It’s been a little more than a year since we first started Kinnos, and in many ways we would not have expected to be where we are right now. Some of the simpler things have turned out to be some of the most challenging, while some of the most complicated aspects went the smoothest. The past few months have been incredible learning opportunities for our team and we’re excited to share our latest developments. Along the way, we’ve found that there aren’t many global health start-ups founded by undergrads that have reached the stage we’re currently at, so we’ll try our best to share advice we wished we had received.
In September 2015, we attended the EMSWorld Expo in Las Vegas, one of the largest first responder conferences in the world. We had two goals: make leads and get a better understanding of the market. We were invited as exhibitors by one of our collaborators and didn’t have our own booth, so we took a rather unconventional approach – we went directly up to people and introduced ourselves. Generally, the power dynamic favors the end-users where they approach a booth if they’re interested, but we didn’t have that option. At these big industry conferences, most people wear polos or shirts with company logos on them, so it was relatively easy to identify who to talk to. We found that it was a huge advantage to introduce ourselves as students when asking for information, but that being upfront about your company is the best way to engage potential customers. For instance, introducing yourself as a student, asking questions about their disinfection protocol, and then suddenly telling them about how your product could improve that process comes off as disingenuous. Instead, be direct and say you’re a student, you recently founded a company to improve disinfection, and that you want to learn more about their thoughts on the process. By being upfront, you build trust immediately and there are no surprises. Through this method, we met a lot of wonderful people who were more than happy to share information, and we made strong leads with over 35 fire chiefs, first responders, and international distributors and suppliers.
One of our most exciting developments was successfully completing field-testing in Liberia in November 2015. We partnered with Project Concern International (PCI), an absolutely phenomenal NGO, and traveled to the Ganta Ebola Treatment Unit, Karnplay Health Clinic, and ELWA3 Ebola Treatment Unit in Monrovia to work with healthcare workers. More than anything, what really struck home was how much these healthcare workers had sacrificed for their country. We donned full personal protective equipment to simulate the decontamination protocol, and after 15 minutes, the heat was almost unbearable. The doctors and nurses work in these suits in 2 hour shifts, which is an incredible amount of suffering. But even beyond that, they’re stigmatized by their communities due to their close proximity to Ebola, and many of them no longer live with their families out of fear of spreading virus. It’s heartbreaking that these healthcare workers volunteered their lives to save the lives of others, but most people in West Africa can only see them in fear. It made it that much more important to us that we were working on something that could make their lives better.
At its core, Highlight is meant to empower healthcare workers and provide them with confidence in their safety. We received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the healthcare workers on how the blue color and complete coverage did just that. In our survey of over 50 healthcare workers, 100% of the people agreed that Highlight was easy-to-use and that they would all use it regularly for disinfection. Something that we discovered from the field-tests was that the quick evaporation of regular bleach not only decreased coverage, but also generated harmful chlorine gas, with many healthcare workers experiencing flu-like symptoms and severe respiratory and eye irritation as a result. Because Highlight is designed to slow evaporation, the healthcare workers found Highlight-enhanced bleach to significantly reduce the smell of chlorine and did not experience harmful symptoms.
While we got a lot of good results, we also faced a few challenges. We found that Ebola Treatment Units generally use whatever they can get their hands on, which although isn’t surprising, makes things more complicated. For example, they use a variety of different forms of bleach, ranging from liquid sodium hypochlorite to powdered calcium hypochlorite – which we weren’t expecting – but we have since revised our formula to work with these different types of bleach. One of the most tangible lessons we learned was that there are many things that are out of your control and that you should always be prepared to improvise, so always bring more than you need.
The last thing we want to mention about field-testing is taking the time to get to know the end-users. Beyond just getting their feedback, bond with them on a personal level – you’ll find your work taking on much more meaning and they’ll also be more willing to give you honest feedback and help you when they can. We became good friends with a hygienist supervisor named Alphonso, who went out of his way to introduce us to a doctor from the World Health Organization and got us access for testing at Karnplay Health Clinic.
As we mentioned in our last post, there are many opportunities for students through competitions and grants. We were winners in the Collegiate Inventors Competition, where we met some amazing inventors, and were recently recipients of the VentureWell E-Team Stage 2 grant. Looking ahead, we’ll be exhibiting at VentureWell Open Minds in Portland in March 2016, so if you’re in the area, come check us out!
We’re looking forward to another action-packed year and will be working full-time on Kinnos when we graduate in May. Onwards!