When we heard about Embrace Innovations and it’s CEO, Jane Chen, we needed to interview her ASAP. Challenged in a course at Stanford University to create a baby incubator that costs less than 1% of those on the market, Jane designed the Embrace Infant Warmer, a baby-warmer that does not require constant electricity and keeps babies at the ideal body temperature. This ground-breaking yet simple technology uses a wax technology, and literally has been saving the lives of premature and underweight babies in developing countries worldwide. Recognizing the tremendous impact she could have, Jane went on to launch Little Lotus, a line of swaddles, sleeping bags and blankets with a special regulating function (which helps babies sleep better) and a 1:1 give back program that helps to save one baby with the Embrace Infant Warmer for every Little Lotus product sold. The Embrace Warmer has already helped save over 200,000 babies and counting. As moms, we know how much our babies mean to us and are enamored with Jane’s goal of saving one million lives. Read her incredibly heartwarming and inspiring story below.
Jane! We need to start by saying how incredible Embrace Innovations is! Can you tell us a little about the Embrace Warmer and how it came to be?
Thank you! The Embrace Infant Warmer is a low-cost incubator designed to help premature and underweight babies in the developing world. It looks like a tiny sleeping bag, and keeps infants at a stable temperature using an innovative phase-change material that melts at 98 degrees F and maintains that temperature for up to 8 hours, without the need for electricity.
In 2008 at Stanford, a group of my classmates and I were challenged to design a baby incubator that cost less than 1% of a traditional design. Our class project led to the creation of the Embrace Infant Warmer, which to date, has now helped over 200,000 preterm infants in 20 developing countries.
With each purchase of a Little Lotus item, a baby is helped by the Embrace Infant Warmer in a developing country through our nonprofit partners. Our goal is help save the lives of one million preterm infants, and we’re rallying families here in the U.S. to help us accomplish that.
Congratulations on everything you’ve accomplished! Why is the Embrace Warmer so helpful in reducing the newborn death rate and helping premature babies in developing countries?
Around the world, more than one million babies die on their birthing day, with most of these deaths occurring in developing countries. The leading cause of these deaths are preventable complications, often related to prematurity and low birth weight. Newborn death rates are high in these countries, often because of a lack of prenatal care, as well as a lack of access to hospitals and modern medical equipment. Moreover, many places don’t even have consistent access to electricity. This is why we set out to design a product that would be super easy to use, without the need for constant electricity. Our product can be used in a village clinic, or even in a home setting.
You must have some incredible stories from all of your travels and the help you’ve provided to so many people. Is there any story in particular that has touched you of a family your product has helped?
There is a child named Nathan who is extremely special to me, and his story is probably surprising to most. Born just under two pounds and abandoned on the side of the road in China after his birth, he’s come to be one of my biggest sources of inspiration.
After Nathan was discovered by an Orphanage (Little Flower) with whom we had just launched a program, Nathan was kept in an Embrace Warmer for thirty days. Thanks to the product, and Little Flower’s loving care, this tiny infant survived! At that birth weight, he really shouldn’t have survived at all, so his plight and survival was incredible – a testament to why we do this work at Embrace Innovations. When I went to visit him at the orphanage at seven months old, I found a healthy, happy baby boy.
Today, Nathan lives in Chicago with his adopted family, and is a smiling, interactive, and very lively toddler. His family has even sent me photos of Nathan posing next to his Embrace Warmer, which he is way too big for now. Last year, Nathan’s mom gave me a figurine of a an angel guiding a little boy, representing our relationship. It was incredibly moving.
What an incredibly rewarding journey! Can you tell us about Little Lotus and its NASA technology? How does it work to keep babies’ temperature regulated?
Our swaddles, blankets, and sleeping bags use a special fabric that was first developed for NASA spacesuits. The fabric is incredibly soft to the touch, but contains microns of wax which keeps babies at the ideal temperature by drawing away excess heat when babies get too warm, and releasing it when they start to cool down.
The Little Lotus products were designed to help babies maintain their ideal skin temperature, and as a result, our studies have shown that babies are getting almost an extra hour of sleep a day with our product compared to other products, as they have fewer temperature fluctuations!
How does purchasing a Little Lotus swaddle benefit babies in danger around the world?
Little Lotus Baby runs on a TOMS Shoes-like 1:1 model of giving. With each purchase of a Little Lotus item, a baby is helped by the Embrace Infant Warmer in a developing country through our nonprofit partners. Our goal is help save the lives of one million preterm infants, and we’re rallying families here in the U.S. to help us accomplish that.
