Innovator Stories

Field Notes from Neopenda: Using Customer Discovery to Prototype and Iterate

Contribution by Sona Shah ’16SEAS and Teresa Cauvel ’16SEAS, co-founders of Neopenda

Uganda now feels like a second home to us. Even though this time we were able to spend nearly the whole summer on the ground, it never seems like enough time. We always return with a revitalized connection to our users and the patients they serve, and are invigorated with inspiration and motivation to work even harder than before. Spending time in Uganda provides a renewed emphasis on how important our work is, and how much these vulnerable newborns need our help. Our third time in Uganda, this trip was intended to lay the regulatory and logistical groundwork for our upcoming clinical study, foster new partnerships, and collect user feedback.

Customer Discovery

We were so excited to return to our partners with a fully functional prototype, in which we had incorporated the design input received during our previous trips. It makes a world of difference to see how our users interact with our device, to be able to learn from the questions and comments that they have, and to continue to build relationships with stakeholders fighting to give these newborns a healthier start to life.

In the time we spent in Uganda, we were able to conduct interviews and feedback sessions with 68 nurses, midwives, and doctors that hadn’t interacted with our product before. We travelled to 12 new hospitals and health centers, in eight districts around the country, to survey the facilities and understand how we can improve on our design. And, we hosted a workshop with 30 local engineers, who helped provide feedback on how to make our product more robust, sustainable, and locally-appropriate for low-resource settings.

Analyzing Feedback

We achieved our goal of collecting as much feedback and data as possible. In the many interviews and clinical visits we learned what our users love and value about our solution, what they would like to see improved, and what they have questions or concerns about. What they loved most: the most overwhelming feedback was how strong of a need there is for our vital signs monitor. They loved the simplicity of the design and the usefulness of the product. They highly value affordability, portability, and the 4-in-1 nature of our product: minimizing work for nurses and the number of separate tools needed to accomplish patient monitoring.

The feedback also confirmed that the product needs further miniaturization and optimization. We were able to show the users the current prototypes, and 3D printed models of the future version, which are much smaller and sleeker. They certainly preferred the smaller version, and wanted us to work on making it more rugged to extend its lifetime for use in the tough environments they work in. Additionally, the users brought many other issues to our attention, such as wanting to be able to use the device on different locations on the body, and to be able to clean it different ways. We received a lot of input on what patient data is valuable to collect in our software, and how to improve the user-friendliness of the application for the clinical staff. We learned about common failure points and challenges with equipment currently in use, and how to design for users and technicians to be able to repair the device in the field.

Iterate, Prototype, and Repeat

Now that we’re back in Chicago, we’re excited to start incorporating this feedback into the next version of the product. Our product development process is iterative and user-centric, fueled by what we learn when we put it in the hands of our users. Immersing ourselves into the daily lives of our users has innumerable benefits to the design of our product, and for the relationships we build with our future customers. Ultimately, it’s the nurses and clinicians who fight tirelessly caring for these newborns, and we want to make sure our device is designed appropriately to help them save lives.

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