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Building Capacity

A healthy, thriving global health ecosystem has to include mentorship

Editor’s note: Tina Vlasaty joined WGHA as deputy director in February 2015. Prior to joining WGHA, Ms. Vlasaty spent 20 years working in community and economic development, working both for community based organizations and local government. Her experience includes organizational development, finance, program and policy development, and collaboration and outreach.

Global health technologies are, by nature, complicated to develop.

Shepherding a product through design, development and delivery requires all manner of expertise and demands engineers become CEOs and scientists become marketing specialists. Mentors who have navigated these waters before can be invaluable partners.

Today WGHA and the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association with a catalytic investment from the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, launch a joint mentorship program to help global health ventures navigate the path to commercialization. .

Why is global health tech so challenging to develop?

Introducing any new technology or intervention is formidable. But factor in the end-users in global health — for example, families in a remote Malawi village without regular internet access — and the challenge is multiplied.

Designing technology for families living in fragile states on less than $2 a day requires a different kind of ingenuity.

Ingenuity like PotaVida whose Smart Solar Purifier uses the power of solar disinfection to reduce the cost of water treatment and eliminate the need for filters and chemicals.

PotaVida captures real-time usage data on its products via an electronic monitor attached to each device.

A smart product with a great feedback loop, but remember that village in Malawi I referenced earlier? If PotaVida’s product isn’t successfully commercialized, they will never see it.

How will mentoring lead to greater commercialization of global health products?

Commercialization—the process of introducing a new product or production method to market— is often where great products can sink into the valley of death because companies and organizations who develop global health technologies often lack access to infrastructure that provides formalized guidance and coaching.

We at WGHA think mentors who’ve walked through that valley and come out on the other side can shepherd fledgling global health ventures to a higher success rate.

WGHA will identify and invite expert global health advisors to vet global health startups and nonprofits through the expansion of WBBA’s Washington Innovation Network (WIN) Entrepreneur Mentorship Program. Together the mentors and global health ventures will work toward milestones that build stronger product and service offerings. As a result, we anticipate these global health ventures will have greater access to funding.

More products will be in the hands of people who need them most.

We believe this offering strengthens Washington’s global health network by connecting people across disciplines to increase impact.

And PotaVida with their Smart Solar Purifier is among the first to enroll in the expanded program.

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