What was your own journey like founding this company? How did you get things off the ground?
I started Embrace back in 2008, right after I graduated from Stanford. My co-founders and I moved to India, home to 40% of the world’s premature babies, and spent the next four years getting this product off the ground – figuring out everything from clinical testing, to manufacturing , to distribution. It was incredibly challenging!
In the spring of 2015, we decided to launch Little Lotus to help us fund the expansion of the Embrace Warmers. My team and I launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the first $100K, and we were successful! We used those funds for critical product development, manufacturing, to deliver our first batch of products to customers back in December. Since then, we’ve developed an amazing community of parents who love our products, so the journey has been immensely rewarding.
You’ve seen so many difficult situations on your quest to help these little babies, not only in the personal stories from the countries you’ve worked with but also in your own struggles to build this business and get funding. What is the biggest takeaway or lesson you’ve learned in all of this?
During my time living in India, getting Embrace Innovations off the ground, I could feel myself becoming jaded over the years. On top of dealing with the regular stresses of startup life, I was in an environment where I had to face endless chaos and corruption, and where I was surrounded by extreme poverty, illness, and death. Then at some point, I had a realization. For every horrible thing I experienced, there was something equally as beautiful. The noble doctors I met, who stayed up all night seeing patients. The wonderful team who had come together to join us in our mission. The mothers whom, no matter how poor or uneducated or impoverished, would do absolutely anything to save their babies. I had the chance to see the purest and most selfless forms of love in the world everyday through my work. How could I become jaded when I was surrounded by such beauty of the human spirit?
I learned one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in my life: you get to choose the lens through which you see the world. I choose to see the world through the lens of beauty. As Thoreau said: “It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see.”
For every horrible thing I experienced, there was something equally as beautiful. The noble doctors I met, who stayed up all night seeing patients. The wonderful team who had come together to join us in our mission. The mothers whom, no matter how poor or uneducated or impoverished, would do absolutely anything to save their babies. I had the chance to see the purest and most selfless forms of love in the world everyday through my work.
I read a crazy story you told about losing your funding just a week before the deal was to go through.. Can you tell us about that? What did you do?
I’ve faced plenty of challenges in running a startup, but this was definitely the scariest.
In 2014, Embrace Innovations was on the brink of shutting down when a major round of funding unexpectedly fell through. What saved us was a serendipitous meeting with Marc Benioff, CEO and Founder of Salesforce. He and I sat next to each other during a meditation class at the World Economic Forum, and at the time, he was just about to help launch a global program on premature births with the Gates Foundation. When this crisis hit, with only a few days of cash left in the bank to run our company, I sent Marc a desperate email asking for his help – not really knowing what to expect. He generously agreed to fund the company, and gave us the runway we needed to find a new strategy, which was how Little Lotus was born. We realized we couldn’t count on our revenues coming only from emerging markets, and decided to leverage our technology to launch a great product for babies in the US that can help babies in the developing world at the same time.
I can only believe the universe conspired for Marc and I to meet each other, and I will forever be indebted to him for his belief in our mission. and I to meet each other, and I will forever be indebted to him for his belief in our mission.
We are big supporters of chance meetings! What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
“The universe will go on without you.” In other words, don’t take yourself too seriously!
Can you share four life lessons?
1. When you fail, get up and try again. As an entrepreneur, you will fail over and over again. You will constantly face setbacks. And you just have to be ok with that. When my company nearly shut down, knocking the wind out of me, I had to find the courage to get back up and find a solution. As someone who has failed many times, I urge you to try, try, and try again.
2. You’ve got to keep putting yourself in challenging situations, and pushing your limits. Each step in creating Embrace was scary — I had no previous experience developing a medical device, or running a company, but by thinking big, we turned an idea into a product that has helped save thousands of lives.
3. Accept what cannot be changed. In life, and especially as an entrepreneur, so many situations are out of our control. Sh*t happens. Don’t waste energy fighting the things that cannot be changed. Instead, adapt to the situation and learn to ride with it.
4. Always have fun. One of the things I love so much about surfing, my passion sport, is how delightfully fun it is. I’m reminded not to take myself too seriously, to just enjoy life and be grateful for every day, and every experience. Truly, the best surfer is the one who is having the most fun. And that’s how I want to live my life.
Are you inspired by Jane as much as we are? You can read more in this Forbes article she wrote here.