4. West Africa to the West Coast

A few days after graduation, we went a little non-traditional and flew to Guinea for our post-grad travels. We partnered with International Medical Corps (IMC) to conduct our second round of field-testing and validated the changes we made to Highlight after our last stint in Liberia. Over two weeks, we completed two simulations with the Rapid Response Team at IMC, a simulation with the Screening and Referral Unit at Donka Hospital, and met with key stakeholders including the French Red Cross, MSF, ALIMA, USAID/Guinea, and the National Coordinator for the Ebola Response in the Ministry of Health. The results and feedback were very positive and we’re currently continuing our collaboration with IMC to get Highlight adopted by the Ministry of Health.

Kinnos Team and Oscar (IMC Rapid Response Team Manager), June 2016.

Kinnos Team and Oscar (IMC Rapid Response Team Manager), June 2016.

Traveling to Guinea was a bit daunting since none of us speak French, but we’re proud to say we can now order from a menu and generally know what we’re getting. We owe much of our success to IMC for their incredible hospitality, and in particular we really want to thank Oscar, Laura, Will, and Francois for always being there for us. The trip wouldn’t have been possible without their help, and we’re glad we were able to make so many amazing memories. Laura also wrote a great article about our trip, which is on the IMC website here.

For all the teams out there who are thinking about field-testing for the first time, our key takeaway is to choose your partners carefully. We’ve been extraordinarily blessed to have worked with two great organizations in Liberia and Guinea, and their willingness to help can drastically change the outcome of the trip. Something else to keep in mind is to make the effort to get to know your partners on a personal level. It’s easy to go back to your room and check out after a mentally and physically exhausting day in the field, but we’ve never regretted saying yes to an invitation or making plans for dinner. Not only did we leave Guinea with great feedback, but we made some great friends too.

Another important takeaway is to be resourceful. We knew we wanted to meet with as many stakeholders as possible while we were in country, but scheduling meetings in advance (and especially through cold emails) has a very low hit rate. Most of our meetings happened by reminding people that we were in country and asking if they might know anyone, and getting contact information or a warm intro. Having Oscar call these stakeholders directly in French and name-dropping our connection worked like a charm. Being able to then have a conversation in person and describing Highlight has gotten us far further than a phone call ever has – sometimes we still wish we were in Guinea. Make the most of your time while you’re there or plan to stay longer than you think you’ll need.

After our trip abroad, we flew directly back to Boston in time for the Lemelson-MIT EurekaFest. We got to spend time with previous Lemelson-MIT Student Prize winners (one of them makes flying cars!), demo Highlight to talented high school inventors (they’re honestly killing it), and Katherine gave an amazing talk about inventing which you can see here. It was humbling and inspiring to see so many young students working on such important problems, and it gives us faith that there are only good things to come in the future. This was one of the most fun weeks we’ve had in a while and some of the best hor d'oeuvres we’ve had too!

Katherine presenting at Lemelson-MIT EurekaFest in Boston, June 2016.

Katherine presenting at Lemelson-MIT EurekaFest in Boston, June 2016.

Last week, Jason traveled to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit at Stanford to meet entrepreneurs from all around the world. With the conference located in Silicon Valley, it was interesting to see that the majority of start-ups at the event were not necessarily strictly tech but rather emphasized social impact, ranging from teaching women to code in Egypt to fortifying rice in Thailand. It would seem that the US Government wants to present the message that the future depends on solving problems that impact people on a daily basis – equality and opportunity, health, and energy – and we would not disagree. The conference also brought in a lot of big names, and it was nerd heaven and Jason was very happy (see selfies below).

Selfie with Brian Chesky!

Selfie with Brian Chesky!

Selfie with Anne Wojcicki!

Selfie with Anne Wojcicki!

As we’re currently building our board of advisors and figuring out sourcing and manufacturing, GES was a great place to network. It’s not always easy to put yourself out there and strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know, but it does get easier and you learn that most people like to talk if you’re willing to listen. Some of the most relevant connections we made came from randomly sitting down at a table for lunch and introducing yourself.

This summer, we’ll be working with IMC and MSF on several projects and prioritizing building our board and planning out our next funding round. We’ll be in Boston mid-July for the VentureWell ASPIRE workshop and move into Columbia Startup Lab the first week of August. Until next time!