Brilliant Student Innovations Address Global Challenges

The NCIIA grants program is one that has given rise to numerous student-led companies. Actually, given that NCIIA has been around for 17 years, many are ‘all grown up’ and employ hundreds of people, garnering millions in economic impact…. but I want to highlight the ones that one might classify as ‘International Development’. If you’re from a campus that has a well-developed programs to help students explore opportunities for ‘social venturing’, you are lucky. Look into it. For those that do not, students should know that philanthropies, corporations and venture capitalists are investing in for-profit business models to serve the bottom-of-the-economic-pyramid customer base. Socially focused enterprises are thought to effectively address poverty through affordable services and products, including health care, sanitation, clean water, and energy, to those most in need. The NCIIA encourages students to apply for grant funding and create new ventures that benefit society, including ‘bottom-of-pyramid’ customers for whom socially beneficial products, like neonatal technologies, can be a game-changer.

I watched this video today and it hit home personally. Liya’s Diary, produced as part of the Bill and Melinda Gates ‘Living Proof Project’ video series outlines the persistent global challenges of maternal and neonatal health. My father grew up in a rural village in India. Although I was very young, I can remember visiting the poor dwelling where he and his 15 siblings lived. As a woman who has given birth to three children in the last 10 years, one who was born with severe jaundice, the notion that 600,000 deaths still occur annually due to jaundice illicits a personal and emotional response. Ben Cline is a student from Stanford that helped form Brilliance, a company that makes phototherapy devices for the developing world. We first met Ben in 2009 at NCIIA’s venture-development workshop which he had to leave early to catch a flight to India, to develop the innovation further and investigate the best means to bring it to market. We’re pleased to report that in three short years, the phototherapy device is hitting the market at a price point of $400 (see NYT article below).

What separates this success from other student-led projects that aim to have the same level of meaningful impact? Well, there are many but in my mind it was the early partnership with D-Rev, a Bay Area-based non-profit that has years of experience commercializing technologies for the developing world. For any given technology, market sector or innovation, the partner might be different but the importance of forging a strong commercial tie to an organization that has the experience, network and financial resources to move accurately and expeditiously towards appropriate commercial track is one of the biggest challenges for student ventures. Watch the TEDx talk (right) delivered by D-Rev’s, CEO Krista Donaldson, and the value of such a partnership is readily evident.

Last June National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) convened the Neonatal Technologies Forum with support from The Lemelson Foundation. According to the report from the meeting released by NCIIA last September, University-based innovation teams’ technology development and dissemination work is taking place in the context of a larger international development and global health push to improve maternal and child health. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) four and five call for reductions in child and maternal mortality by 2015. The UN’s 2010 Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health calls for new interventions, including new technologies, as key components of an integrated global strategy to achieve the MDGs. Other aspects of the strategy include health systems strengthening, integration of care, support of country health plans, and ensuring access to comprehensive care interventions and services. Students searching for a meaningful way to do well in life and do good should consider ways to be part of the solution.

– Humera Fasihuddin, Program Manager, NCIIA

(On twitter @ihumera)

Innovating The Developing World-WSU

Innovating The Developing World-WSU

The students of Washington State University proudly present Innovating The Developing World. This event was made possible by Engineers Without Boarders (EWB) and National Collegiate Inventors Innovators Alliance (NCIIA). After realizing NCIIA funds innovative, socially impactful student projects and EWB needs funding for these kinds of projects the two organizations thought it would be beneficial to join forces. This event will feature two speakers who have previously received funding from NCIIA for their student projects. In addition information about EWB and NCIIA will be presented to the students showing them how to get involved with creating positive social change through innovative ideas.

Date/Time: December 1, 2011 at 6:00 PM

Location: CUB Auditorium

Contact Us: Jade Patterson, or Brent Olsen,

Columbia University – Biomedical engineering faculty contribute to global health

Based on developments in lab-on-a-chip technology, a cost-efficient handheld device is now capable of performing complex medical tests for illnesses, sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, or even cancer within minutes. Researchers at Columbia University have been able to provide the global health community with essentially a miniaturized science lab that simplifies and speeds up the analysis of diagnostic tests.


The device is called mChip and it was developed by Columbia professor Samual Sia within the biomedical engineering department at Columbia University. Using only a drop of blood, the chip is able to provide results as reliable as those obtained at research labs. The entire process takes approximately 15 minutes and the individual chips cost $2 to $3. Health care workers in developing nations will be able to use the portable system to test patients in remote villages.

The device has already been successfully field tested in Rwanda as part of a partnership with the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health’s International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs and the first mChip product has already been approved in Europe for the detection of prostate cancer. The research is described in more detail in Nature Medicine and on the Columbia Engineering website. Currently, there is increased interest in obtaining additional resources for the project in order to potentially commercialize the product and to market it to the global health community.

Dmitriy Timerman



Design for the other 90% at USC?

Suburban USC Overlooking Downtown's 'Hustle and Grit'

Written by Jared Goodner, NCIIA student ambassador to Univ. of Southern California

I’ve been networking like a madman since I got back from a very worthwhile week over at NCIIA HQ.  Mostly because now I’ve got a great “in.”  I know plenty of guys who would scoff at chatting up a pretty brunette because they didn’t know how to begin a conversation (never me, of course! Editor’s note: mmmHmmm.).  But once you’ve got that convo started, Step 1: Chat em up (If you can make em laugh, that’s better)  Step 2: Pull a coffee date.  That’s a lot like networking.  I’d be careful taking coquetry advice from an engineer, which I am, but beginning that conversation isn’t so difficult if you’ve already got common ground.

I’ve found some common ground in what appears to be a lacking design constituency at USC.  USC (and many research institutions around the country) is becoming increasingly interested in commercializing research coming out of their laboratories (see the Coulter Foundation, NSF I-corp, HTE program).  However, despite a well-funded entrepreneurship center (a subset of Marshall School of Business) and strong engineering department, it seems to me that the campus is missing a core component of commercialization in that it lacks substantial product design talent.  The timing is right for a relationship between the engineering/business communities at USC and the design community at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design.

There is sooo much strength in the business savvy / tech prowess / design trifecta! Being that NCIIA’s goals are socially focused, their Course and Program grants provide for an excellent opportunity to develop product design curricula focused on the “Bottom of the Pyramid” (BoP) social strata.  The term BoP refers to folks making under $2.50/day, of which there are 2.5 billion world-wide—that’s a huge underserved market.  There are existing programs that teach this sort of design – Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability and MIT’s D-lab are both excellent.  Paul Polak is also a great inspiration.  So no need to reinvent the wheel!  Use their success as a template and develop programs at your university.

As for USC, perhaps it’s time to meld Pasadena’s quiet hilltops with Downtown’s hustle and grit?