The CEO of D-Rev, Krista Donaldson, showing off the NGO’s prosthetic knee | TED Conference

There are many companies and NGOs in the health sector that don’t think about profit, but about getting their products to those who need them most. D-Rev is one of those, and is trying to improve health conditions in developing countries. So what’s its story?

D-Rev (Design Revolution) started in 2007 with the objective of designing and developing medical products for people who live on less than $4 (3.5 euros) per day, explained CEO Krista Donaldson in an interview.

In her own words, “We design products that customers often view as unconventional, because when a lot of companies talk about serving emerging markets, what they really mean is that they are catering to people with higher incomes in emerging markets.” Interestingly, Donaldson had no experience in the health sector, but she has worked in parts of the world with big challenges, including several years in Kenya designing water pumps for farmers.

D-Rev works to reduce the costs of certain products for low income populations. One example is a phototherapy treatment. In the United States it would cost about $3,500 (over 3,100 euros), while with D-Rev and their target population the cost stays at $400 (about 354 euros). In this way they have managed to save many Indian babies from jaundice, by shining a soft blue light on their skin.

Another one of their star products is a prosthetic knee for amputees, for which they have reduced the cost to $80 (71 euros), when it usually costs around 6,000 (over 5,300 euros) or more. The product was the subject of a TED talk:

D-Rev workers operate “on the ground” — that is, they go directly to the places that need assistance (for instance India and Uganda) and interact with patients and physicians. One example of this fieldwork was when a team from D-Rev traveled to 20 Indian hospitals to seek the views of different doctors. The conversations resulted in a new device for phototherapy called Comet.

Once a product is designed, conversations about issues such as law and ownership rights continue. Some companies try to assist them in their work, like Autodesk, which provides free software.

Employee salaries and future projects

Based in San Francisco, D-Rev tries to pay its engineers and designers salaries on par with those of other startups in the area, although it is difficult given the nature of NGOs. “I have this frustration that the nonprofit sector pays very talented people not very much money because they have chosen this field. We try to pay people market salaries, despite the push-back from donors. I think our employees are worth even more than what we’re paying them,” said Donaldson in another interview.

For the future, D-Rev is thinking about focusing on equipment for newborns, while continuing to build its product portfolio. Their work is commendable, and a promising future awaits them. Would you like to collaborate with them? Do you know other startups like this that are working to create a better world?