Elizabeth Johansen of Firefly with Dale Dougherty of Maker Media.

Firefly Newborn Phototherapy, a project by the non-profit Design That Matters, was awarded the first prize in the Pitch Your Prototype competition today at World Maker Faire New York.

Firefly’s low cost phototherapy device is designed to treat severely jaundiced infants in developing countries.

The team received a cash prize of $5000 from MAKE CEO and founder Dale Dougherty.

Earlier in the week six entrepreneurs, who had submitted their concepts and had been selected as finalists, presented their prototypes to the Hardware Innovation Workshop, an audience of their peers and experts, to convince them their ideas have merit and commercial viability. Workshop attendees then voted for their favorites.

The six finalists were: Makeraser/Makelastic, Firefly Newborn Phototherapy, Grow Cubes, Keen Vent, DRAW Drawing Robot Arm, and Quench Equitable Smart Water Dispenser.

At today’s announcement three finalists presented: Makeraser/Makelastic, Grow Cubes, and Firefly Newborn Phototherapy.

After the demos, Dale Dougherty announced that Firefly had received the most votes; he then presented the winning check to Elizabeth Johansen of Firefly.


A baby under a Firefly light.

The need for Firefly is real. Hospitals in Southeast Asia need a safe, robust and inexpensive tool to provide infant phototherapy and warming for otherwise healthy newborns suffering from newborn jaundice, according to Timothy Prestero, CEO of Design that Matters.

Phototherapy should be a simple and cost-effective way to treat jaundice as it only requires shining a blue light on the skin, yet every year 5.7 million newborns in South Asia and Africa do not receive any phototherapy.

Global health experts estimate 6-10% of all newborn mortality can be attributed to jaundice and complications caused by jaundice.

The Firefly unit is a response to that situation.

Hardware Innovation Workshop attendees were clearly won over by the design. Firefly won the competition with an overwhelming 48 percent of vote.

At the close of the presentation, Dale encouraged all of the participants.

“Keep going,” he said. “Keep doing what you’re doing.”