EpiTent is a humanitarian tent designed to improve the wellbeing of heath care workers and increase the comfort of patients. During the Ebola outbreak, healthcare workers were placed in extreme conditions - they wore heavy personal protective equipment and were under intense, stressful conditions while working long hours. Additionally, they were tending to highly infectious patients in fully closed off and isolated treatment units which created extremely hot working environments.
The multidisciplinary EpiTent team consists of engineers, doctors, artists, social scientists and specialists in Public Health who sit within the ResilientAfrica Network at Makerere University’s School of Public Health in Kampala Uganda. The core value proposition of the EpiTent is two-fold: 1) decrease temperature in the tent by 6-8 degrees Celsius without active assistance from fans or air conditioners and 2) improve a sense of comfort for patients and healthcare workers by adding window level mesh bands to connect with the outside world and consequently reducing social exclusion particularly faced by the patients whenever the tent is deployed as an isolation facility. With support from the Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge, the team took an initial concept and developed three different iterations of a functional steel prototype for testing and refinement.
The EpiTent team successfully developed a promising prototype that significantly decreased the ambient temperature in their tent, compared with the standard humanitarian tent, and were planning next steps to take it to market. The engagement with the EpiTent team included performing product functional tests, realigning the team and organizational structures, prioritizing near-term and long-term activities, and building a path to commercialization. Through this collaboration, the EpiTent team defined a product strategy and the most promising market entry opportunities for the product. Stakeholder interviews were conducted in Conakry, Guinea to understand the needs in the broader health ecosystem, and speak to purchasers, INGOs, and Ministry of Health Officials. The EpiTent’s current value proposition & feature sets were tested and refined with local stakeholders in Guinea. These discussions provided insights into broader system needs as well as the starting point for initial discussions with partners for potential pilot opportunities in key markets moving forward.
Immersion: gathering insights
In our research with the team, many potential use cases were investigated through research sprints coupled with brainstorming sessions. This helped the team understand the different use case scenarios, and study the different specifications such as life span, dimension, privacy, security, and cultural appropriateness. Looking at other use cases in crisis response and general healthcare, researching further refugee housing, rapid response for screening, referral and treatment units, and surge capacity for major public hospitals was recommended. Although different use cases had distinctive objectives and needs related to shelters, such as how to restore a family’s sense dignity while living in transitional housing, the focus on passive temperature reduction was a consistent value proposition and differentiator for EpiTent. However, new requirements emerged from research such as the need to support modular sizes to adapt to different scenarios, a feature that the EpiTent did not currently have. By focusing on those two aspects, the EpiTent could have wider applicability for markets that need temporary shelter to support other use cases.
Research: identifying opportunities for system improvements
Insights were investigated at all levels of the health system, certain user groups emerged as critical to the research. The needs of laborers who assemble the tent structures with little training and preparation were prioritized and observation methods were applied to assess the construction process. This included a form of activity analysis called assembly testing in which 12-14 workers were observed constructing a new tent from scratch, starting with joining galvanized steel members to attaching multiple layers of the tarpaulin and the reflective radiant heat materials for cooling. A time-lapse study was recorded of the assembly process so that each stage could be analyzed in detail looking for gaps and opportunities. As an outcome of the assembly test, it was found, for example, that raising the roof is the step that requires the most people, due to its heavy weight. Recommendations were provided to address a range of design issues, from the construction of the roof to durability for repeated assembly and disassembly, ease of assembly for non-experts, and packaging for shipping of the materials.
Concepting: testing and refining core product features
Insights from the research were used to inform a more explicit product strategy for EpiTent. This strategy included an EpiTent product review, in which we assessed the appropriateness of the current product claims and value proposition against a broad range of use cases. A product requirements document was developed to limit “feature creep”, a common condition with innovators in which they continue to add bells and whistles to their original product that do not directly support the product’s core value proposition.
A 'Product-Market Fit' workshop was held, to align on the core product features necessary to meet market needs and deliver the maximum value to the customer. To be competitive in the crowded tent market, it was recommended to focus on improving thermal performance as the core value proposition while reducing cost to manufacture.
These requirements allowed for agreement on a minimum viable product, which stripped down EpiTent to the smallest number of features required for market testing and to support a quantifiable set product claims.
Strategy: defining the product roadmap & business case
This project then supported EpiTent team to develop a six month roadmap to guide product development. In the near term, the EpiTent team will focus on refining the core features and value proposition to match the MVP concept that we developed for the product in the Concepting phase. Through these recommendations, the EpiTent team can continue with market validation and further pilots that focus on generating initial sales of the product. In parallel, the team will begin to look into a long-term strategy based on CII’s “Pathways to Scale” guide. A key component of this plan will involve choosing the right licensing partner to take the EpiTent to market and achieve Makerere’s social impact goals and business goals. Some initial guidance was provided on how to choose the right licensing partner, structure the right terms that are mutually beneficial, and preserve goals related to impact, profitability, and capability building.