Interview by Amanda McIntyre-Chavis
Sharon Samjitsingh has spent more than 20 years developing expertise in engineering, project and corporate management and technical entrepreneurship. She obtained her Masters at the University of Rochester and prior to that she was Group Projects Manager for a large conglomerate, with oversight on a capital project portfolio in excess of $300 million. She co-founded Health Care Originals because she has a personal understanding of the need for significant change in respiratory monitoring, and is confident that Health Care Originals’ technology can lead the way. Sharon is passionate about the level of freedom, depth of understanding and personalized control that digital health solutions, medical wearables and the IoT environment offer the individual, and is excited to be a part of the ecosystem bringing that promise to reality.
Please tell us a bit more about yourself, your background and how you became interested in world of technology and wearable and fashion technology in particular.
I have 25 years’ experience in manufacturing, project management, corporate management and portfolio management. During my career I was blessed to become the first female General Manager (equivalent to company head) of a company in what was then a 123-year old conglomerate. I’m interested in wearable technology because I believe that wearables allow for the ultimate understanding of self. In the digital health context, that also means no longer having to abide within very generic, catch-all, wide guidelines – the whole concept of developing personal baselines, understanding deviations from that baseline, and developing the concept of the personal feedback loop – there’s nothing else like it. For persons with chronic disease, this is truly the breakthrough – automating daily tasks, allowing the individual to understand their personal response to medication, and ultimately, enabling better patient outcomes.
What is the idea behind your project / product and how did you come up with it?
The medical reasoning for our product was developed at the University of Rochester starting back in 2009. When we became aware of it, I recognized the potential – making a difference in the managing of asthma – as I have asthma. Then we expanded that further to provide peace of mind for their caregivers, by helping them to better understand what was going on with the asthmatic. When we looked at what was most practical for an asthmatic, a wearable, rather than an occasionally used product, made the best sense behaviorally and medically.
When did it all start and do you have other members in your team?
As indicated before, the technology is based on University tech. The real work started in transforming the proof of concept into a commercially viable product – and a desirable one at that. For us, it started in 2014, bootstrapping, winning competitions, designing the product, more prototypes… To get all of this we definitely have other team members, each bringing unique skills.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
We incorporated and started seriously developing this in 2014, and completed design, had our first manufacturing run in 2017.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Fundraising. When we first started Fitbit hadn’t yet had their IPO, and wearables were not the household name they are now. We had a lot of people we pitched who fundamentally didn’t understand what we were doing. Our rounds have also tended to be smaller, so oddly enough, that’s posed a problem for most investors.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
Deploying product in unexpected use cases like radiation pneumonitis early on. Winning best wearable in the world in 2016. Having customers come to us, including a potential for deployment of 80,000 devices over 3 years in South Africa.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
Biggest challenge: changing the paradigm in healthcare, getting everyone comfortable with patient-generated data, and allowing meaningful data and insights to drive discussion, rather than generic norms, so that we can move to improved patient outcomes. As a female founder I’ve actually found it strange that the rules that apply to corporations often don’t seem to factor into decisions and expectations in the startup world. So, in my corporate background, emphasis was placed on building a well-rounded team with each member leading their field. In the startup world emphasis is placed on having a great team but only the CEO is interacted with. I don’t know if it was a factor of me being a woman, or just a predisposition, but I find it a strange and counter-intuitive dynamic… But we still push to have all team leaders heard. It gets hard though trying to change the norm and having a woman play a big role in it too.
Why is the #WomenInTech movement important to you?
The data is clear – companies with women in their teams do better in crises. I’ve been fortunate in my career that I worked in a progressive company that allowed me to advance, and I can count the number of instances in which I recognized I was subject to discrimination on one hand. However, I understand that this is not the norm, so feel an obligation to help, empower where, when and how I can.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all of the female founders and entrepreneurs out there?
It sounds trite, but don’t give up. Understand and stay true to your mission. Understand going in that this is going to be the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but never use the concept of being a start-up to have a lack of discipline, or to excuse bad process. Be good stewards of investors’ money, and don’t ever compromise on your ethics.
What will be the key trends in the health tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
I believe tying together genomics, data from clinical grade wearables with AI/Data Science driving population-level and personal insights will be key. I’m also fascinated by what we’re beginning to understand about the microbiome, and can see all these disparate pieces of information being integrated to form a whole that is truly bigger than the sum of its parts.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in health tech?
Gosh – very difficult to answer! If there’s a woman out there challenging the status quo with good intent, focus on mission and great ethics, then they’re an inspiration.
This interview was conducted by Amanda McIntyre-Chavis, Women of Wearables Ambassador in New York, USA. She is the CEO and Founder of LegendFactory, a interactive brand management company and two new tech initiatives: Muzaik, a social media aggregator and Myndfull, a wearable tech company. She is also an active mentor, arts advocate and supporter of various social causes. Based in New York, Amanda is a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc. (NARAS), the National Association of Black Female Executives in Music & Entertainment (NABFEME), National Association of Professional Women (NAPW), the ELLEVATE Network and Women In Music. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMcChavis.