Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Big Wide World

The perks and pitfalls of being your own boss

Myshkin Ingawale, co-founder and CEO of Biosense Technologies

When I was 17, I was clueless about what I wanted to do with my life. Now I'm 27 and I am as clear as I can be - I want to a successful entrepreneur, starting and growing more than one organisation in my lifetime. Sometime over these last 10 years, I'm not exactly sure when, I made the transition from "clueless" to "clear as I can be".
I was in Bangalore recently at the Bioinvest conference, representing my startup Biosense Technologies based in Thane, India, when I it dawned on me how lucky I was to have this career clarity. At different times over those 10 years I had been an engineer, a PhD student, an academic, an MBA student and a business consultant but at no time had I felt as truly comfortable as I do now.
"Hi", I said to the different government delegates and industry association folks present at the conference, "I am Myshkin Ingawale, co-founder and CEO of a Mumbai based medical device company called Biosense Technologies. We're developing and commercialising a needle-free portable medical device for anaemia screening and monitoring. It's going to change the way you think of point-of-care, of preventive medicine. It's a revolutionary new technology, works on photoplethysmography...." I was smiling, relaxed, I was myself. It was great.
Untitled.jpgTesting ToucHb, the non-invasive device for estimating a person's haemoglobin levels. It sends data via bluetooth to an Android app on a phone, where it can be stored, analysed, shared via SMS message to the patient or via the web to an electronic health records system. (Image: Myshkin Ingawale)
What isn't so great is that we still haven't made any money, having spent the last three years developing ToucHb, our platform that estimates the amount of haemoglobin in a person's blood. Fingers crossed this situation will change from February of this year when we bring the device to market.
As a young medtech startup in the somewhat under-developed life sciences eco-system in India, there have been various challenges on our path to success. These include getting to grips with the regulatory compliance that our particular class of medical device needed and negotiating the legalities of it all, not to mention securing funding. Even apparently simple things like excise duties and trade tariffs were either murky or difficult or incomplete or all the above! 
And then there are the technical setbacks...for example, in the middle of one of the events at the Bioinvest conference, I was pulled into a call with the main R&D guy at Biosense, my friend Dr Abhishek Sen, to deal with a technical glitch in the ToucHb product: the clinical data suggested it wasn't working well on patients with jaundice but we needed more data to be sure. More data meant more time, more money and lots of changes of plan. I pulled Dr Yogesh Patil onto the call, who is in charge of the clinical trials. 45 minutes of heated debate later, we made a decision. Yogesh summarised the "to dos", got off the call and started doing what we had agreed.
I was left thinking: wow, I love my job. To have the freedom and the power to control one's own path - what more can one ask for?
That, right there, is what I consider dearest to me about my job. Freedom. And control. That's why I chose to be an entrepreneur, rather than a business consultant, an academic or an engineer. I have tried all three and always felt that something was amiss before I stumbled onto "Biosense co-founder and CEO".
Being stubborn and egotistical (that's not modesty speaking by the way, one of the potential investors in Biosense actually administered a psychometric test on me and that's what came out), I often find it difficult to put myself in other people's shoes and internalise what they might value the most. Overall though, I reckon most of the happiest people I have met have a pretty clear idea of what their values and priorities are.
Here's a simple example - I have already mentioned the clinical trials that our product ToucHb is undergoing, at a public hospital in Mumbai. The head of department there has been extremely helpful, to the extent that this project would probably never have gotten off the ground without his support. What does a hospital administrator get out of investigating a startup's medical device? Nothing by way of credit (not at this stage) or financial inventive. On the contrary, he has to take the trouble to monitor the project closely and to some extent bear some responsibility for it as it's happening under his watch. Yet, he is happy to take this on. He is genuinely interested in understanding the science behind the technology and more importantly, making things better for patients. He is passionate about improving the health of the patients who come to him and even those who don't. That is what he considers most dear to him, and it has meant that he tolerates, and indeed encourages, the not insignificant inconvenience of having a team like ours in his hair, running around his department armed with a new technology that needs testing.
Is all the hard work going to be worth it for the hospital administrator who's helping us? Will our technology change non-invasive diagnostics and improve people's health? Whether it succeeds or fails (I think the official statistic is that 9 out of 10 products fail), the ride will sure be worth it. 


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