Innovator Spotlight: Photo Kabada

An interview with Photo Kabada co-founder and project lead, Moses Ochora

PHOTO 2022 06 02 11 59 05

Tell us a little bit about your innovation. What is the problem? What solution are you offering?

Photo Kabada provides a remotely monitored, hybrid phototherapy machine designed to solve the problem of inadequate access to effective treatment for jaundice, a common illness for newborns. When jaundice becomes severe, it can cause permanent brain damage, resulting in conditions like cerebral palsy, developmental delays or the inability to hear and/or speak. If jaundice is solved early using phototherapy, we are able to avert most of these complications.

In our setting, we have too few machines for very many babies. Additionally, the machines that are available in the market, though they work effectively, are very expensive to buy and to maintain. They are also not very efficient, treating only one baby at a time and serving only one purpose: treating jaundice. When more than one baby is sick, medical professionals are faced with incredibly difficult choices. Sometimes we have to put several babies in the same machine, increasing their risk of infection and reducing the effectiveness of the treatment.

And, again, these machines only treat jaundice, so if a child has jaundice and they also require oxygen, then we have to take them out of the machine to provide the other care that is more urgent. Our product is designed to provide a ‘one stop centre’ to treat a sick newborn with jaundice. It will also provide oxygen, warmth, and monitoring of the child’s vital signs, along with the treatment of jaundice.  We also have designed it to treat more than one baby at the same time. Our device is designed to be hybrid, in that we can use both normal power of the national grid as well as solar powered battery that can run for at least 12 hours. We think this device has great utility in rural settings in places like Uganda, but also in many other places around the world.

What is a recent example of progress? What are you currently celebrating?

About a year ago, we were stuck. We conceived the idea for Photo Kabada in 2018 as a group of friends and clinicians and engineers who were working within a hospital setting. We identified the need and got together and began coming up with a design and a market strategy and also look out for seed funding. We were able to get seed funding initially from CAMTech and from the Ministry of ICT that pushed us to a level where we had Version 1 of a prototype. After that, we went to the field and collected some information, which was vital. It actually made us almost completely overhaul the initial design. That is where we came to interact with Villgro Africa.

Ever since we've been in the Villgro incubation program, we’ve been able to grow in several ways. We were able to get more funding to move forward from the initial prototype version 1 to a more futuristic, robust and human-centred design. We’ve also been able to receive several trainings in how to put together a requirements traceability matrix. We've received mentorship on several of the business aspects of our device and the engineers have been regularly in touch with the technical team at Villgro. With that help from Villgro, we’ve been able to move forward. Right now, we have an almost functional prototype that just needs a few final touches.

“Photo Kabada’s greatest asset has always been their team. From an early stage they have had a very dedicated and talented team of clinicians, engineers and academicians that’s ready to contribute in any possible way. The growth they have shown since joining Villgro Africa’s incubation program is tremendous. We believe that their phototherapy machine will soon start making a difference, for treatment of jaundice, in Uganda and the larger East Africa.” - Edwin Osora, Portfolio Manager

What are the challenges you’re currently facing?

One challenge is related to attracting the right human resources during the height of COVID 19. It was really difficult for us initially to find the right people for the job and we had to go through several iterations. Additionally, some of the materials that we require for our product are not easy to find, especially when supply chains were severely disrupted during COVID-19. Availability of finances was also a major challenge for us. With funding, we would be able to get technical help and get all of the necessary materials immediately but because of limited funds, we are going slower and are required to compromise on some things. But also, the medical innovation ecosystem in Uganda is just starting. There are many gray areas in terms of regulation, intellectual property, and streamlining the industry. It can be challenging to get the right advice because the field is still a bit new.

What is a lesson you have learned that might help other innovators?

We have learned three primary things. Firstly, there is power in networking and collaboration. Secondly, teamwork is essential. And thirdly is how to have a vision and work for it within a specific timeframe.

How has Villgro impacted your growth?

Villgro has impacted our growth in a really big way. They have provided us with funds worth 20,000 USD that has enabled us to make a functional prototype for Version 2. They have given us technical support, especially in the areas of engineering, design and software. Right now, we're working on how to set ourselves up well to enter into the market. Through Villgro, we have learned how to work in a way that honors deadlines. The constant communication and a constant tabs that Villgro keeps on us to be able to work within deadlines and also be able to move faster. Villgro has built built our team in terms of both intrinsic and extrinsic ways.

We think that Villgro is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to promoting innovations in Africa. They have a vision that all startup innovation companies would benefit from tapping into. We have really progressed since starting with Villgro and we hope that we can continue to strengthen this bond.