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Simple business solutions that save lives

A young Deloitte professional embraces her entrepreneurial spirit.

Deloitte LifeHow does a company make money and grow into a sustainable venture when your customer earns less than $2 per day?

It’s a question that would frighten most entrepreneurs, but Deloitte’s Kellen Hix and her business school colleague, Zubaida Bai, are no ordinary entrepreneurs. Together, they faced and conquered many business hurdles to launch a company in Colorado focused on improving the health of women living in some of the most poverty-stricken parts of the world.

Hix, now working as a manager with Deloitte’s Markets & Offerings group as part of the Management Development Program, first met Bai while the two women were pursuing their master degrees in the Global Social & Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University. They hypothesized that a well-designed venture could both make money and address serious global issues in emerging markets. The women joined forces to develop the business plan that eventually became AYZH (pronounced “eyes”), a for-profit company that provides poor women with basic products that improve not only their health and but also their income.

"After seeing women giving birth on soiled concrete surfaces, talking with midwives, and seeing the gravity of the situation firsthand, I knew that AYZH’s purpose was incredibly important."

The genesis for the venture is based on fact: Research shows that as many as one million women and children die each year from infection-related causes during childbirth. Knowing this, Bai, an engineer by training and designer of several low-cost products in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s D-Lab, developed a birth kit that would reduce the risk of mother and infant mortality resulting from unhygienic deliveries.

Hix and Bai set out to establish a lean business model that would allow them to ramp up sales of the kit, first in India and later in Africa. Now, the AYZH business model provides products that rural consumers need, employs women in the affected areas to assemble the products, and directly aligns with one of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals: the improvement of maternal health.

“This is a hot topic in the developing world,” says Hix. “At the heart of AYZH’s mission is improving the health and livelihood of women using enterprise solutions that are financially sustainable without a need for traditional philanthropy.”

Turning an idea into reality

A trip to the Tamil Nadu state in India in the summer of 2009 opened Hix’s eyes to the terribly unhygienic conditions in which many women routinely give birth. According to Hix, “after seeing women giving birth on soiled concrete surfaces, talking with midwives, and seeing the gravity of the situation firsthand, I knew that AYZH’s purpose was incredibly important. The question was, ‘can we make it work as a business?’”

Hix’s career at Deloitte was of real benefit to her work with AYZH. “I never realized just how entrepreneurial the culture is at Deloitte until I started this project,” she says. “If you have an idea, there’s nothing stopping you from pitching it.” She adds that her colleagues have shown great support for her AYZH work. “They saw value in the experience I gained and believed it to be of benefit to my career at Deloitte.”

A native of India, Bai is well aware of the struggles rural women face in her country. She has long-sought the opportunity to help the poorest communities help themselves. “AYZH’s founder and CEO, Zubaida, is the life behind this organization. It was a dream of hers to start this company when she came to Colorado and has been her main mission for the past three years,” says Hix.

AYZH was incorporated in December 2009, and commenced operations with Bai as the CEO and Hix serving as an advisor.

Getting product to market

AYZH began its operations in southern India selling childbirth kits it calls Janma, which means ‘birth’ in Sanskrit. AYZH purchases the materials for the kits and then village women are hired by AYZH to assemble the kits.  Each Janma kit contains the basic supplies for a clean birth, including: a scalpel, medicated soap, an umbilical cord clamp, and an absorbent pad, all bundled into a reusable jute bag. The kits are then sold to pharmacies, clinics, and nongovernmental organizations throughout the region for the equivalent of $2.

To date, AYZH has sold 8,000 of its kits and recently received an order for 60,000 more. AYZH is clearly bringing benefit to women around the world. “It is exciting to see what the company has become,” Hix says. “AYZH’s work translates into lowering the risk to women’s health and saving lives. To think one can have that kind of impact with a company that started here in Colorado is quite amazing. I feel fortunate to be a part of AYZH and contribute to its success while building my career at Deloitte.”

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