and what you use the funding for is really important. Cultural differences are so important and
I cannot emphasize that enough. Relationships and trust are everything. We often come in with an American mindset
and I think it is important to be open and honest and understanding of the community
because not everybody — not every idea we have is applicable to other communities. Embrace the feedback and the cultural differences
that do exist. There are a variety of other ones in business
development come let’s tackle challenges. We still have — business develop and, logistical
challenges. We still have problems with Wi-Fi. Generally for startups as well. The reason why we do this is because there
is such a massive opportunity for impact. It is such a phenomenal journey and at the
end of the day, we can honestly say we are working to improve — around the world. We go through all these challenges and ups
and downs because we are really passionate about saving these babies. There is such a global movement happening
right now that is focusing on — we are excited to be a part of this. There was a massive opportunity for the medical
device market. We look at the market itself, people often
think the biggest market as being the U.S. and Western Europe but if we can figure out
how to sell devices for 85% of the world population, but is a much larger market. We are seeing the trend growing much faster. Entering into the market where there are less
players, you can couple impact with sustainability and profitability and they really go hand-in-hand. I’m going to stop there. I know I touched on a lot of things and I
am happy to answer questions at the end of it. Thank you for your time and I will turn it
over.>>Sona, thank you so much. That was a lot of information. I just wanted to let everybody know that we
will do the Q&A after both Sona and Rebecca’s presentations. You don’t have to wait to put your questions
and. There should be a Q&A button on your screen. Use that to type in your question as you think
of it and we will get to them after Rebecca. Now I would like to introduce Rebecca who
is another amazing entrepreneur. I will let Rebecca tell her own story. Rebecca take it away. Rebecca, you are on mute.>>Hello. Hi everyone. It is good to see you all on the inter-webs. Here is my screen. Can everyone see my screen? My name is Rebecca, I am the founder of Roots
Studio. We are a studio that works with last generation
and minority artists around the world and we create ways for them to share their cultural
— culture and stories through a royalty licensing model. Today I am going to go into the beginning. A lot of times people asked me, how did a
Chinese looking girl with an American accent end up working with — I think a lot of it
was the social entrepreneurship journey. There were 70 different phases. I always go back to this corny line. — there were so many different phases. I always go back to this corny line. How would you quit if things did not work
out? A lot of it for me was waking up every day
and realizing that what I am putting my hands to matches with what I values are and it felt
right and what I was doing during that day was things that were utilizing my skills. To give you a little bit of my background,
I am a Chinese-American. I moved schools about nine times before I
turned 18 because my father was a professor. I lived in Hong Kong for a big chunk of my
childhood. This is my grandma who raised me for a good
chunk of my time in Hong Kong. As you can see in the background, that is
the Grand Canyon in Arizona, where I moved to. It took me another 15 years after growing
up in the U.S. and going to college here to finally go back to Hong Kong. It had been about 10 years since I had seen
my grandma. I went back to Hong Kong and I went to the
apartment that she used to host me at when she brought me to school. I run on the bell and when she opened the
door, she asked me who are you? She had no recollection of who I was and I
kept pointing to photos around the house and images when I was young and had been going
to school with her. I realized as she asked me every five minutes
where we were going to eat breakfast, I realize she was going through early dementia. That struck me into thinking how I knew very
little about my grandma and I tried to collect artifacts and relics around her apartment
and I realize that because we don’t have a recollection of the stories, we don’t really
know the people behind us. That semester, I ended up writing an autobiography
of her life, trying to collect all of these images, the textiles and relics she left behind. I learned she had four brothers that she grew
up with but she was not allowed to pursue an education. She came to Hong Kong alone when she was 15. She started to make ends meet just by selling
food on the streets, creating an informal leasing business. There was such a large influx of immigrants
coming in. That to me was at the grit of what entrepreneurship
is about. When it seems like all hope is lost, you create
an opportunity out of a struggle and you keep applying resilience to that. As I graduated from college, I ended up going
to Fulbright. I was doing a lot of work looking at human-
animal coexistence. The things that struck me about the rural
areas, often times we think about how resource constrained it might be, but what struck me
the most was how much creativity and vibrancy there was. Also how much of a link there was with the
same intergenerational loss between their culture and the modern contemporary world
that wasn’t able to carry on a lot of these artifacts and crafts. That struck a link with me and how I did not
know I own history because I did not have the opportunity to hear from the previous
generations. You have these amazing designs, things that
are everyday objects, a different relationship with materiality. One of the artists we work with, she has this
