Now that the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2021 winners have been officially announced, we are excited for you to learn more about each winning team and the story behind each innovation. The Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge is an annual competition that awards cash prizes to early-stage tech entrepreneurs solving the world’s toughest problems. Now in its fifth year, the competition awarded its largest prize pool ever, $1 million USD, to 20 winning teams from around the world.
To help accelerate tech for good solutions that address the challenges created by the pandemic, this year we added a special Pandemic Response Prize. The Pandemic Response Prize was awarded to Biodesign Innovation Labs for responding to COVID-19 and future pandemic crises through the development of RespirAID, a safe, reliable, affordable alternative for prolonged manual ventilation.
We sat down with Gautham Pasupuleti, CEO and Managing Director of Biodesign Innovation Labs, to discuss how crisis catalyzes innovation.
Gautham’s advice to social entrepreneurs? “Follow your passion. Do good. Be good.”
What problem is your technology solution trying to solve?
Gautham: We’re a medical device and health care technology company, primarily focused on lifesaving innovations in respiratory care, critical care, emergency care, and also postoperative care. We specifically started this company because we found a problem, which was unmet clinical needs in low-resource hospitals that don’t have proper ventilators or manpower. We saw this by visiting more than a hundred hospitals across India and talking to a lot of doctors.
The main thing we found in the hospitals was sophisticated ventilator shortage. There are no ventilators available and let’s say a patient gets admitted in the emergency department, emergency ward or an ICU, with no ventilator available they needlessly die. They have to wait for a ventilator to show up, which takes time, and the patient might die while waiting.
Can you explain how the solution works?
Gautham: RespirAID is an affordable, portable ventilator that provides a means for stabilizing the patient to maintain their blood oxygen saturation levels. If there is cardiac arrest or respiratory arrest you have to stabilize them.
There’s only a limited number of sophisticated ventilators in India. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a bag-valve-mask ventilator which paramedics use for manually ventilating the patient for just a few minutes.
Biodesign Innovation Labs bridges this gap between not having any ventilators and having a little bit of the manual ventilation. RespirAID stabilizes the patients and provides positive pressure inflation with all the respiratory parameters and is very easy to use. That’s one of the most important things.
What inspired you to develop this solution?
Gautham: My brother, Adithya Pasupuleti, was the main inspiration for me, the reason for me to do what I do. He was an inspiration to thousands of students. His vision was to positively impact 1 billion people by building solutions, especially medical devices and technologies.
As a Stanford India Fellow, he won the CamTech-X competition associated with Massachusetts General Hospital for the model of RespirAID. With funding from the award, we set up our company, Biodesign Innovation Labs.
My brother, who’s the founder of this company, was traveling from Hyderabad to Bangalore in February 2018. I lost him in a bus accident. And that was life changing for me because his own vision was to impact 1 billion people. I wanted to leave everything and just do something that continued what my brother was working on. I ran the company since then.
A lot of instances during college inspired me to do something innovative with technology-driven solutions which can help mankind. But, my whole inspiration was my brother. I lost my brother, and then I stepped in as the CEO.
How will winning a prize in the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge help you advance your business? Do you know what you will use the prize money for specifically?
Gautham: It’s like a dream come true.
So right now, we’re a startup. I have to sacrifice a lot of things to just work on the company and not do anything else for the next few years.
With this Cisco support we will work with hundreds and thousands of hospitals in India by deploying our devices and working with NGOs and stakeholders, government, and increasing our team. Mostly it’s for scaling up the solution across India and eventually globally. I think responsible hiring is very important, so…calibrate the master plan to do that. For example, increase the number of biomedical engineers we have on staff.
How has the global pandemic impacted your work?
Gautham: You wouldn’t believe if I say this, but when Biodesign Innovation Labs started in 2017, we always knew that whatever we develop it has to help in times of crisis. That was the whole point of the product, so we kept that in mind and eventually it helped when the outbreak happened.
The real inspiration was one of our mentors on the board of advisors, Dr. Anoop from Stanford University. He’s a pediatrician. February and March 2020 there were [Covid-19] cases in China and people were getting in a panic in India. Dr. Anoop called me and said, ‘You’ve been working all these years, and this is why you’ve been working, you have to step up and you have to start supplying the hospitals.’ Sometimes you don’t really trust that you can do it. Someone trusts you to do it. And that’s when you think that, okay, they trust us to do it. So, we have to do it. And then there was no looking back.
Why did you decide to start your own social enterprise versus going to work for a company?
Gautham: Before I graduated, I got a research internship specifically working with my brother’s then startup to do a little bit of clinical immersion, visiting hospitals, speaking with a lot of doctors, trying to identify problems, things like that. That was back in 2013. This gave me some perspective.
Biodesign Innovation Labs was primarily started because we were again doing a clinical immersion for solving problems at rural hospitals in developing countries, a Massachusetts General Hospital initiative for hackathons and innovation. So, we were a part of this innovation program and then went on to identify these problems. And then we were passionate about solving this problem.
I came back from Boston and I started this company along with my brother and we were very passionate about saving lives and building solutions.
What advice do you have for other social entrepreneurs?
Gautham: When you do something you are passionate about, the outcome will result in good things. So, try to figure out what you want to do and go 100 percent for it. There’s no looking back when you give 100 percent of it. Follow your passion. Do good. Be good.