A Global University

Building innovation ecosystems for the a healthier world

Growing sustainable medical technology innovation ecosystems in emerging markets. Bringing life-changing research to the people who need it most.

Dr. Melissa MugambiNow a professor in the UW Department of Global Health, Melissa Mugambi has worked across academia and industry sectors to develop medical diagnostic tools for use in low- and middle-income countries. Whereas most development efforts are led by companies in high-income countries, she explores market development potential in countries where the products would actually be used. 

With funding support from the UW Global Innovation Fund and the UW Departments of Global Health and Family Medicine, Dr. Mugambi partnered with a team of researchers, students, and professionals from nonprofits and innovation incubators to cultivate capacity for diagnostic device development and commercialization in Kenya. They are promoting locally-driven device development and market adoption.

The project offered a unique chance for UW students to apply business skill sets in a global health space through hands-on learning. With support from Dr. Mugambi and her UW collaborators Matthew Thompson, from the Department of Family Medicine, and Emer Dooley, from the Foster School of Business. Masters and undergraduate students conducted a landscape analysis to better understand the existing Kenyan healthcare innovation ecosystem and identify strategic partners.

“There is a vested interest in developing diagnostic devices locally [in Kenya]”, Dr. Mugambi explains. “A robust talent pool with a nascent innovation pipeline exists but there is still a need for a clear pathway to impact-driven commercialization.”

Visiting GearboxThis finding was echoed in a Nairobi follow-up workshop to champion local innovation. Hosted in partnership with Villgro Kenya, PATH, Gearbox, and the African Biomedical Engineering Consortium (ABEC), over 30 representatives from key industry, government, academic, funder and nonprofit sectors attended. The team also presented their findings at Venturewell’s OPEN conference in Washington DC. Dr. Mugambi is now mapping next steps for collaboration with local partners as they develop viable strategies to bridge the innovation-to-commercialization gap.

“The UW Global Innovation Fund was the only funding mechanism available at the first stage of this project,” shares Dr. Mugambi. The nature of the funding requirements — collaboration across traditional boundaries of discipline, industry, and nations — “helped breathe life into” the project. “Our big win was forging these relationships. You can’t get anywhere without collaboration.”