Babies and Bicycles: How Neopenda and Cycle Connect Are Pivoting to Fight COVID-19

Guest Blog

There’s a saying in East Africa, “You can’t turn the wind, so turn the sail.” Social enterprises Cycle Connect in Uganda and Neopenda, which operates in Uganda and the United States, are doing just that.

Neopenda Shifts Vital Signs Monitoring from Newborns to COVID Patients

Guest Blog by Sona Shah, CEO & Co-founder, Neopenda | 2017 GSBI Participant

Neopenda is an innovative technology company focused on underserved and emerging markets. We’re also a group of passionate problem solvers committed to improving healthcare where it’s needed most.

Our neoGuard™ technology is a vital signs monitoring (VSM) system that has been carefully designed and tested in accordance with international standards for safety and efficacy, and with feedback from more than 400 health workers in Uganda and the United States. Our affordable, wearable neoGuard device continuously measures four key vital signs: pulse rate, oxygen saturation, respiration rate, and temperature. Data is wirelessly transmitted to our application on a phone or a tablet where a patient can be monitored remotely or within a clinical setting.

While neoGuard was initially designed to serve critically ill newborns, the Neopenda team sensed an urgent need to modify our solution for pediatric and adult patients as COVID-19 spread rapidly among communities where health systems are not prepared to deal with a pandemic of this scale. Our team has swiftly pivoted on a number of fronts to meet the challenge, including:

    • Adopting neoGuard’s hardware and software to shift from neonatal ICU monitoring to monitoring adults in the hospital and sheltering at home.
    • Designing clinical trials and building research collaborations to measure the impact of neoGuard in the unique context created by COVID-19.
    • Ensuring the accuracy of our VSM algorithms both on a wide variety of patients and at different locations on the body.
    • Forming new partnerships and opportunities to meet the demand for critical medical equipment.
    • Building higher volumes of products faster and setting up secondary supply chains to make Neopenda resilient in the face of emergencies.

Neopenda has already deployed neoGuard at one American hospital for the monitoring of COVID-19-positive patients. And we’re working tirelessly toward equipping many more healthcare workers in the US and Uganda with this vital tool in the fight against the virus.

From our team at Neopenda, stay healthy and safe!


Cycle Connect Provides Emergency Loans and Bicycles to Support Last-Mile Communities During Lockdown

Guest Blog by Molly Burke, CEO & Co-founder, Cycle Connect | 2019 GSBI participant

Cycle Connect is a social enterprise in Uganda that is entirely focused on increasing income and improving livelihoods for rural households living in the last mile. In July 2019, our team began our fiscal year excited for the new year and the journey to come. We were eager to reach more rural families with our products, anticipating all the ways our team would grow, and hopeful for the ways our existence would improve livelihoods in the last mile. We are still committed to all of these things, though we recognize that COVID-19 has rapidly changed what the rest of 2020 and beyond will look like.

The adaptive, agile, and responsive culture of our team allowed us to act fast in the face of COVID-19. We adapted our operations to launch a call center that communicates critical Coronavirus information, began donating bicycles to healthcare workers, and started developing a new loan to ensure food security for rural families.

The adaptive and responsive nature of our team is not new but can be seen through the journey our enterprise has taken. Cycle Connect originally began when we saw a huge void in transportation for people living in Uganda’s most rural areas and so we set out as a lease-to-own bicycle distributor for rural Ugandans. However, we soon realized that we could do more to empower the smallholder farmers who were our customers. We discovered that the financing of income-generating assets was a powerful tool that could unlock access and opportunity. Today, our portfolio includes oxen and plow, ag-processors, and motorcycles in addition to bicycles to further help farmers mechanize.

Fast forward to the global pandemic we all face today… 

In March, before the government of Uganda even imposed remote work, we led our team to be repurposed from a field-based one to that of a remote support call center providing vital and timely information. Within 48 hours, our officers were ready to go with call scripts and our research team auditing the process. 

Hearing hundreds of our clients share the same challenge of being unable to access seeds, we knew we had to act. This led to our team rapidly designing a seed loan to help farmers plant and provide for their families through the lockdown. This is new to us, but we adapted.

cycle connect infographicBy interviewing medical clinics in our community, we discovered transport is a top challenge amidst lockdown and is causing first responders to not make it to the front-lines. This led our team to donate 110 bicycles to healthcare clinics in our community. Bicycles are quite literally one of the only ways for nurses to get to health centers to treat vulnerable patients.

I am a firm believer that our network has made us — and the communities we work with — ever more resilient, and now is when I feel that most. And I am grateful for our partners, like Miller Center, who are helping us ensure that distance is not a barrier to access and opportunity, even through these trying times.