PSU Startup Kijenzi Supplying Kenyan Communities with 3D Printed Medical Equipment

Kijenzi, a start-up from Pennsylvania State University’s College of Engineering, is using 3D printing technology to aid healthcare facilities in Kenya. The group’s initial intent was to use portable 3D printers to quickly make medical equipment such as clamps, braces, and vacuum pumps at low costs. As they began to work with facilities in Kenya, the team shifted their focus towards increasing the accessibility of 3D printable files for these remote facilities to make the technology more readily available.

Realizing that the CAD design files needed to print medical equipment were as scarce as the equipment needed to do so, Kijenzi changed their goal from supplying 3D printers to developing a cloud-based system for the files.

“Our customers are health care facilities that don’t have access to the supply chains they need and over 40% don’t have the equipment needed to treat their patients,” explained John K. Gershenson, co-founder of Kijenzi and director of the Penn State Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) program. “We bring the ability to locally manufacture what they need, when they need it. that is a game changer for access to treatment.”

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Gershenson co-founded tha Kijenzi venture alongside Benjamin Savonen, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering, HESE, and various entrepreneurial support groups offered through Penn State. Such groups allow students and faculty to envision technology-based solutions that will positively impact lower income communities via sustainable business models.

Gershenson also notes that Kijenzi was developed in part through participation in the Ben Franklin Technology Center’s TechCelerator program. “The TechCelerator gave us the time and feedback we needed to craft the story of Kijenzi in such a way that everyone could understand what we are doing,” he said. The 10-week TechCelerator program included personal mentoring sessions and education of entrepreneurial topics such as trademarks, financials, business models, and distribution channels.

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Kijenzi’s team also pitched their idea in the IdeaMakers Challenge, a one semester project that included a five-minute pitch to a panel of judges during Penn State Startup Week. Kijenzi gained valuable feedback in this exercise, finishing second out of six competing teams. The group was also awarded $6,000 in first place winnings in Penn State’s 2018 Smeal College of Business Supply Chain Pitch Contest.

While teaching in Africa, Savonen identified the need for new lab equipment. Focusing on rural areas of Kenya, 3D printing was identified as a potential solution in manufacturing equipment that is challenging to obtain, such as replacement parts, anatomical models, and occupational therapy devices.

Supply chains are often limited in their reach to rural areas with limited access to technology, and Kijenzi is addressing these limitations with their cloud-based system with roughly 400 parts in its inventory. These 3D printed pieces of equipment have been tested and utilized in collaborative educational institutes and medical facilities. Kijenzi is preparing to launch this initial program in Kenya this coming May.

Sources: 3D Printing Industry, PSU

Jack holds a biology degree from Penn State University, and has a keen interest in how new medical technologies are changing the future of healthcare. Reach out to Jack if you have a compelling story idea or with feedback about past articles.