Linus Liang, co-founder of Embrace, is one of the Grinnell Social Justice Prize winners and has been on campus this week interacting with Grinnell students. Emma Sinai-Yunker sat down with him for a Q&A about his experience with Grinnell and its community.
What is Embrace and how does it work?
Embrace was founded in 2008. We are a non-profit that builds and develops a low cost infant incubator for developing countries. Normally, incubators cost $20,000 and ours cost 1 percent of that. I co-founded this and we’ve been doing it for the past couple of years. The idea came from a class project, so we went from a class project to a company to a product and now we’re distributing it around the world. It’s been a long journey.
What does this prize mean for you and Embrace?
It means a lot to me. We’ve been doing this for such a long time and it’s great to have support and motivation to keep going because there are a lot of hardships. I moved from the USA to India, which is a very difficult place to do business. There were a lot of challenges. We’re doing something that is very new, innovative and hasn’t been done before. There are not a lot of role models and not a lot of people to really bounce ideas off of. So it’s very challenging and there were a lot of things that came up along the way. It’s hard, sometimes, to continue on and what really motivates us and continues to drive us is support from people: support from our donors, support from the families we affect, from everyone from the community. It shows that there is support out there that people do care about what we’re doing, that do share the same passions for what we’re doing. It means a lot to us, and the money can be used to push us forward and continue our mission.
How did it feel to win? What was that process like?
It was amazing to win. It was such a great opportunity, such a great environment and community, network to be a part of. We didn’t expect anything. We had lost so many competitions. The first year we did this, we applied for hundreds of grants and all these different things and we never got any. But really that helped us; it really drove us. We reiterated our business plan to make it better, to make it more solid, to talk to more people, to really make something a lot better than we first went out with. To win is such a great honor.
Do you think you and Grinnell are a good match?
It’s amazing. The students here are so motivated. They ask a lot of intelligent questions, more than I would when I was an undergrad. These kids are just so passionate and so smart and it shows that they really want to do this and really care. I think that the concept, and the idea behind the prize, is very very unique too. We definitely match well and it’s something that is a good fit. Hopefully we’ll work together more to go further with the company and get the student body engaged. Hopefully we’re inspirational and students will do similar projects.
Are you considering internships?
We’re always looking for internships and we’ve been talking about how we can build an internship and match students potentially with things we’re looking for. It’s good how the community, and the Grinnell network, is very interested in supporting us and pushing it forward.
Do you have any advice for students?
The biggest thing that I learned from this that I think people should take away is that a team of people or one person can really make a difference. It’s very inspirational for us to see other companies do this or to be inspired by other people. When you’re a student, the world is sort of just opening up. Opportunities and things you can do are very limited because you haven’t seen everything yet. And to see other people do that and have that confidence builds a lot and inspires. Without my team members, or without examples, I’d never believe I could do this. I’ve never done a medical device before, I’ve never done something that people put their child in before. It’s incredible what we’ve done, and sometimes it’s hard to believe it. I mean, I’m just some dude, right? I didn’t spend my whole life researching medical devices, it just kind of fell into me and I was very passionate about it. As long as you have the passion and you have the drive, you can really make great impact in this world.