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Jane Chen '00 Wins Inspirational Young Alumna Award for Innovative Incubator Invention

After years of research and testing, Jane Chen ’00 and her colleagues in April held the product launch for Embrace, an innovative infant warmer designed to save the lives of vulnerable babies. For Embrace CEO and co-founder Chen, the moment could not have come too soon.

Each year, more than 20 million premature and low-birth-weight babies are born worldwide. Four million die in the first month of life because their internal organs are underdeveloped and the babies don’t have enough fat to regulate their body temperature.

At $200, the Embrace infant warmer is a fraction of the $20,000 cost of a traditional incubator. Resembling a tiny sleeping bag, the device uses a pouch of a wax-like substance that can be heated to keep the babies warm for four to six hours at normal human body temperature.

The ingenious product has attracted widespread attention for Chen, who has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and a segment on ABC News. She was selected as a fellow at TEDIndia--the influential conference of global movers and shakers--and as the recipient of Pomona’s Inspirational Young Alumni Award for 2011, which honors young alumni in recognition of dedication, perseverance and consistency in following their vision of the inscription on the College Gates: "They only are loyal to this college who departing, bear their added riches in trust for mankind."

At Pomona, Chen, a psychology major, mentored at-risk high school students and spent a semester abroad in Nanjing, which kindled her interest in working internationally. After graduation, she headed to Hong Kong as a management consultant. After reading about villages hard hit by AIDS in China, she became a program director at a startup nonprofit that funded and operated projects in education and care for children and adults impacted by AIDS. “I learned that it was possible, through a series of small steps, to effect social change in a very big way,” says Chen.

She returned to earn an M.B.A. and a master’s in public policy in a joint program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Embrace emerged from a 2007 class project at Stanford, where Chen, along with Linus Liang, Nag Murty and Rahul Panicker--classmates with backgrounds in engineering, business, public policy, entrepreneurship and computer science--created the prototype after a trip to Kathmandu, Nepal, where they witnessed the immense need firsthand.

Based in Bangalore, India, Embrace plans to expand its distribution into other countries throughout South Asia, China, Kenya and Uganda and eventually develop additional affordable medical technologies.

“To save lives, it’s incredibly rewarding,” says Chen.