, everything she wears is something that she draws and she makes this out of wax resin
and ink. Such a different relationship with clothing. Every single design has a story behind it. Is being told — it is being told and anytime
you ask one of these grandmas about the designs , it is almost walking through their entire
lives. It is an autobiography in itself. Very little work has been done about it and
when you look at why there is so much loss and why we are going through this generation
of massive cultural extinction, you have to face the practical reality that people need
money and that why is it fair for them to continue practicing these labor-intensive
processes when they need income? Recognizing that as a practical reality, I
sure did to ask myself, how do we actually capture this creative abundance? When people think about rural areas, they
think about scarcity but if we can turn this brilliant creativity into some form of a sustainable
income, would that be a solution on the cultural preservation angle and also enabling and encouraging
them to have a sense of pride in their own heritage? One of the first things we thought about was,
if we can harness creativity using technology, not to displace the skills but to enhance
it, what would it look like? In one of the villages I had been working
in for years in India, we brought in an animator and we asked him to listen to all the stories
of the artists and he worked with four artists and started creating animation based off of
the narration of these folklore’s. They would take the artwork and it would turn
into something more. This was the first time any of this artwork
has left off from a village scroll into something that was more. I then took another idea of how do we take
these designs and if we could turn this into a concrete economic stream beyond just a one
time sale, with that potentially elongate the income potential of these art forms? We took an art form and did a workshop with
three artists and we put them on a line of seven notebooks. That whole Journal series earned over $30,000
in revenue. The reality of everything I’ve talked about
is I found this why and I found this reason that I was early willing to continue pursuing
but it is so hard to do that when you really have no home and you also don’t have money. This is about four years in on that journey. I was pretty tired, living on about $4000
a year which can go quite a way in India but is still really hard to build something with
that. I had to learn the hard way that passion doesn’t
feed people. I had started to realize I need money to continue
working with these artists and continue these workshops. We will try different things to try and see
how we can bridge the artwork to the local economy. I would write all of these applications and
look how amazing this art is, look him amazing these people are. One email after another saying sorry, we can’t
fund you. After 26 grant rejections, I was feeling pretty
discouraged. At the same time I had a pretty fixed mindset
of what my passions were, rather than what is it that people would be willing to come
on this journey with me on. A lot of the transition from concept to pilot
was also realizing how to take what you have seen and what you are passionate about and
the injustices you might face as a social entrepreneur and all the brokenness you see
in the world and turning that into creation. By creating and bridging, that is the way
we can start healing. And doing so persistently. I did not have much of a resort after running
out of money, so I knew that I previously had a pretty good track record of getting
grants when I was in college, especially for projects that didn’t have that much traction. I applied to MIT for urban planning and grant
school and I got in and in my first year I was pretty confused because I was fearful
that I had just left all of these artists that I had been working with and were in some
— and was in some way betraying them. It was this amazing opportunity for me to
restore and redirect and create structure around the why that I care so much about. Not only that but MIT was this mango tree
have opportunities. I was getting all of these emails about the
different competitions that existed out there and also grants. I just started to — just darted applying
to them. I rapped a pitch. One year in, we won a $10,000 grant from the
MIT global challenge. I did not even know what to do with 10K. In some ways that started to turn the tide
of encouraging us and also having some pretty concrete funds to go further with what we
were doing. The next year we applied at the MIT creative
arts competition and we won it. Sophia of the girl boss foundation that gave
us another grant, she had some notoriety in the fashion world, that started to give us
credibility as well. Then we won more grant competitions and this
is another pitch competition we were rejected from the year before but then we won after
having refined our business model. We asserted to do incubators and accelerators
including M.I.T. Delta V. We sorted got — we finally got echoing green
which was an early-stage entrepreneurship fellowship and in some ways echoing green
acts as an echoing chamber because of the credibility, they also have a social entrepreneurship
role. Over time, we started to do a number of incubators
and accelerators and as Sona mentioned, it can be a lot of work so it is important to
do to serve — to be discerning of what makes sense but I would say they are largely helpful
because as you are on this entrepreneurship journey, it scales beyond yourself. Concept or pilot, you are trying to create
the mood of — the movement and a network of people who believe in what you are trying
to solve. But is really helpful in terms of finding
