Guest author

XChanges and Xcelerators: How “Saving Lives at Birth” Helps Innovators Reach the Next Level

30. May 2017

Since 2011, the Saving Lives at Birth (SL@B) Partnership has supported the development and scale of over 100 groundbreaking innovations aimed at ending newborn and maternal death around the time of birth. Our pipeline spans new and scaling technologies, scientific advancements, improved service delivery models, and innovative approaches to empower and create demand for health services. Since “Saving Lives at Birth” is grounded in the belief that significant breakthroughs in innovation often come about when new ideas and disciplines are applied to long-entrenched problems, many of the innovations are led by untraditional entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds and expertise.


Given the diversity in the stage and type of the innovation and expertise of the innovator, three driving forces have emerged that continue to shape our program’s offerings:

  1. There is immense value in peer-to-peer learning. Our innovators consistently highlight the benefits of networking, receiving feedback, and participating in group discussions amongst fellow global health innovators.
  2. Partnerships are key. Not one person or organization has the breadth of expertise necessary to scale an innovation.  Collaborations will enable and deploy stronger and more sustainable solutions.
  3. Challenges in scaling global health products and services cannot be underestimated. The process of introducing and scaling health interventions in emerging markets can be complex, lengthy, and resource intensive.  Analyses show that it can sometimes take decades for global health solutions to reach intended users[1].

With these forces in mind, Saving Lives at Birth expanded our annual DevelopmentXChange event and created an acceleration model to support our innovators.  

The Innovation Marketplace at DevelopmentXChange

The DevelopmentXChange is a key feature of the Saving Lives at Birth program, bringing together our community of innovators to network amongst themselves, with other development experts and innovators, and potential funders. Participants also engage in a series of workshops tailored to their needs such as business planning, design thinking, and monitoring and evaluation. 

Over the years, we expanded the event to include a Pitch Competition to introduce and facilitate fundraising and partnerships between private investors and our grantees, as well as numerous 1:1 mentor and partner meetings.  In 2016, we organized nearly 300 personalized partnering and mentoring meetings between multinational companies, private sector organizations, and leading experts in the fields of behavior change, marketing, distribution, and maternal and newborn health. Innovators consistently cite the networking and educational opportunities and the unification of a community working towards a common objective as extremely beneficial. This competition has  pushed their thinking and ignited “aha” moments, introducing new concepts and forming long-lasting partnerships.

Pitch Competition at the Saving Lives at Birth DevelopmentXChange
Pitch Competition at the Saving Lives at Birth DevelopmentXChange


Complementing our annual DevelopmentXChange event is our Saving Lives at Birth Xcelerator program. We have found that our innovators’ greatest strengths often lie within their technical skills, while business/sustainability modeling and delivery planning often requires more attention.  SL@B innovators are at varying stages in articulating and realizing their paths to scale and sustainability. They need assistance to help develop their business models (including identifying their paths to scale and honing and communicating their value proposition); prioritize countries, customers and beneficiaries; assess country-specific demand drivers; identify and understand their target market; and refine introduction and health system integration plans.

Thus, in response, we partnered with VentureWell, The Lemelson Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to customize an eight-month acceleration program for our innovators. The program is comprised of a four-day in-person workshop and pre- and post-workshop support and coaching, where innovators receive critical knowledge and skills, networking and partnership opportunities, and coaching/mentoring to help scale innovations in target markets.  Innovator teams exit the program with a better understanding of their market, an identified sustainability strategy, an initial plan to scale, and a prioritized action plan. 

An innovator team mapping their strategy to scale during an Xcelerator workshop
An innovator team mapping their strategy to scale during an Xcelerator workshop

So what’s next? After working with SL@B innovators for the past six years (nearly 100 teams have participated to date in workshops held in Nepal, Malawi, Tanzania, and the U.S.), VentureWell will be capturing and  sharing their learnings from the program. These learnings will be organized across five key themes: 1. innovation pathways to scale; 2. strategy development skills; 3. acceleration support models (high vs. low touch); 4. innovator team alignment; and 5. the contextualization of innovations for external markets.  Stay tuned!

By bringing diverse problem-solvers together and helping them connect the dots, we enable an inspiring and successful global community of innovators striving to ensure that no mother or newborn dies during childbirth.

Saving Lives at Birth is a partnership between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada (funded by the Government of Canada), the U.K’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).

[1] USAID, Idea to Impact: A Guide to Introduction and Scale of Global Health Innovations, 2015.

This blog is a part of the June 2017 series on advisory support for inclusive businesses in partnership with USAID and the African Agricultural Fund’s Technical Assistance Facility, both of which deliver advisory support and have new analysis of it just launched (AAF’s TAF) and forthcoming (USAID).

Read the full series for more lessons from seven different providers of advisory support and stories of success from entrepreneurs.