A second Alumni Story: Mihir shares his views
As promised in a previous blogpost, we reached out to Mihir Sheth who completed the Oxford Global Insight Fellowship in 2020. Mihir gladly gave us insight into his fellowship experience as well as some valuable advice.
Mihir, by agreeing to be interviewed, you are really leaning in towards future BENEFIT fellows. What advice would you give them?
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me! I would like to tell future fellows that this is an exciting programme where one can grow immensely, both personally and professionally. It's one of the only programmes that I know of where you learn about a truly impressive innovation methodology by getting hands-on practice to the extent of being able to start a company after the programme.
I would encourage applicants to come in with an open mind, and put in as much effort as you can into the programme once you are selected. The old adage still holds true – you will get as much out of the programme as you put in! In addition, the EIT Health Fellowship Network is an immensely valuable group of people who have gone through the same process and can help you in a variety of ways – from mentorship to providing connections to just commiserating about the programme and the challenges you face.
Could you tell us why you decided to apply for the Oxford Global Insight Fellowship?
I’ve always felt that there is a huge gap in the way medical devices were designed and the context they are used in. In fact, 80% of the medical devices are developed for use by 10% of the world’s population! I remember being told by a doctor in India, where I grew up, that often the doctors and nurses are not able to use gloves properly because there isn’t a size that fits them – so either the gloves tear, or hang very loose from their hands. (!) But due to lack of alternatives, they use them anyways.
I was fortunate in that after graduating with a Masters in Electrical Engineering, I had the opportunity to become the first employee of a US-based medical device startup Sisu Global Health. At Sisu, I was able to take an autotransfusion device from prototype to market in Kenya, while being exposed to various facets of the startup – from fundraising to R&D to sales. This really helped cement my desire to continue working in the medical device space in a way that creates a meaningful impact.
The Oxford Global Insight Fellowship was really enticing – because I was looking to learn more about product development and how to identify new innovation methods – and the Need-Led Innovation process would be the perfect tool in my belt for working with stakeholders to identify and co-create impactful solutions.
In addition – and this was the icing on the cake – Oxford Global Insight Fellowships has a unique partnership with the Centre Hospitalier Regionale de Saint-Louis (CHRSL), Senegal, precisely the setting I wanted to practice Need-Led Innovation in.
Could you tell us something about your clinical immersion, team composition and the outcomes of your fellowship?
We were immersed in the maternity and neonatal units of the Central Regional Hospital, Saint-Louis. As is the nature of the Need-Led Innovation Fellowship, we ended up spending time in the operating theaters, in ICU, in the laboratory, in radiology and in the admin offices as we followed the patients’ and the clinicians’ experiences at the hospital.
Our team consisted of two team members besides myself, a consultant anaesthetist, Dr Myra Malik, and Sall Abdoukhadre, a lawyer and (incidentally) a Saint-Louis native. We even spent a month living together in a house in Saint-Louis! That really taught us about how to get along and have fun with each other, and also made us a stronger team.
During our observations at the hospital, we found out that even though most pregnant mothers conduct their first ultrasound, less than 1 in 3 mothers conduct their second and third ultrasounds, which hinders the ability of the doctors to diagnose conditions such as placental abruptions. This contributes to a high neonatal mortality, occurring in 58.3 out of every 1000 births in Senegal in 2015. One of the main reasons that women do not complete their ultrasounds is that they live far away and it takes a lot of time to make the difficult journey to the hospital.
As your blogpost mentioned, our fellowship resulted in Espace Maternité, a mobile, ultrasound diagnostic service that can provide ultrasounds to the women in their community. Sall is now the director of this programme that literally reduces pregnancy-related mortality since it allows healthcare professionals to diagnose placental abruptions.
In addition, we observed a neonate whose lungs were not functioning properly. Despite the clinical team's best efforts to resuscitate with oxygen and bag-mask ventilation, the neonate passed away.
We decided to learn more about the problem of weakened lungs, and we found that this condition also affects many adults who undergo Prolonged Mechanical Ventilation (>21 days). Due to the off-loading of the lungs by the ventilator, the diaphragm weakens by upto 6% per day.
