January 2013

Open Minds 2013 Team: Ligadon

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Each year there are over 300,000 ligament and tendon injuries in the US. These involve partial or complete lacerations that are sutured together, but as the tendon/ligament stretches, high tension often tears the sutures through the tissue. Torn tissue results in pain, increased healing time, and often requires repeated surgeries.  Ligadon provides a simple and more effective device for ligament and tendon recombination. Ligadon equally distributes tension along either end of the ligament/tendon, preventing the tissue from tearing under strain and eliminating current failure modes.

View their video:


Open Minds 2013 Team: CleanNG

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Fuel storage capacity, range and costs have been the main deterrents to the adoption of natural gas as an alternative fuel choice in America. Part of the problem is the typical natural gas fuel storage system found in vehicles; prior to advancements in composites and designs, tanks were made of steel, were very heavy and dangerous if exploded due to scrap metal debris. Advancements over the years have allowed for higher pressure (and thus greater storage capacity and range), but have usually resulted in additional cost or added weight.

CleanNG LLC is developing a new natural gas fuel storage system that could solve these issues. The solution, a higher-pressure storage vessel constructed using innovative, mineral-based composite materials, can hit the target service pressure of 5800 psi compared to standard 3600. By increasing pressure, more fuel can be stored in a smaller space, thus reducing the size and increasing capacity. The team’s innovation is the material (mineral fiber reinforced plastic which mimics carbon fiber) and the use of several composite manufacturing techniques (including braiding and filament winding to enhance strength).

CleanNG also is currently participating in the VillageCapital/VentureWell program.

View their video:


Open Minds 2013 Team: FastStitch

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Approximately 9-19% of 4-5 million open abdominal surgeries each year result in postoperative complications,  costing the health care system $2.5 billion per year. The main cause of these complications is improper closure of the fascia, a layer of muscle underneath the skin that protects the internal organs. Currently, fascia closure is performed with the traditional combination of suture and needle. This method requires surgeons to roughly estimate suture placement across the incision, leading to uneven placement, compromised closure integrity, and exposure of the internal organs to a sharp needle.
To address these issues, Team Archon Medical designed the FastStitch, a mechanical suturing device that will better uphold the integrity of the fascia layer. FastStitch is a plier-like device that can drive and transfer a needle across its jaw. To use the device, the surgeon places the fascia between its jaws, squeezes the handle, and toggles a switch to transfer the needle across the layer. The needle is protected in the process, eliminating exposure to the intestines. This allows surgeons can close fascia more safely, easily, and consistently.

Archon Medical's FastStitch also took Second Prize in the 2012 BMEStart competition.

View their video:


Open Minds 2013 Video Competition

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And the winner is …



The $1500 Open Minds video competition prize was presented to MaxQ LLC on Friday, March 22 at NCIIA's annual conference.

First place, with 540 votes


Oklahoma State University

A series of multi-use, lightweight, insulated shipping containers with much larger maximum usable volume, higher insulation rating and higher impact resistance than current containers.

First place, with 540 votes.

THANK YOU to all who participated in this year's competition!

Started in 2010, the Open Minds annual video competition allows teams to spread the word about their innovations to a wide range of audiences leading up to and beyond the Open Minds exhibition. This year our distinguished panel of judges selected the top five Open Minds teams based on originality, creativity, and pitch delivery; and you voted for your favorites!

Congratulations to all of our finalists

Second place, with 468 votes


Massachusetts Institute of Technology

A platform for using text-messaging technology to survey communities in developing countries via mobile phones.

Second place, with 468 votes.

Third place, with 156 votes

HESE Affordable Greenhouses

Pennsylvania State University

Affordable, easy-to-build greenhouse kits designed for small farmers in Africa.

Third place, with 156 votes.

MAID (Magnetically Assisted Intubation Device)

Georgia Institute of Technology

A device that simplifies the intubation procedure by using a system of magnets to guide the endotracheal tube into the trachea.


Massachusetts Institute of Technology

A micro-franchised network of low-cost sanitation centers designed specifically for urban slums.

Congratulations to our semifinalists

Assured Safety Drill

Harvard University

A handheld, portable, and reliably safe drilling device that can create holes in the skull with any size drill bit.

