Panicker and Murty, both IIT graduates, are the first Indians to win The Economist Innovation Award after Sam Pitroda in 2006 and N R Narayana Murthy in 2007, city- based Embrace Innovations said in a statement.
Now in their 12th year, the Innovation Awards recognise significant contributions in eight fields: Bioscience, Computing and Telecommunications, Consumer Products, Energy and Environment, Process and Services, Social and Economic, No Boundaries, and Corporate.
According to the World Health Organisation, of the 15 million premature and low-birth-weight babies born each year, three million die within the first month -- about 340 every hour. In well-resourced settings, vulnerable babies unable to maintain their own body temperature are kept in incubators. However, they require a constant supply of electricity and trained personnel to operate; not to mention their high price.
The statement said the four co-founders had taken on the challenge of developing an alternative solution, as part of a class project at Stanford University's design school. They developed an infant warmer technology that can help reduce neonatal deaths in rural areas in the developing world.
The company has since developed two versions of this innovation: Embrace Nest, and Embrace Care. The Embrace Nest, meant for use in hospitals, needs only intermittent electricity, is portable and intuitive to use, and can be used by the mother's bedside. As opposed to traditional incubators that can cost in the lakhs, the Embrace Nest costs around Rs 15,000.
The Embrace Care works with no electricity -- periodically using hot water and is intuitive enough to be used by a healthcare worker or village mother in a home setting, the statement said.
Over 39,000 babies in a dozen countries have already benefitted from this lifesaving innovation, it said. In India, this device is currently being used in settings ranging from Manipal Hospitals, and Christian Medical College and Hospital (CMC), Vellore to primary healthcare centres in remote villages of Karnataka and Rajasthan.
Jane Chen and Rahul Panicker continue to be full time members of the leadership team, while Linus Liang and Naganand Murty have moved on, it said.