Ayo & Racquel’s Biodesign Externship with Medtronic Labs in Nairobi, Kenya
During the fellowship year, all Biodesign Innovation Fellows spend approximately one month exploring a new segment of the health tech industry. The externship is a unique opportunity to broaden perspectives and develop new experiences. Ayo and Racquel teamed up to find an externship due to their shared passion for developing international experience and understanding the healthcare system in emerging markets. The following Q&A provides an outline of their international externship experience.
How did you scope out an externship opportunity?
Ayo: The first step to finding an international externship was networking. We identified contacts with strong global ties and expressed our interest in pursuing an international project. We were excited to find many potential projects that arose from our initial meetings. Through subsequent discussions, research, and using our personal interests as a screen, we narrowed it down to three potential projects.
Racquel: Once we identified three projects we dove deeper into the details. Mentorship from Global Biodesign faculty played a key part in understanding the potential for each project. Our mentors helped identify key elements such as timing, type of work, location, team support and resourcing challenges for each project that helped us determine the best project fit.
How did you select your externship project?
Ayo: We looked for a project where we could learn something new as well as contribute insight and value to the team. This process led us to select working on the Empower Health Platform for management of hypertension with Medtronic Labs. The Medtronic Labs Empower Health Platform is a management system for hypertensive patients that helps doctors track patient data remotely, encourages patient follow-ups and manages patient drug adherence. This project is in early commercialization in Kenya and Ghana, and we were embedded with the Kenyan team. The timing of the project was perfect due to many world-wide blood pressure screening activities in hypertension during the month of May. We viewed this as a unique and exciting opportunity to talk to people in the community about hypertension and to get more insight into the patient experience.
How did you prepare for your international externship?
Racquel: Once we selected the project with Medtronic Labs in Nairobi, Kenya we had to prepare for travel. We did research on the required visas, necessary vaccinations & medications (e.g. Yellow Fever and Malaria Pills), comfortable lodging accommodations, transportation logistics, and weather conditions.
Ayo: From a project standpoint, we prepared by establishing our project objectives prior to travel. Our project objectives were to:
1) Evaluate value propositions for different stakeholders
2) Investigate Opportunities for Pharmaceutical Company Partnerships
3) Experience product ideation, prototyping and iteration.
What was it like on the job?
Ayo: During our externship we had the opportunity to explore several aspects of the Kenyan Healthcare system given the broad scope of the Empower Health Platform and its reach into many different parts of disease management. We visited private and public hospitals, clinics, distributors and pharmacies and interviewed stakeholders such as physicians, clinicians, pharmacists, and patients in Nairobi, Kisumu and Malindi.
One of the highlights of our externship was that we performed several blood pressure screenings in the local community for May Measurement Month (World Hypertension Day is May 17th) to increase hypertension awareness in Nairobi and Kisumu. Our team set up tents and performed over 500 free blood pressure measurements for individuals in the community, many of whom had never had their blood pressures measured before due to lack of convenience, awareness, access and affordability.
Racquel: For the conclusion of our externship, we traveled to Medtronic headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota to share our findings. We presented to the Medtronic Labs team leadership and had productive discussions about value propositions, pharmaceutical partnerships and possible product concepts for next iterations.
Did you do anything other than work?
Racquel: In addition to our project, we also felt it was important to plan fun, cultural experiences. We ventured out to do several activities including a safari at Nairobi National Park, visiting the Giraffe Center, visiting David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage, touring the Kazuri Beads Facility, touring the Kitengela Hot Glass Studio, visiting the Godown Art Center, eating at several Kenyan restaurants and shopping at Kenyan Maasai markets.
Ayo: We went to Malindi, a city on the Indian Ocean, in order to attend a laparoscopic training workshop with a few members of the Medtronic sales team focused on minimally invasive therapies. It was a great opportunity do observation in the OR, and also to do some needs finding with a different specialty and in a new health care setting.
What are your final thoughts and next steps after the externship?
Racquel: Overall, our experience was epic. We had the opportunity to do needs finding in an underserved market, make a direct impact on individuals’ lives by providing free blood pressure screenings to communities and contribute to the product development strategy for a new product on the Kenyan market.
Ayo: The externship has caused us to think more about how to be creative in developing effective business models for social ventures, and how to create meaningful outcomes around financial sustainability and patient impact. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as hypertension pose a significant burden to health systems around the world. It was exciting to be working on a project to tackle an NCD that has significant health consequences and complications in a lower resource setting. It is encouraging to see that Medtronic has prioritized this work, and I am excited to see what other projects are incubated within Medtronic Labs to solve needs in health care around the world.