AssureFit Chest Tube Stabilization Device

Clemson University

A device designed to increase stability and reduce the risk of dislodgment for chest tube insertions.


Oklahoma State University

A new natural gas fuel storage system that allows more fuel to be stored in a smaller space.


University of Notre Dame

A safe, affordable, permanent housing solution for the developing world consisting of lightweight, earthquake- and hurricane-resistant concrete panels.

Archon Medical

Johns Hopkins University

A device that helps surgeons close the wound created by open abdominal surgery more safely, easily, and consistently.


University of Utah

A more effective solution for ligament and tendon recombination surgeries that prevents tissue from tearing under strain.

Project Gado

Johns Hopkins University

An inexpensive archival scanning robot that can automatically lift fragile images, place them on a scanner, and scan them into a database at full archival-quality resolution.


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

An economical and efficient way of removing perchlorate from water in point-of-use treatment units such as pitchers or faucet filters.


NCIIA’s Xcelerator program supports global innovators to create groundbreaking technologies to solve problems that challenge the lives of people in the developing world.

Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development 

Designed originally in partnership with USAID and The Lemelson Foundation for Saving Lives at Birth grantees, the Xcelerator Training Program supports innovative approaches to helping pregnant women and newborns in the high-risk period leading up to and immediately following birth, which is the riskiest time for mothers and infants in the world’s poorest places.

Participants include a team from Rice University that has reduced the price of an essential treatment for babies suffering from respiratory distress from $6,000 to $160; a Columbia University-Rwandan partnership to deploy a low-cost diagnostic device for HIV and syphilis that requires only one drop of blood; and a team from Australia developing a needle-free, non-refrigerated treatment for postpartum hemorrhage.

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE)– The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In 2014, NCIIA will produce three Xcelerator workshops as a pilot program for Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE), an initiative of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMFG). GCE engages scientists worldwide to expand the pipeline of innovative ideas to meet global health challenges.

BMGF and The Lemelson Foundation are partnering to providing support for Xcelerator for GCE grantees.

Learn more about the Xcelerator training

Watch our training videos:
Intro to Strategy Mapping Video
Context Analysis Training Video
Exit Strategy Training Video

Suggested reading:
Africa - Promise And Progress
Scaling-up Aid

For more information, contact:
Laura Sampath
Global Training Programs Manager

Xcelerator resources




Achieving Appropriate Design
Michael J. Free 

Real Good, Not Feel Good.
A Brief Guide to High-Impact Philanthropy
Martin J Fisher, PhD
Kevin Starr, MD

Open Minds 2013 Video Competition

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The 2013 Judging Panel

Special thanks to this year's judges!

John Calvert, United States Patent and Trademark Office
John Calvert is Administrator of the Inventor Assistance Program, which includes inventor outreach and university outreach initiatives. He has expanded the Inventor Assistance Program to include educational initiatives for students, inventors and small businesses and has created inventor assistance through pro bono and pro se initiatives both inside the USPTO and through working with universities and Bar organizations. Prior to being named Administrator, John was responsible for supervising as many as 25 examiners in the areas of textile technology and absorbent products. He also served as Acting Director for the Office of Independent Inventor Programs. Mr. Calvert has received numerous achievement awards, including the Department of Commerce Bronze Medal for superior Federal service and the United States Patent and Trademark Office Exceptional Career Award.


Tanya Garner-Burden, Smithsonian's National Museum of American History
Tanya is the Interpretive Exhibitions Manager for the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.  Her role includes the overall management and daily operation of the Center’s two high-profile public venues, the Spark!Lab activity center and the Lemelson Hall of Invention exhibition. These venues serve over 600,000 visitors annually and have attracted a diverse team of part-time staff, docents, interns, and youth volunteers to interpret and facilitate education activities, coordinating community outreach initiatives to foster collaborative partnerships. Tanya works with the education team to develop and implement interpretive, educational and entertainment programs for the visiting public. Tanya has enjoyed a diverse professional background spanning more than 25 years at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH), and throughout her career, she has exhibited flexibility and a zest for taking on new learning opportunities.   Since joining the Center in 1995, Tanya has served a variety of roles ranging from program producer and graphic designer to public relations and community outreach coordinator.  In addition, she has extensive experience in audience development, public relations and event planning.


