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Business Spotlight: Ideabatic

19 Jul, 2023

Based at M-Sparc in Gaerwen, Anglesey, Ideabatic is a start-up on a mission to “give every person a chance at life” and reduce human error and the percentage of spoiled vaccines through their innovative and award-winning vaccine storage and dispensing solution, SMILE. 

Ideabatic joined GlobalWelsh’s Business membership programme in 2023. We spoke with founder Kitty Liao to find out why she started the company and how she’s passionate about creating a sustainable solution that can save lives and cost…

Tell us about how Ideabatic started…

Before starting Ideabatic, I was working at CERN designing and developing systems that were immersed in very cold liquid near absolute zero (-273 degrees C) for future superconducting particle accelerators that formed part of the Large Hadron Collider. In 2014 I went to a humanitarian hackathon at CERN. One of the challenges that was explored there was the issue of spoiled vaccinations. It was there I learned that pre-COVID-19, two to three million children were dying each year of vaccine-preventable diseases and 20 million still lack basic vaccinations. Inadequate storage and transportation methods, especially in the developing world, meant that many vaccines weren’t reaching children and ended up being destroyed in the final few miles of their journeys. With my super cold system background, I felt strongly about doing something about it.

I invented SMILE, which stands for SMart last-mILE vaccine cooling system and built a team to further develop it in the last 7 years. This chemical-free and fool-proof system we developed means we have the ability to eliminate spoilages caused by heat exposure and human error. In addition, the system outperforms existing solutions by 25 times, and this means that vaccination campaigns in multiple villages can be completed in one week instead of a month. It also reduced the number of people needed on the journey with an all-in-one backpack. The system has been iterated, tested and field-proven thanks to support from many organisations such as InnovateUK, Royal Academy of Engineering, MIT-Solve, Expo Live, Centre for Global Equality and Imperial College Advanced Hackspace.

Recently, MIT-Solve and the Redglass Pictures turned my journey creating SMILE into part of a documentary film called The Big Idea. The film has won several awards already.

"If we were being conservative, before COVID-19, around $1 billion is lost every year."

What’s the financial impact of vaccine spoilage around the world? 

It’s huge, quite eye-watering. Based on statistics before the pandemic, WHO estimates between 20-50% of all vaccines are spoiled worldwide each year. When looking at the remote areas, there is less literature, however, reports suggest the percentages could increase to 86-100%. Besides inadequate equipment used, human error is also a huge issue. For example, leaving the lid of the cool box open and repeated opening accelerate heat exposure. If we were being conservative, before COVID-19, around $1 billion is lost every year. According to GAVI, the Global Vaccine Alliance, for every US $1 spent on immunisation in Gavi-supported countries in the 2021–2030 period, $21 is saved in health care costs, lost wages and lost productivity due to illness and death. The return on investment is estimated to be $54 per $1 spent. So, if we don’t waste that $1B every year, millions of dollars and lives can be saved.

How did you end up working with M-Sparc?

A few months ago, I received an email from the Welsh government who introduced me to a Welsh company working on a pre-last-mile vaccine cold-chain for potential collaboration. After telling them that we had moved to North Wales recently, we were connected to a trade advisor and Business Wales. Thanks to this connection, we have been working with M-Sparc, who have been so supportive and fantastic to work with!

"Following this pilot, the Ministry of Health has been keen to update its last-mile cold chain to strengthen health systems and is requesting 2700 units of SMILE."

Who are your customers?

SMILE is primarily designed for use for last-mile delivery in the developing world however it is also revolutionary for mature markets. Our customers include governments, NGOs, aid agencies, foundations, charities, logistics companies and research organisations.

In low-income countries, users and buyers are not usually the same. NGOs, aid agencies, foundations or charities purchase products or services needed by the governments and then send them to the respective governments. In mature markets, the procurement process is generally more straight-forward.

Recently, a nationwide pilot study in Cameroon was conducted and funded by the UPS Foundation to study and compare the performance of existing last-mile cold-chain equipment and our SMILE cooling system. The results were compelling:

●      The existing standard vaccine carriers in Cameroon preserved vaccines between 2oC and 8oC for an average of four hours.

●      76% of currently employed equipment failed to perform in the field (WHO standards).

●      SMILE maintained a temperature of 2-8oC for 103 to 120 hours, 25 times longer lasting than existing equipment.

●      SMILE offers added benefits of minimising errors and improving efficiency, enabling faster completion of vaccinations.

●      83% last-mile health workers prefer SMILE to their existing equipment.

Following this pilot, the Ministry of Health has been keen to update its last-mile cold chain to strengthen health systems and is requesting 2700 units of SMILE. We are helping them to look for donors for this exciting opportunity!

"Using the Community feature on the GlobalWelsh Connect platform has helped me identify those who might be interested in what we do."

As a new GlobalWelsh Business member, how do you think GlobalWelsh can/will help you?

I’m looking forward to engaging with the Welsh community and connecting with those who can help Cameroon and other similar communities. I am also looking forward to raising awareness of cold-chain issues and helping industries that are looking to improve their systems of preserving and dispensing temperature-sensitive products.

So far, using the Community feature on the GlobalWelsh Connect platform has helped me identify those who might be interested in what we do. I am hoping to broaden my current network through the platform and I would also like to learn more about GlobalWelsh Invest. It would be fantastic to see GlobalWelsh’s involvement in bringing the impact to the field!

Connect with Kitty and Ideabatic via Connect >>

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