Patients spend 40% of their total time on the ventilator on the process of ‘weaning’ – the gradual process of decreasing ventilator support – by trying to strengthen their diaphragm so that they can breathe independently again.
Our solution is called the RespiTrain: a simple, non-invasive device that prevents respiratory muscle atrophy in prolonged mechanically ventilated adults in order to reduce the time spent on the ventilator by 30%.
Akvile already highlighted the importance of team dynamics. Would you agree?
I fully agree with Akvile. Team dynamics is really important! Full stop!
Starting from day 1, we tried to keep an open and honest conversation and even spent a considerable amount of time discussing our future plans. This allowed us to be able to be more empathetic towards each other and help support and build each other’s skill sets. We had to – because otherwise we were 3 unknown people working very closely together for the next 9 months to give birth to something new at the end!
This, and us experiencing part of the fellowship in a new country really helped us connect with each other. We made sure we celebrated each other – Two of the three fellows happened to have their birthdays fall on the same day while we were in Senegal. So we went out and celebrated and had a nice lunch, and later even met one of our fellow's family in Saint-Louis. During the course of the Fellowship, one of the Fellows even welcomed a daughter into this world!
However, 2020 was not an easy year. Navigating a pandemic and being unable to meet each other but be expected to work at a high calibre was difficult. We also had to tackle language barriers and weren’t always sure if we understood each other during phone calls. Asking for help and feedback took time as we couldn’t pop over to the desk and ask for input. Our mutual respect for each other made it easy to ask clarification questions, and there were often times we would organise master classes for each other – especially Myra who spent a lot of time teaching us some of the medical fundamentals!
During the fellowship, one of the fellows also navigated through a difficult personal journey and the others (including the mentors – shout out to them!) all stepped in to help the fellow as well as ensure the others had the resources and support to continue.
We had to have a difficult conversation about what paths we each took after the programme. Our honesty and openness at the beginning of the programme made it easier to decide that we wanted to pursue not one but two separate projects and how we could support each other in doing so.
As I mentioned, the mutual respect, the support from each other and the mentors, and equally importantly, the fun we had with each other was really key in ensuring that we were able to survive and thrive!
How did your career evolve after the fellowship?
The Fellowship gives a good overview of the steps to create a startup and I am working with one of my teammates on turning the RespiTrain solution into one. The Fellowship provided me with the skills to really understand this need and communicate the problem effectively. Thanks to this, RespiTrain has been accepted into 4 accelerator programmes to date!
We are using a lot of the skills we gained during the Fellowship as we foray into uncertain territory – especially the ability to ask questions, and listen to other people (investors, customers, patients, etc).
Finally, the Fellowship made me willing to be uncomfortable. When I started the Fellowship, I had no idea where I would end up in 9 months and – with the pandemic on top – everything became uncertain. There was no set path and we would often change the direction of travel as we came across more information about the needs.
It was great to be able to talk to the alumni and understand that this is part of the process. That has strengthened my will right now to continue down my path, while being ready to pivot based on the information and opportunities presented to us.
At the beginning of this interview, you gave future fellows some wise advice. What else would you say?
For BENEFIT as a programme, I would say it is important to recruit many external mentors for the fellows. For the fellows, I would encourage you to seek out and create as many external connections as possible, using the BENEFIT programme as a great way to open doors! I think getting the academic view is very important, but it needs to be balanced by the views of people who are in the start-up/investor/grants/customer landscape on a regular basis. This could be done through talks which then allow the fellows to follow up, or through structured mentorship.
I would also advise to allow time for social gatherings and team building exercises, throughout the programme but especially at the beginning of the Fellowship. Spacing out breaks is also a good idea. You could provide them with additional resources to study/read then on topics such as understanding decision-making in startups or other topics which may be relevant to them at the time.
Thank you very much, Mihir. We are indeed gathering a network of ambassadors, experts and mentors for this programme and will introduce them on our website later on as well.
Update: Have a look at our Who's Who page to see who is involved in our programme so far.