Jane Chen didn't set out to save thousands of premature babies in developing countries when she went to Stanford Business School. However, she is doing exactly that after finding her calling from a business school project. Jane went on to co-found Embrace Innovations and Little Lotus Baby.  The Embrace infant warmer is saving the lives of infants in the developing world, and now the Little Lotus products will help parents keep their little ones at the right temperature.

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What is your philosophy when it comes to your career path?

To align my personal values with public impact. I've had jobs before where I performed, to any average onlooker, "successfully." But I wasn't matching my ambitions with the type of social impact I wanted to make, to substantially improve quality of life for people in less fortunate corners of the world. That changed with Embrace Innovations, and now Little Lotus Baby.

I believe people should dedicate their careers to what thy feel most passionately about. I also believe what Paulo Coehlo says in The Alchemist - "when you truly believe something, the universe will conspire to help you achieve it."

Your educational background includes a Masters in Public Administration and an MBA. Would you recommend the same to someone interested in following your path? Why or why not?

I think it's different for everyone, but I can definitely say that a class I took at Stanford for my MBA, called "Design for Innovation,"dramatically shaped my path. In many ways, that single course created my professional calling.

In it, my classmates and I were tasked with creating a baby incubator that cost 1% of a traditional incubator, since this equipment is often unaffordable and unattainable in the developing world. We invented a prototype for our version, and after several rounds of testing, the Embrace infant warmer was a reality. To date, it has helped over 150,000 preterm babies in the developing world.

I think for those who want to make social change, having business skills is critical to do this, so I definitely recommend doing the MBA. At the same time, given our work in healthcare and emerging markets, working with governments and within public policy is also critical. So having a combination of these two degrees has definitely been helpful.

Have you found that being an Asian woman has helped/hindered you in anyway in your field? How?

I think there are folks who believe Asian women are meek, or not aggressive enough - and I have felt that stereotype at times. I remember in the early days of Embrace, I met a potential funder who, after a short meeting, decided that my male colleague should be the CEO rather than me because he had more leadership potential. At the time, I didn't realize I was being discriminated against. I took it very personally. In retrospect, it's easier for me to see what actually happened. I think it's important to know that biases exist, and not to take those personally - but to believe in yourself, and your capabilities, and to let your work speak for itself. I'm lucky to have had a founding team, advisors and board members who were incredibly supportive of me, and have believed in me every step of the way.

How did Little Lotus Baby come about?

My friends having babies are always voicing their concerns about keeping their baby at the right temperature. It's tough to know, especially with newborns, since infants can easily become too hot or too cold and can't communicate that to us. This is especially concerning to new parents because Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) has been linked to babies overheating.

I realized we had the exact technology to help these mothers, and on top of that, I wondered if there was a way I could align these mothers with the larger mission of Embrace Innovations. So the seed for Little Lotus Baby was planted: my team and I started having talks about a consumer version of our swaddle that we could sell right here in the U.S., where a portion of proceeds would go toward helping infants in the developing world through a Toms Shoes-like model.

Last spring, we kicked off a fundraising campaign and now, Little Lotus Baby products --whose full line includes a swaddle, sleeping bag, and blanket that uses a proprietary phase-change material to keep babies at the right temperature -- ships in October. The best part about the product is that parents have been telling us their babies are sleeping better with it!

What have you found to be the biggest hurdle in bringing the Embrace infant warmer, and now the Little Lotus, into production?

Funding, both to bring the Embrace warmer to commercial market and to expand its reach and impact around the world. Little Lotus Baby IS our latest funding solution, and this past spring we ran a successful Kickstarter to get it going. The company acts like the Toms Shoes of baby products, where for each Little Lotus Baby product sold, we help a baby with the Embrace infant warmer.

Who or what has inspired you most? Why?

One of the most inspiring stories of my journey has been that of Nathan, a tiny baby, born at just under two pounds. He was abandoned on a road in central China just after his birth and the odds were so severely stacked against him that he shouldn't have survived at all. Miraculously, he was discovered by an orphanage (Little Flower Orphanage), with whom we had just launched a program a few days earlier. They had an Embrace Warmer on-hand, which they kept Nathan in for 30 days. Thanks to the warmer and Little Flower's loving care, this infant survived! It was the first time a baby of that size had survived in the orphanage, and when I went to visit him at seven months old, I found a healthy, interactive baby boy.

Visiting the orphanage and meeting Nathan for the first time made a huge impact on me. It was amazing to witness the strength and resilience of this little boy, who fought for his life and survived. A few months later, I received an email from a family in Chicago telling us they had adopted Nathan. Nathan now has a family. It was one of the happiest days in this journey, and honestly, in my life. Nathan is now 3 years old.

Here's a video we need in partnership in Clinique that might be helpful with this question, too: https://thescene.com/watch/vogue/clinique-smart-ideas-ted-jane-chen-partnership

Is there one piece of advice that you seem to find yourself always following? What would that be?

I think it would be to be clear about and to stay rooted in your values, in WHY you do what you do. It would also be to never give up - to not get discouraged by failure. Starting Embrace Innovations (and moving to India to launch the company) was tremendously challenging. There were many moments where I wanted to give up. And in those moments, I would always think my purpose - about why I was doing what I was doing - and it would give me the courage to keep going. I always advise people: stick with your vision, and don't compromise to do what's easier. Don't be afraid to do what you are passionate about.


 
SEPT+OCT 2015

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