Why the 'network effect' is essential for innovators

By Jenny Lei Ravelo 22 November 2016

As any experienced innovator knows, it takes years — and plenty of trial and error — for a big idea to reach market. At the core of this success are those believers who support the innovation through each hurdle. Devex spoke to several innovators about why networks and champions are so vital to the process. Photo by: Spot Us / CC BY-SA

After surviving another bout of malaria in 2012, Brian Gitta dreamed up an app-based malaria diagnostic device. He asked friends at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda — where he was studying computer science — to help him develop the tool, which they called Matibabu, a Swahili term for “treatment.”

Gitta’s idea, which involves a hardware device called matiscope that uses light sensors to determine the number of red blood cells and a smartphone app that displays the results, quickly gained popularity. The device, which promises to diagnose malaria without the need for blood extraction, won several awards in various tech and innovation competitions, including the International Technology Award during the Higher Solutions Education Network’s annual technology conference in 2013. Merck also awarded the app creators with 25,000 euros ($26,935) in funding, as well as coaching sessions and workshops under a three-month accelerator program in March 2016.

These helped the team secure funding, amend their design and test the product to gauge its accuracy.

The team is currently working on a number of new prototypes of the product’s hardware for better user experience and accuracy, Gitta told Devex. Their goal is to reach an over 90 percent efficiency rate, which would elevate the app to the status of microscopy, the current gold standard method for malaria diagnosis. They are currently in search of capital to further test the idea, and still need to re-examine their business model, Gitta said.

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About the author

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Jenny Lei Ravelo@JennyLeiRavelo

Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex senior reporter based in Manila. Since 2011, she has covered a wide range of development and humanitarian aid issues, from leadership and policy changes at DfID to the logistical and security impediments faced by international and local aid responders in disaster-prone and conflict-affected countries in Africa and Asia. Her interests include global health and the analysis of aid challenges and trends in sub-Saharan Africa.

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