Startup Kijenzi using 3D printing to deliver medical equipment to Kenya

February 05, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — From Penn State’s University Park campus to remote medical facilities in rural Kenya, tech startup Kijenzi is developing solutions to deliver medical equipment using a surprising method — 3D printing. Broken machinery, outdated supply chains, and limited access to specialty equipment leaves Kenyan clinics with huge challenges in bringing health care to those in need. Kijenzi is hoping to change that.

Developed in the Penn State College of Engineering, Kijenzi’s original concept was to create an easily moveable 3D printer to quickly produce health equipment like braces, clamps and vacuum pumps at low cost. By working in the Kenyan community, the inventors soon realized the lack of 3D printers wasn’t the problem. What was really needed was access to the CAD design files needed to print the equipment. This changed the teams's focus from printing, to developing a system that allows hospitals to have access to these files and to trained people to print the parts.

The cloud-based system bypasses the traditionally slow and cost-prohibitive medical supply chains. Clinics in Kenya using the Kijenzi system can now produce or “print” the equipment they need, when they need it.

“Our customers are health care facilities that don’t have access to the supply chains they need and over 40 percent don’t have the equipment needed to treat their patients. We bring the ability to locally manufacture what they need, when they need it. That is a game changer for access to treatment,” said John K. Gershenson, director of the Penn State Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) program and the co-founder of Kijenzi.

Along with co-founder Benjamin Savonen, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering, and other students who joined the team along the way, Gershenson grew and developed the idea with the help a number of entrepreneurial support programs at Penn State. The first was the Penn State Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship program, which challenges students and faculty to create technology-based solutions that will directly impact people in lower income communities around the world, and then to develop sustainable business models to deliver these technologies to the people.

The Kijenzi team also participated in the Ben Franklin Technology Center’s TechCelerator program, a partnership with Invent Penn State that offers startups business support and entrepreneurial resources all in one location.

“The TechCelerator gave us the time and feedback we needed to craft the story of Kijenzi in such a way that everyone could understand what we are doing,” said Gershenson.

The 10-week TechCelerator program includes one-on-one mentoring sessions and education on a variety of topics entrepreneurs need to know to take their product to market — trademarks, business models, financials, distribution channels and more.

The Kijenzi team previously pitched their idea in the IdeaMakers Challenge, a semester-long project that culminated with a five-minute pitch to a panel of expert judges during Penn State Startup Week. Competing against six other teams, Kijenzi finished in second place and gained valuable feedback.

The group also won first place and a $6,000 prize in Penn State’s 2018 Smeal College of Business Supply Chain Pitch Contest.

The Kijenzi system has the potential to impact many people lacking access to necessary medical equipment in Kenya and around the world. Kijenzi has already had requests for nearly 400 different parts in its system. It has wide-reaching implications for medical education and other institutional uses as well.

After significant testing and collaborating, Kijenzi is now preparing to launch an initial program (its MVP) in Kenya this May.

For more information on Kijenzi, contact info@kijenzi.com; to reach out to the HESE program, email HESE@psu.edu.

Last Updated February 07, 2019