Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo Discusses His Groundbreaking Company at NECA 2018 Philadelphia

Toward the end of his speech at the Opening General Session at the NECA Convention and Trade Show in Philadelphia, Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo talked about the “moral failures” of every generation. He believes that, in 50 years, future generations will look back at our society today and see a world where basic medical supplies were not provided to a large portion of the population. His company is taking revolutionary steps to change that.

Zipline, quite simply, is a company that uses unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver basic medical supplies, including blood products, to remote hospitals that cannot otherwise be reached. In countries such as Rwanda, something as trivial as a muddy road can completely derail any mission to get supplies to a hospital and save a patient’s life.

Rinaudo’s company has set up a distribution center in Rwanda that now serves a majority of hospitals in the country. (This is part of an arrangement with the Rwandan government.) Hospitals place an order with the distribution center, which then prepares the shipment and places it on an aircraft. The craft then flies to its destination, dropping the product precisely where it’s needed, and then returns to the distribution center in one piece, ready to be used again.

Rinaudo said that, in the last year, Zipline has made about 2,800 life-saving emergency deliveries. The Zipline distribution center is staffed 100 percent by Rwandan employees. Many of these staffers tend to have backgrounds as electricians. As Rinaudo said, they were looking for people who have experience building things.

In many ways, this technology has vaulted Rwanda past many developed countries that rely on existing infrastructure to make these deliveries. With Zipline, the rules are completely different.

“You don’t need any infrastructure whatsoever to receive an instant delivery of a medical product that can save a patient’s life,” he said.

Zipline continues to expand. On top of opening a second distribution center in Rwanda that will now enable the company to serve the entire country, it is looking to expand to Ghana. And, potentially, the United States, since many rural areas—e.g., Native American reservations—suffer from similar issues in terms of access to medical supplies. Furthermore, there is great potential of this technology to provide aid in the aftermath of hurricanes and other natural disasters.

“[The company’s mission] is to make every clinic in the world into the Mayo Clinic,” Rinaudo said.

More notes from the Opening General Session:

NECA President David Long began the session by talking about his first year in the role, as well as the association’s new vision to empower lives and communities. He also gave a tribute to NECA CEO John Grau, who will be retiring in 2019.

“John has been with me every step of the way,” Long said. “John has been a true friend to me, and I have always felt his presence.”

Following, Grau gave a speech reflecting on his time with NECA, likening his role to that of a college football coach.

Finally, the Academy of Electrical Contracting—which is celebrating its 50th anniversary—introduced its 19 new fellows. A video explored the growth of the academy over its first 50 years and its importance to NECA’s mission.

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