Innovation Ecosystems: Beth Kolko on the need for innovation pathways

By: Eleonore Pauwels and Kunj Bhatt

In an age reflected by the rise in vaccinations and modern medicine, the standard of living has significantly improved for many individuals around the world. However for the millions of people who live in poverty or in regions affected by natural disasters, their ability to access these resources is highly limited. And that is only one side of the story. Even if the resources are available and accessible, through donations, how can the medical staff use these complicated technologies if they do not have the right means to operate it? Whether the problem is the lack of space or electricity, many medical staffers across the world end up trashing the technologies because of their inability to sustain it. According to The World Health Organization, only 10% to 30% of all donated medical equipment is actually used in the long term.

As a result of this problem, Shift Labs was born. Beth Kolko, the co-founder of Shift Labs, understood the socioeconomic complexity of this problem and envisioned a company that would produce technologies that addressed the major concerns of the medical practitioners while being commercially feasible in a low-cost setting. Why make an intricate product that only a few can use? Shift Labs’ main objective is to deliver cost-effective technologies, which range from primary care to emergency care, that are applicable and accessible in nature to emerging markets. In addition, Beth Kolko envisioned creating Shift Labs on the basis of pushing disruptive innovation. During her career, she saw so many brilliant products and designs being ignored or thrashed by companies who do not support the cost of the sales force. Kolko wanted to create an environment that fosters the creation of usable, innovative, and accessible products.

An example of a product from Shift Labs is DripAssist; a technology that provides readings of intravenous (IV) dosing for gravity fed fluid administration. Before this technology, clinicians and medical practitioners who could not afford infusion pumps, had to manually measure the flow rate from the fluid administration. This procedure takes a very long time and is very error-prone. In addition, wrong estimations by the clinician can result in negative consequences for the patient. The DripAssist, however, can fit in the palm of a hand, can be driven by a double AA battery, and can potentially save a patient’s life because of its ability to provide accurate readings while preserving low cost and easy maintenance. The main point is not to compromise usability for complexity but rather to encourage the creation of effective and sustainable technologies that can be used in the U.S. and in developing countries.