All posts by bethkolko

Choosing the tough battles

Last week I went to an event focused on startups and healthcare IT. The best line of the night was from a panelist who said: “Healthcare puts the ‘no’ in innovation.”

It was a great line.

I listened to the conversation after that line, and I thought, wow: Shift Labs has a tough road: we’re not IT; we’re an actual hardware play in one of the slowest, most regulated industries around. But it’s also one of the most exciting places to be —  precisely for the same reasons. When you put something that is beautifully designed in front of a clinician and watch their eyes light up, it’s an amazing moment.

There’s no shortage of people who inspire us at Shift Labs. Whether it’s the thoughtful, human-centered designs produced at non-profits by people like Timothy Prostero and his colleagues at Design that Matters or Krista Donaldson and her colleagues D-Rev, or programs like the Inclusive Healthcare Innovation Initiative at the Bertha Centre led by  Dr. Lindi van Niekerk at the University of Capetown there are passionate people throughout the world committed to bringing meaningful change to how we provide healthcare to all.

Know more people working in this space? Let us know! We’re working on a page with links to the broader community, and we want to make sure we cast the net widely.

Fund This: “Gravitylight: lighting for developing countries.”

One of the great things about our work is that we have an excuse to jump through the wormhole of the internet, following random links to search for cool stuff being done by cool people. Here’s one we think is beyond cool, and we want to call this one out with a shout of  “Fund This.” So — meet the Gravitylight by Martin Riddiford and Jim Reeves.


The Gravitylight exemplifies what Shift Labs stands for: a simple solution to a problem that directly affects people’s quality of life. Many residents of rural communities burn kerosene for light, which is not only expensive, but can result in serious health issues. Riddiford and Reeves have created the Gravitylight as a solution to this problem that does not rely on solar panels or batteries to run, creating a simple, sustainable device that can provide a lasting source of light.

While we know the Gravitylight has already reached (way past) its funding goal, money that the team receives goes directly toward providing Gravitylights for more families, as well as research and development costs for a second iteration of the light. A contribution as small as $10 can help, and for $60, you will receive your own Gravitylight. This is a beautiful, simple solution, that you should learn more about on their indiegogo page before the campaign closes on January 15.

Learning to manufacture locally

On the Provail factory floor


Yesterday Phil and I made a visit to Provail, a local non-profit that does manufacturing, assembly, and fulfillment for a variety of clients, including Boeing, Cascade Designs, and DOD. Provail trains and employs people with disabilities, matching them with well-paying manufacturing jobs that mesh with their skills.

We learned about Provail from one of the many people who have taken an interest in Shift Labs and offered their help. We love the idea of doing local manufacturing, and we also love the idea of working with a social enterprise.

provail2Machines are beautiful

I visited their facility on the north end of Seattle a couple weeks ago, and this week Phil and went back together to have a design for manufacturing conversation with their staff. We’re working on the housing for the Drip Clip, and we want to make sure we’re aligning our CAD designs with simplicity of manufacture and assembly.

We’re actually super excited about learning to do small-batch manufacturing efficiently and cost-effectively. Part of our mission at Shift is to figure out how to do distributed manufacturing in a scalable way, and we think Provail will be an important partner on that journey.

Also, factories are just cool.

Introducing our DripClip

Please support our Indiegogo campaign!

We’re working hard on lining up all the pieces to produce our first prototype in volume for field testing. The Drip Clip is an alternative to expensive infusion pumps, and it’s a way to get precision measurement for IV bags.


The idea for the Drip Clip came from a physician who works with Doctors Without Borders. We’ve discussed it with lots of docs who work around the world, and we’ve done a demo for surgeons, pediatric nurses, and anesthesiologists in Kenya.

We went through a few revisions of the prototype, improving the robustness and reliability. Our bench testing system (below) has been a key part of our engineering, and we’ve worked to improve robustness and reliability.


Prototypes and test rig

Our next step is to get it into the field and see how it performs.

You can help make this happen by supporting us on IndieGoGo! Or, just watch the video describing our process.

Life Sciences Innovation Northwest

Earlier this month, part of our team attended the Life Science Innovation Northwest 2012, a conference put on by Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association. Shift Labs was accepted to give a poster presentation, and it was a great opportunity to meet colleagues on the innovation and investment side of this field.

The keynote was was given by Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. His talk emphasized the importance of collaboration between private sector and philanthropic organizations. It was great to hear about the Foundation’s belief in the power of markets. We were also really interested in the partnership model  where for-profit entities  find solutions to problems which philanthropists  then help take to areas not well served by existing markets.

At Shift Labs we value our relationships with the global health nonprofit sector. Philanthropy is a powerful tool for helping solve problems where markets fail. Even as we work with the non-profit and public sectors, we want to push the boundaries of this solution space a little further: let’s build the actual market for low cost medical devices in low resource countries.


Rapid Prototyping

One of the things we’re really proud of here is our collective excitement about rapid prototyping. We all love making things, and we especially love making things out of stuff laying around. It’s a challenge, to see how much functionality you can get out of a junk drawer.

When we started talking about forming Shift, we began with trying to find a good problem to solve. None of us are especially excited about technology in search of a problem. So we talked to doctors. Lots of them. With lots of experience working in austere settings. (That’s what medical people call ‘low resource environments’.) From all those interviews we identified a couple problems that clinicians face. And from there we did some sketching, and we dug through some drawers, and we roughed up a functional spec, and we built something.

Now we’re iterating that original design, and we’re about to begin working on a housing, and in a few weeks we’re going to try some field tests. But we’re making sure that we still have our hands in the junk drawers, and we’re still building stuff to try out new ideas.

Speed, speed, speed, one of our mentors recently counseled. Fail fast!