Listen to your employees and customers and improve based on feedback.
Mahwish Ahmed is a leader in the field of innovation of medical devices. She is a co-inventor of a patent for a water-jacketed catheter to aid in drug delivery. Her passion for creating leading edge technology makes her a great leader and entrepreneur. The idea of a water jacketed catheter initiated during her undergraduate degree. She led the efforts to perform preliminary research alongside the patent attorney to ensure that there was no other similar patent. With her co-inventors, she worked after school on design and development of the catheter. Her entrepreneurial skills were at play when she contacted rapid prototyping companies and was able to negotiate a cost effective rate for generation of an initial prototype of the design. She was instrumental in making initial contacts with start-up companies to sell the team’s design and invention.
During her spare-time, she catches up on reading focusing primarily on self-development and career development books. Additionally, she is involved in her community by volunteering for non-profit organizations in Irvine California.
Where did the idea for a water jacketed catheter come from?
While pursuing my undergraduate degree, I was working at a tissue engineering laboratory performing pre-clinical studies on animals. During this study, my responsibility was to prepare a formulation of particles and temperature sensitive polymer, fill it in syringe(s), and control the prefilled syringes in a cold environment. This temperature control was to prevent the formulation from gelling inside the syringe. There were time when formulation would be thicker in consistency making it difficult to deliver to an injection site and resulting in inconsistency in data.
As my professor and I were analyzing the data from the pre-clinical studies, we came across an idea about innovating a water jacketed catheter where temperature would be maintained during filling period of the formulation as well as during delivery of the formulation to the injection site.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Every day brings different challenges for me and there is nothing “typical” about each day. My day starts very early in the morning at 5 or 5:15 am where I catchup on my emails. During the drive to work is when I am dialed into conference calls
At work, I start with a priority list. I only focus on top 3 – 5 activities that need to be completed by end of day. This helps me focus my attention to the most important things for that day. Every day at about 9 am, I meet with my team to assess the progress, urgent matters, staff vacations and alignment on priorities for the day. Depending on the day, I lead a 15 minute check in with my team at the end of the day to ensure we can discuss any urgent matters. I return any phone calls or conference calls during my drive back home.
Overall, prioritizing and doing periodic check-in’s during the day help make me and my organization functional and productive.
How do you bring ideas to life?
This is an interesting question. All ideas come to me late in the evening when I am able to reflect. As soon as I have a new idea, I write it down on my journal which is on the nightstand or draw a preliminary sketch. The next day, I start planning on execution and the resources (such as time, money, and people) needed to starting implementation and execution.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Although I work in Irvine California, I frequently travel for work within United States and overseas. After a long plane ride, you want to reach your destination quickly. Instead of waiting for shuttle service, I frequently resort to on demand local transportation services (like Uber and Lyft) because they are fast, convenient and cost-effective.
Another upcoming trend which I am currently enjoying is grocery delivery service arriving at your doorstep. For a person who is on the road most of the time, this service is not cost effective at times but definitely convenient.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Prioritizing my meetings and deadlines! All of my meetings are 15-30 mins at most so that time is spent wisely.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I believe that every job is a learning experience. While I was working for a mid-size company in Irvine, California a few years ago, it was acquired by one of the large companies. As soon as the acquisition was over, I saw my co-workers laid off, management team looking for other jobs, and research and development suspended. There was no organizational vision, mission and very little communication provided to the employees. This was a difficult time for me as I had not experienced a world renowned company quickly turning into a dysfunctional organization. The lesson I learned from this whole experience was that executive leaders need to consider that the employees are the most important asset to a company. Transparency and communication to employees are key factors to make a company successful, and more so during an acquisition.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would start in sales and marketing so I can understand customer’s needs. Water-jacketed catheter design originated based on observations in a pre-clinical study comprising of a 3-4 researchers. This small sample size did not reflect the larger population and their need for such a catheter in the market. Due to this, the design and materials had to be revised throughout the development of the catheter design and changed even after creation of the initial prototype. Initial research on user’s needs on materials, dimensions and key functionality would have led to few changes and cost reduction.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Listen to your employees and customers and improve based on feedback. This is essential because the decisions you make in a boardroom or in an off-site meeting directly influences the employees and your customers or end users.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I will comment on what has helped my team to grow which is asking for constant feedback and making improvements provided by the team.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I assigned the organization to multiple projects with timelines close to each which varied from new product or a process to improving processes affecting the overall health of the company. This created competing priorities and divided the resources and resulted in unfavorable financial outcomes and delay in completion of the projects. A project management team was created to reassess the impact of completing each project, cost associated with completion and financial gains. The project were prioritized according to their importance and resources were assigned accordingly. This process is currently being followed so that we can complete projects on time.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
In FDA regulated industries, companies are constantly audited by the FDA and other international regulatory authorities. Many of those companies, especially start-ups, do not have the resources to host such an audit. My idea is to have a service available to bring in highly trained and experienced audit support teams to prepare companies for such audits and, as needed, be available to facilitate such audits. There is no cost associated with research and development of a product. The cost would be in training staff members initially for a few months. The cost of the service to the customer would include travel and boarding costs, and service costs for each team member.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Best $100 I spent was for professional service to help me prepare for my first interview after graduation. They helped me prepare on my personal presentation, the usual process during interview, steps after interview and the interviewee’s expectations during my interview. This helped me land my first job offer during my first interview after graduation.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I use the off-the-shelf Microsoft Office software for data analysis and presentations, Visio for process mapping, and some cloud based application for data storage.
I use LinkedIn for networking and other popular social media sites for exchanging ideas and networking.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
What Got Your There Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith. This is a great book for those who want to climb the corporate ladder because it identifies behavioral changes that one needs to experience to climb up. It identifies habits that a person may have that can be career limiting. One of the items that book identified that I have yet to implement is to create a “To Stop List” instead of “To Do List”.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Bill Gates and Richard Branson! Not only are they contributing both money and time to helping those in need but have proven themselves having grown their business into successful empires.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.