Xcelerator Workshop Insights: Unexpected Pathways to Breakthrough Solutions

global health

The Xcelerator program facilitates breakthrough problem solving that has substantial implications for the creation of global innovations. Xcelerator achieves this goal through the transfer of ideas among innovation experts and participant teams. “The real shift came at the beginning of Day 2 when they challenged us to think differently,” explained Dr. Raffi Aroian, who leads a team working to develop a delivery system for the mass production of a cure for intestinal roundworms. Dr. Aroian and his team arrived at the Xcelerator workshop with clear expectations about the path they would take to generate a potent, inexpensive, and non-toxic cure compatible with global distribution. “On Day 1 we came up with the same old plan and then they did an exercise in the beginning of Day 2 that allowed us to begin pulling that apart.”

Encouraged by the business strategy experts leading the workshop, the team began to think beyond the options they had previously considered. One workshop leader urged that, “The goal is to put something out there and to have a product; it’s not just about continuing to do research.” This point underscored “that [the innovations do not] have to be perfect … and if you try to do it all at once, it won’t work that way.” As Dr. Aroian stated, “We wanted 100 percent efficacy, and that’s not realistic. Let’s get it out there in a way that works. Even if we get you something that doesn’t do [what we expect] at first, it’s moving us in that direction.” This notion inspired the team to map out a staggered approach to product development and marketing that would require less time and expense upfront.

This new thinking was further affected by exchanges with other teams at the workshop. “It was tremendous. The two most important interactions that occurred there took place with groups I wouldn’t have predicted. There was a group working on the same parasites we were … [but] that wasn’t as important [as] the group [that was] manufacturing and selling sanitary pads in Kenya.” This team helped teach Dr. Aroian “that even the poorest girl in Kenya can be marketed [to]… That was a really critical piece of information. We’ve been told these people are too poor to do anything, but if they can afford a sanitary pad, they can afford [other personal items] … that allow them to be responsible for taking care of themselves.” Exposure to another team developing family planning solutions further inspired Dr. Aroian to consider a delivery system with less arduous and costly regulatory stipulations.

Instigated by their interactions with Xcelerator leaders and participants, the team formulated a strategic plan over the course of three days. It entailed changes in practically every aspect of their project, including regulatory practices, target populations, sales and distribution channels, rollout timetables and strategies, development budgets, and profit margins. “What we took away is a better idea of how to develop and widely distribute our [technology] in a manner that would make it financially viable with wide distribution.” For Dr. Aroian’s team, Xcelerator catalyzed a fundamental transformation in a project vision that came about through a combination of program elements, including flexible and accessible tools, hands-on planning practices, and innovation professionals who shared expertise in an array of strategic marketing solutions. Along with serendipitous moments between different project teams, the results were transformative.