Photo: Design That Matters

Photo: Design That Matters

With the current Pitch Your Prototype challenge submission period now open, let’s take a look at a winning team from a previous round.


PitchYourPrototype_125x125_v1Design that Matters is a nonprofit founded by a team of MIT students to create tools to help meet basic needs in the developing world. In 2013, they’d developed a barebones phototherapy system they called Firefly, meant to treat neonatal jaundice by shining specific wavelengths of light on infants’ skin.

“We discovered that it’s not really a technology problem, but about how to make something that’s better suited to a poor hospital,” said Design that Matters CEO Timothy Prestero.

They were confident with their design, and knew that with initial funding, they’d be able to produce enough prototypes for a pilot program. With that goal in mind, they entered the Pitch Your Prototype challenge, which they won with a landslide 48 percent of the vote at MakerCon New York.

They used the prize money, Prestero said, to order 3D printed molds from Solid Concepts to cast the prototype parts and to send away for electronic components. They assembled the first few Firefly systems by hand, bending the steel tubing that connects the canopy to the base themselves, and used them to launch a principal pilot program in Vietnam and a smaller one in the Philippines.

The pilots were a success—as of this year, Firefly has been rolled out in ten developing countries in Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. They estimate the devices have been used to treat 7,000 newborns and plan to roll out a total of 1,000 devices over the next several years.

“The distance between a prototype and a finished prototype is approaching zero,” Prestero said. “One of the most exciting things about rapid prototyping and the Maker movement is that it’s possible for someone without huge resources to observe a need and then apply these tools to solve the problem.”

Those tools and resources available in the Maker community, Prestero said, are game changers for small organizations with big ideas.

“What’s driving that is this access to tools that allow us to punch way above our weight,” Prestero said. “The secret is that it’s cheap to make lots and lots of ideas, and test them. That’s what’s going to transform society as we know it.”

The Pitch Your Prototype challenge will be open to submissions until 11:59pm PST, April 30 of this year. Click here to enter the contest or to read the complete rules.