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Stanford-India Biodesign co-founder: “You can become a millionaire, but also make a difference”

This post is part of the Biodesign’s Jugaad series following a group of Stanford Biodesign fellows from India. (Jugaad is a Hindi word that means an inexpensive, innovative solution.) The fellows will spend months immersed in the interdisciplinary environment of Stanford Bio-X, learning the Biodesign process of researching clinical needs and prototyping a medical device. The Biodesign program is now in its 14th year, and past fellows have successfully launched 36 companies focused on developing devices for unmet medical needs.

The three Indian biodesign fellows who were at Stanford for the past six months have returned to New Delhi, where they'll finish up their fellowship. They're the last class of fellows from the Stanford-India Biodesign program, and in India they'll be joining two teams already in progress as part of the new School of International Biodesign (SIB).

Balram Bhargava, MD, executive director of Stanford-India Biodesign (India), was at Stanford for the fellow’s final presentation of their prototype. He helped establish the relationship between Stanford and India and is now revamping the new self-sufficient program.

How did Stanford-India Biodesign originate?

I was at a retirement party in September 2006 for Ulrich Sigwart, MD, who developed the first stent. He called in some friends from all over the world, including Paul Yock, MD (director of the Stanford Biodesign Program). Paul and I shared a taxi ride to Ulrich’s vacation home and got talking. That’s when the program started. By January 2008 the first batch of fellows was here.

The basic intent was to start this innovative program in India and ultimately make it self-sufficient. We selected students from India and sent them to Stanford, then they finished out their fellowship in India.

How has the program changed over the years?

Our early fellows returned from Stanford with high-end ideas such as robots. I had to pull them all down back to the ground. My role was to give this program a soul, and I think I have been successful at that. After a few years Stanford also accepted that frugal design was the right thing for the world and I'm happy about that.

Many of our students had the intention of setting up a company and becoming millionaires. We’ve given them the idea that you can become a millionaire, but at the same time you can make a difference. That's the delicate balance we want to teach. The students have been very bright and many of them have really delivered on this dream.

What’s next for the newly renamed School of International Biodesign?

The philosophy is identify in India, invent with India, implement globally. Global Affordable Need-Driven Healthcare Innovation (GANDHI): that's what our program is all about.

What we have tweaked in this program is we have collaborated with several universities in the world. The first batch is from Australia. We have two teams of three Indian fellows and one Australian. They spend a full year in India in the villages, at our institute, in different hospitals. Once they've done their needs finding and come to the top few needs they spend four weeks in Australia where they validate those needs on the global market. Then they come back to India to develop a prototype.

Next year we won't be sending any team to Stanford, but we'll have teams from Japan and Cambridge along with Australia. And we've got commitment from Stanford that by 2017 we will have students from the U.S. who come to India and be immersed there. Hopefully in the next 8-10 years we'll have ten different countries partnering with us.

Previously: Stanford-India Biodesign fellows develop prototype device to improve success of pacemaker implantsSuccess breeds success: Early innovators in India created a sense of possibility and The next challenge for biodesign: constraining health-care costs

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