How this tech startup drew the attention of Gavi, Gates and Google

A health worker looks inside a vaccine refrigerator, monitored using the Nexleaf Analytics ColdTrace wireless remote temperature technology. Photo by: Nexleaf Analytics

Google.org has announced a new partnership to support Nexleaf Analytics, a Los Angeles-based startup that builds wireless sensors turning everyday objects like refrigerators and cookstoves into connected devices.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is matching a $2 million contribution from Google.org, through a matching fund from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which is a pool of money set aside by donors to match partnerships Gavi has with the private sector. This support of Nexleaf results in part from INFUSE, an accelerator Gavi launched to support "Innovation for Uptake, Scale and Equity in Immunization."*

Nexleaf builds wireless sensor devices and data analytics tools such as ColdTrace, a wireless remote temperature monitoring technology that protects vaccines, and StoveTrace, a cloud-based remote monitoring system that monitors the use of improved cookstoves. With funding from this new partnership, Nexleaf will now develop an analytics framework, gathering data from the countries its technology reaches, in order to share data with other governments looking to make evidence-based decisions regarding vaccine delivery.

“We focus on: How do you get vaccines safely to kids, stored at the right temperatures, fixing problems with refrigerators along the way?” Nithya Ramanathan, president and co-founder of Nexleaf, told Devex. “Everybody brings their piece of the puzzle and what we bring is data.”

Before scaling its work on refrigerators and cookstoves, Nexleaf started collecting data on refrigerators one clinic at a time, and data on cookstoves one household at a time. But just like nurses need to know when a fridge is too hot or too cold for vaccines, governments can also benefit from this information, which can inform decisions on the performance and maintenance of temperature-controlled supply chains, or cold chains. As Nexleaf grew, it started to see the potential to deliver data to the cloud, so countries could share best practices across borders.

Nithya Ramanathan, president and cofounder of Nexleaf, talks with Devex as part of the #MakingMarketsWork campaign.

What drew the interest of Google.org, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Gavi was not so much the technology itself, but rather the way the way the company prioritizes data.

“Nexleaf’s use of innovative, low-cost sensor technology to support data-driven decision making is the kind of cutting edge work we need to address big global challenges like vaccine delivery,” said Jacquelline Fuller, Director of Google.org, in a statement about the partnership, which was announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week, where INFUSE launched a year ago.

The seven most promising innovations INFUSE identified in its first year included Nexleaf as well as Energize the Chain, Akros, IRD, Broadreach, Shifo, and Khushi Baby, Each of them are working in different ways to address immunization information gaps. Now, INFUSE 2017 is calling for tech enabled innovations that improve immunization uptake and health service delivery.

The key to the success of Nexleaf, whose donors and partners also include Qualcomm, is not just gathering data, but ensuring that data is actionable and useful, said Martin Lukac, co-founder and chief technology officer at Nexleaf.

"A lot of new technologies for gathering data are either on the market or in development, from ‘smart’ fridges to temperature monitors,” he told Devex. “Our experience working with everyone from nurses in clinics to national ministries of health, and with making the real time data available in formats that serve them, is what Nexleaf brings to the table."

Gavi is trying to leverage innovation to strengthen health systems, in this case to modernize cold chains, said Dr. Seth Berkeley, the CEO of Gavi, in a statement about the partnership with Google.org.

“Bringing that visibility and working in partnership with governments is really how we think we can make the markets work,” Ramanathan said.

* Update, Jan. 18, 2016: This article has been updated to reflect that the Gates Foundation will match funding from Google.org through a matching fund from Gavi.

Devex is reporting live at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Follow Devex Senior Correspondent Michael Igoe @alterigoe and stayed tuned to Devex for more coverage.

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    Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology and innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported from all over the world, and freelanced for outlets including the Atlantic and the Washington Post. She is also the West Coast ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that trains and connects journalists to cover responses to problems.

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