September 7, 2015 | Tech Nonprofits

Nexleaf Analytics: Preventing vaccine spoilage through sensor technology

This is the seventh post in a weekly series covering each of Fast Forward’s nine tech nonprofits.

Every year, 100 million children receive vaccines to protect against vicious diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia, yet these diseases continue to kill millions. In India, over 75% of vaccines show evidence of spoilage before they are even administered to patients. Hundreds of millions of people are walking around the world thinking they or their children are safely vaccinated when they are not. Even more surprising is that most of these vaccines spoil because they freeze, and not because the refrigeration broke down.

Cold chain temperature monitoring, one of the primary products of Nexleaf Analytics, can solve the problems of vaccine spoilage at a low cost. By working with local governments in India, Nexleaf has already deployed their ColdTrace technology around Asia and Africa, monitoring 4 million vaccine doses. Nexleaf helps ensure that these vaccines reach kids at full potency, ultimately saving lives.

Nexleaf believes in the power of monitoring and analytics in global health, and beyond ColdTrace has also created products to monitor clean cookstoves among other technologies. Nithya Ramanathan, President and CEO of Nexleaf, tells us more about the organization.

Why did you start NexLeaf? What inspired you? Tell me about the name. Tell me a personal connection to the issue if possible.

Martin and I spent several years in academia working on wireless sensors that collected data that ended up not being used. Simultaneously we saw public health potential in the developing world but there was a lack of data – so we saw an opportunity to apply these tools we had been developing for a bigger purpose.

What’s the story behind the name, Nexleaf Analytics?

We were originally called Lorax Analytics… but we actually got a cease and desist letter from Dr. Seuss’ estate! We really liked our logo, inspiring a feeling of turning a new leaf, pushing to the next generation in a new world. So we tried to encapsulate our logo, and our name followed.

And analytics has always been core to us. Everyone always talks about the device, but we’re trying to move the conversation beyond the device – the sensor is cool but it means nothing without the analytics.

What are the biggest challenges in addressing public health needs in the developing world?

In public health, there are a lot of constituents, like big NGOs such as UNICEF or the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, as well as local and state governments. Each has their own needs and approaches to solving public health issues, and I think that analytics can help unite these constituents and move the sector forward.

Has it been difficult being based in the US but operating in India and around the world?

It’s a challenge, obviously, for lots of reasons. A philosophy in our company is that we don’t want to be that outsider coming in and dictating what to do. We think the analytics allows a shared perspective to emerge that isn’t about a Western organization telling a local government what to do.

We’re really struggling working toward having our organizational structure meet that philosophy. We are building a strong local team in India that can respond to local needs and operate independently, while also figuring out how to best approach smaller and more irregular markets around the world.

Do you have personally inspiring people that have helped you along the way?

I think we’ve been super lucky to have amazing people that have seen what we’re doing and understood way better than we did where this could all go.

Kevin Starr at the Mulago Foundation has been really instrumental. He totally gets what we’re doing and has provided such influential guidance, thought, and time. Right when I first met him, he said something to me that has stayed with me for the last 5 years, which is that he talked about how we were the missing link for impact, and that you really need that analytics feedback to increase impact at your organization, government body, or foundation.  

In India, one medical officer, Dr. Gudedappa, sticks out for his dedication and optimism. After we introduced ColdTrace to Dr. Gudedappa, he was literally talking with us on the phone the next day and replacing his fridges within a week. He’s not alone, and we’re so lucky that we’ve gotten to work with so many people like that in so many companies.