funders but it is also super helpful in terms of finding teammates. The Wii is always bigger than the eye — the
we is always bigger than the I. Sales people across all the regions we worked
in, to give us both the depth and relationships we have with the communities we work with
and the caliber and ability to sell to markets that we sell in. And also for you on the every day bad days,
my teammates think that I need to get more facials. A clip from that. We ended up pitching at TechCrunch disrupt
in 2017.>>All right, judges.>>It seems the social impact potential is
tremendous, how you are bringing access to monetizing the gifts of people in diverse
parts of the world. Help us to see how from a big business standpoint,
you create something new.>>I think with her question, it comes to
summarize this whole journey we have been on which is you have all of this — you’ve
been working on this problem but in some ways you have to think about how will this be more
self-perpetuating. A lot of the incubators and accelerators and
business grant competitions helped us refine that even more, whether were — whether we
got money or rejected. It paved the way for us to raise in — to
raise more institutional capital. It also enabled us to continue amplifying
our network to have collaborators that can help us move to other sales partners. I would say in general, going through the
whole gamut of business grant competitions, it is tiring and can be discouraging but I
think what helps do, it helps you continue do — continue to refine some elements of
what you do civic and have a more long-lasting impact. At the same time, even though you can be getting
a lot of advice, it’s not always the right advice. It’s always really important to remember your
why. You are a social entrepreneur because you
are not trying to stay in the status quo. You are trying to break the industry for good. For us, a lot of what we started to move towards
in terms of how do we challenge the larger industry norms and also create this fundamental
mission of livelihood generation for these communities, we saw this opportunity in a
way that fashion was constantly appropriating from different cultures and asserted to research
and investigate more, how are trends in fashion set and there was a pretty particular rhythm. You would see designs from India or China
on people’s clothing in Soho and New York and there was not much context or meaning
of — or meaning other than it was taken off of Pinterest. You look at how trends and designs are sourced,
the market size of that is quite massive. Each season there is a particular trend. I kept thinking about how the communities
we work with can do that and a much more environmentally reverent way and with so much heart and so
much meaning. That starts to shape what Roots Studio became. We asserted to take the years of relationships
we built with our community artists and our know-how of work shopping and we trained artists
to digitize their designs. We create a way for all of these designs to
be stored into a portal that designers of different retail brands across the United
States and Europe can then view and rent these designs for a season. All these designs with — that would have
otherwise been out of season are now tagged to the next three years of trends. A design that might have been forgotten now
is starting the future trend of fashion. Each of these designs that are watermarked
and linked back to the artist and the bank account of the artist as well. After a season, the design can go back to
the library so it can be rented again. On top of that we see that a lot of brands
are interested in telling the stories of the artist and the communities. We want to make sure that goes back to the
artist so we charge brands a royalty if they want to tell that story which goes back to
a community fund for every single community that they are telling the story of. Humor just some of the brands we asserted
going on this journey with. You will start to see some of our Roots Studio
designs in their stores in the fall 2020. For instance, fewer than 50 artists left ear
and this is a design that has now been turned into a variety of products for outdoor research. Same again that can be used for packaging. It goes to show it is not just about the fashion,
it’s about the fundamental thesis of bridging this creative abundance , this creative content
and stories of these brilliant artists into markets that are seeking authenticity. To caps off — to cap off, we are always told
to continue to scale up and grow. Again, we should remember to scale back to
who we are working for and with and the why of why we are doing this. In this landscape it can often feel like a
mango tree but remembering the why is important as we pivot and navigate. Even though we work across several regions,
we commit to extraordinary transparency and community organizing systems. Having quarterly profit returns to show our
dedication. Even if there are no profit returns, we make
sure there is a consistent dialogue. We have full-time organizers that go back
to the communities toward and if I needs and what the community wants to invest returns
for. Every single design we have is linked back
to the product and the artist including their contact information. In trying to balance both of these worlds,
we learned so many lessons in doing business in the states and also being community organizers. We learned a lot that might white — that
might — that what might work in one place does not work universally. Oftentimes we are trying to build trust and
relationships, it is so much of the opposite of what we are taught to do on the sales side. It is not about contracts. This was us signing a contract in China last
year and it is a pretty funny video because there is Star Wars blasting in the background. When I went to start a pilot about a year