Joe Palca, National Public Radio
Joe Palca is a science correspondent for NPR. Since joining NPR in 1992, Joe has covered a range of science topics — everything from biomedical research to astronomy. Joe began his journalism career in television in 1982, working as a health producer for the CBS affiliate in Washington, DC. In 1986, he left television for a seven-year stint as a print journalist, first as the Washington news editor for Nature, and then as a senior correspondent for Science Magazine. Joe has won numerous awards, including the National Academies Communications Award, the Science-in-Society Award of the National Association of Science Writers, the American Chemical Society James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public, the American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Prize, and the Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Writing. He received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California at Santa Cruz where he worked on human sleep physiology. With Flora Lichtman, Joe is the co-author of Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us (Wiley, 2011).


Dr. Robert Lemelson, The Lemelson Foundation
Robert Lemelson, Ph.D., is co-Vice President and Secretary of The Lemelson Foundation. Rob is an anthropologist who received his M.A. from the University of Chicago, and Ph.D. from the Department of Anthropology, UCLA. He was a Fulbright scholar in Indonesia in 1996-1997, has conducted research for the World Health Organization, and is additionally trained as a clinical psychologist. His area of specialty is Southeast-Asian Studies, psychological anthropology and transcultural psychiatry. He is currently a research anthropologist at the Semel Institute of Neuroscience at UCLA He is also the president and founder of The Foundation for Psychocultural Research, a non-profit research foundation supporting research and training in the neurosciences and social sciences. In addition, Dr. Lemelson is the director of Elemental Productions, a documentary film production company.


Ben Schrag, National Science Foundation
Ben Schrag joined the National Science Foundation in 2009 as a Program Director in the small business programs, with responsibility in the areas of advanced materials and nanotechnology. Prior to this, he served for four years as Director of Research and Development at Micro Magnetics, where he led a development effort to commercialize a new family of high-performance magnetic microsensor products for demanding consumer and military applications. Before this, he served as manager of the metrology group at Micro Magnetics, directing an engineering team developing a new magnetic diagnostic system for failure analysis and fault isolation in semiconductor devices. During this time, Ben also served as a visiting scientist at Brown University and as the PI on a number of federal awards, including NSF Phase I and Phase II Small Business Innovation Research projects and an Advanced Technology Program award from NIST. He received his PhD in Physics from Brown University, with a specialization in materials.

Xcelerator training program


The Xcelerator training program provides training and mentoring on entrepreneurship and commercialization to USAID and Grand Challenges grantees to increase the likelihood that their innovations will succeed. The training prepares innovators to address the complexities of implementing a new technology in the developing world and turn inventive ideas into products that have broad impact on the lives of the poorest populations.

The Xcelerator training program is implemented through the NCIIA in partnership with USAID and The Lemelson Foundation. The focal point of the eight-month program is an immersive multi-day training preceded by pre-course preparation and an assessment of the stage that each team is at in the innovation process. Following the training, teams are offered individualized team support that guides them toward their individualized scale-up strategies.


In the pre-course preparation phase, we ask teams to gather specific information about their target markets, including problem identification and competitive landscape analysis. Also in this phase, we conduct an assessment of where the teams are in their innovation pathway.

While teams are immersed in several days of training, they focus intensely on aspects of their strategy including problem framing, customer development, financial sustainability options, conducting a value chain analysis and identifying and communicating their value proposition.

Through individualized coaching and mentoring, post-training activities support the teams in refining scale-up strategies and addressing specific barriers to scale including legal frameworks, manufacturing, distribution and strategic partnerships.

Xcelerator Arusha agenda

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Sample daily agenda

Day 1
Team introductions
Pushing the “mental reset button”
Intro to strategy mapping
Framing the problem
Rapid prototyping of business models

Day 2

Financial models and additional market research
Overlay and scalability
Evaluating & iterating
Paths to scale
Day 3 Morning site visit
Developing the action plan/next steps
Day 4 Communicating the value proposition
Closing ceremony
Participant wrap up


Xcelerator training program faculty

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James Barlow,

Sara Farley,

Joel Segre,