Maternova was founded in 2009 as a mission-driven for-profit organization with two main objectives: (1) to provide an online knowledge platform that would allow health workers, innovators, organizations, policymakers, and individuals working in the field to track tools and protocols with the potential to save lives in childbirth, and (2) to bundle and sell a select number of low-cost tools to equip frontline health workers to do their jobs more effectively.
During its first year, Maternova built an Innovation Index that tracked more than 100 products — some of which were already on the market and others that were still in development. Thousands of users from more than 150 countries visited the site to learn about affordable maternal health innovations. The organization also developed a few product bundles and made them available for sale. The earliest adopters were midwives, nurses, and “globetrotting physicians” who provide training overseas for health workers who seemed to have great difficulty easily and reliably accessing supplies.
As the site expanded, Maternova began receiving emails from entrepreneurs and small companies looking for a mechanism to help them sell and distribute their products. Without the backing of a larger company with established distribution channels, it was hard for innovators to get their solutions into the hands of the people who could benefit from them. Setting up a new sales and distribution channel to sell a single maternal health product was a daunting and expensive challenge for most young companies. They were eager to tap into a non-proprietary channel that could help them efficiently reach their target users.
This mini-case study describes the gap between buyers and sellers that Maternova uncovered in the maternal health field and explores its approach to creating a marketplace for lifesaving solutions.
This story is part of the Global Health Innovation Insight Series developed at Stanford University to shed light on the challenges that global health innovators face as they seek to develop and implement new products and services that address needs in resource-constrained settings.
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Meg Wirth for her participation. This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health grant 1 RC4 TW008781-01.