and a half ago, I had much less time then in the past when I would spend a lot of time
with the community to build trust and a rapport. I had just a week. I went to talk to the community leader and
I introduced what we did. I gave him all of these contracts and said
here is our copyright licensing contract, this is what we have done. For the whole day, he wasn’t having it. He seemed to not completely trust our intentions. I was exhausted. We took a break and he said I’m going to get
a popsicle stick from the fridge and come back. He comes back and he hands me a popsicle stick
and says we will work with Roots Studio. I said what happened? Did something — that some but he put something
in your popsicle stick and he said I saw your shoes. You have holes in your shoes. If you were here to exploit us he would not
wear shoes like this. We do have contracts in the interest of protection. A lot of it is also at the heart , intentionality
and how we interact with people and understanding and being observant with the community itself. The last example I will go through, we also
work with a community in Luo chan. The artists engage in this paper cutting technique
and live in these cave dwellings. There was a photographer on our team who was
trying to document their lives and their stories in a very authentic way but he is a blonde
hair blue-eyed kid from Austin, Texas who was going to be documenting this. Kyle was somebody that spoke fluent Chinese
and had lived in China for five years, so this was his approach in building a rapport.>>After that, Cal sort of became a village
celebrity and people were more than interested in sharing their stories with him. This whole entrepreneurship journey, we tend
to always benchmark ourselves around how much we have raised or how many stakeholders we
have reached or these numbers and as we scale and grow bigger, it is important to remember,
what is our lot — what is our why? And that is it. Thank you.>>Thank you. Do you want to stop your screen share? OK. So as you can see, both of them have had a
pretty long journey and one thing I hope you take from this is that it takes resilience
and persistence but if you are passionate and committed, you can get through it. Now time for the Q&A. Please feel free to ask questions that relates
to your experiences in addition to understand what Rebecca and Sona have gone through so
far. I’m sure they would be great in helping . With
that there is a Q&A button. I have the first question and this is for
Sona. Sona you can read this question on your screen
but I will read it as well so that everybody knows. Sends worldwide patent applications aren’t
cheap, did you have any debate about the return on your patent investment? Was it a requirement from investors? Was there any discussion about the practical
aspects of enforcing patents in countries like Uganda? Was it intended to build a portfolio for trading
of patent rights to avoid being blocked?>>A really great question. The patent discussion is always looming, even
after we file for it. We can take it off-line if it ends up being
a lengthy answer. The short answer is it was not a requirement
from investors, it was more an internal team decision and we were very conscious about
which countries we wanted to file in. We did a PCT patent that gives you the opportunity
to file a patent in specific countries but once your patent is up, you do have to file
in the countries. If we were to file in all 54 countries in
Africa, it would be one, very expensive, two, very time-consuming and three, potentially
not worth it. Your second question around enforcing patents
was a lot of the discussion that we had internally with our team. We ended up filing for a patent in the U.S.,
Europe, Japan and Kenya. On the African continent they were very many
countries where the patent regulations are certainly developing and some of them are
in their infancy and some are more well protected and we chose Kenya because our presence is
more largely in East Africa. We are not as concerned about another competitor
coming in and taking market share unless it is a larger competitor like some of the bigger
medical device companies. It was more just to protect ourselves in case
we wanted to expand in the future, and to other communities. Did that answer your question? Feel free to let me know if you have more.>>If you have follow-up questions, you can
go ahead and type it in as well. The second question is for Sona but I think
Rebecca can answer this as well. The question is, how did you pick your investors? Why don’t we start with Sona and then have
Rebecca after.>>So picking your investors, that is a very
good question. I love that you framed it as picking your
investors because of thick a lot of entrepreneurs get into the trap of taking investment from
anyone. We have turned down investment before and
part of it was because it was not the best decision for the company. I think it is important to have investors
that believe in your mission and aren’t going to sway you in different directions. We often get the question around , you can
make a lot more money by selling our vital signs monitor to parents who want to monitor
their baby vitals at home and that is often a telltale question, it is a very fair question
but I think the discussion ends up being too lucky about that and it ends up being a good
indicator that it is not the right fit between us and the investor. Our entire thesis is that medical devices
in emerging markets is a much bigger opportunity. If we find that investors are asking those
questions, that will sway the vision of the company too significantly beyond the why,
as Rebecca talked about it. Sometimes you cannot be quite so choosy and
it is a back and forth between your investors but I think especially in the early days,
relationships are still important. It’s a lot less about the contract and more
about what type of relationship have you developed with an investor? Have they been able to give you advice? Are they asking questions that will help you
strengthen your company or are they asking questions to kind of throw you off for no
reason.>>Rebecca, would you like to answer?>>I think Sona tackled it pretty well but
I would say going on an investor relationship as an entrepreneur is also like a marriage. You want to have a good feeling about it and
a lot of the due diligence processes are a good indicator of how they will also be as
investors. They type a feeling you get, the type of questions
they are asking, the terms and the ways in which they are negotiating with you tells
you a lot about how they will be, and so for us we have turned down investments where we
feel like there just isn’t good alignment. I often ask investors if they were to paint
a vision of where Roots would be as a success metric, what does that look like and if that
is not coinciding with what you see the vision as, that is something to watch out for as
well.>>Thank you. The next question is for Sona relating to
patents as well. How long did it take to patent the idea?>>A long time. We sorted the idea in 2015 — we started the
idea in 2015. You get a year to iterate on the concept and
file for an actual patent after that. We filed for a PCT patent which gave us another
18 months to decide which countries you wanted to use and then we submitted once we found
the countries we wanted to submit in. We are still going through the process of
getting patented. We are still patent pending and it has been
five years. It takes quite a lengthy amount of time and
the patent pending part of it is sufficient for most of what we are looking for. You still get priority back to that original
date that you filed. I think the key is finding the right patent
attorney. For us it was important to have a semi-hands-off
approach because we did not have a ton of time to invest in coming up with patent application. After the original provisional patent, our
attorney has been great in taking the lead on that. It does take a little bit of time and a good
bit of money but it was important for our business model.>>OK. Maybe I will ask a question. Through your journey so far, what was the
most challenging experience you had and how did you overcome that? Rebecca, why don’t you go first this time? [LAUGHTER]>>Let’s see. I think — I would answer this more on a philosophical
level. This is the one thing — I think in working
with artists and as someone who is not a designer or artist, trying to combine that with the
world of money and the relationship with the artist and money, the full Roots Studio journey
for me. Gentrification, once a city becomes too expensive,
the artistic class leaves even though they are the one that gives the city a lot of vibrancy. There are interesting challenges and philosophical
questions about how do we build this thing that does not make us lose out on the gifts
of what these artists are creating by turning it into a commodity but at the same time,
creating a totally different — a totally new path for that where both worlds can collide. That is where we think about scale, the way
we think about how we price these designs and how we work with brands, so I would say
that is a pretty large question that we have always and continued — and will continue
to wrestle with.>>Sona.>>I cannot narrow it down too much. The first one is prioritization. I think as this is particularly true the further
along we get, there are so many competing priorities and everything is urgent and everything
needed to be done yesterday. Trying to figure out exactly what is the most
urgent and making sure that your whole team is aligned on that, it has not been necessarily
a challenge for the team but something that we spend quite a bit of time in regular team
meetings and one on ones, making sure that everybody is aligned. What are the actual things that need to get
done and why? That is the first piece of it. The second piece is more philosophical. I think working in emerging markets as a social
entrepreneur, there are so many problems that need fixing, so many opportunities that are
available and I think it does for us, especially when we are going through fundraising, it
is important to be thinking a little bit about why is it important for some buddy to invest
as opposed to another organization that is also doing amazing work and why is this investment
much more important and obviously we have been doing this for so long and there are
a million reasons why you can say that is true for us but it is important to remind
yourself that there are so many other opportunities out there and you do need to believe in the
why beyond anything else. I think that shows through in all the conversations
you have with your users, your investors, with a variety of shake holders, so it is
important to remind yourself and the way we do that is by going back to Uganda. Every time I enter a hospital, there is this
really weird feeling of, gosh there are so many problems and you feel like you are running
a mile a minute, which we are but at the same time, it is the inspiration for why we are
doing this. We have seen babies die right in front of
us and it is such a difficult thing to see but it is also why we are working as efficiently
as we can to get the product out there. I guess prioritization and reminding yourself
of the why and staying true to that.>>Rebecca and Sona , thank you so much for
participating today. You know I think you both are awesome. Thank you for sharing and thanks for all that
joined us.>>Thank you all, have a good day.>>Thank you everyone.>>Thanks for joining us and for more
information on how to connect with the MIT Alumni Association please
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