“We were learning from experienced entrepreneurs that have executed,” recalls MIT Bootcamps alumnus Nicky Agahari. “They have walked the walk, so they could talk the talk.”

MIT Bootcamps enables aspiring innovators to find solutions that improve the patient experience

Hanna Adeyema | MIT Open Learning

Since its launch on the heels of the Entrepreneurship 101 massive open online course, MIT Bootcamps has inspired thousands of global innovators to search for solutions to meaningful problems, including in the patient care and wellness space.

“Once you find the right problem to work on, it really becomes your life’s mission,” shares Nicky Agahari, a former combat medic in the Australian Army, whose passion for improving patients' lives comes from caring for his grandfather.

While suffering from incontinence, Agahari’s grandfather fractured a hip and almost died after falling at night on his way to the bathroom. This widespread problem, which affects an estimated 423 million people worldwide, was the reason Agahari enrolled in the MIT Innovation and Leadership Bootcamp while pursuing an MBA at the University of Macquarie in Sydney in 2017.

During the MIT Bootcamp in Brisbane, Australia, he rallied a team to work on improving the lives of patients with urinary incontinence. Agahari says he’s still inspired by the moment when the entire class sought refuge from the passing hurricane while Bill Aulet, managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and professor of the practice at MIT Sloan, gave a lecture on primary market research in the basement of the Hilton hotel.

“We were learning from experienced entrepreneurs that have executed,” Agahari recalls. “They have walked the walk, so they could talk the talk.”

After leading commercial teams at Medtronic, Johnson & Johnson, Boston Scientific, and completing a Harvard HealthTech Fellowship, Agahari has launched InConfidence to transform the lives of people suffering from overactive bladders with a minimally invasive therapy at-home. Agahari admits that it would have been hard to get here without the Bootcamps network. His lead investor and two of his co-founders — Helena Franco and Mihir Shanker — have also attended MIT Bootcamps.

Championing women’s reproductive health care

A personal health crisis ignited the passion for patient experience in another MIT Bootcamps participant, Adonica Shaw. In 2017, while pregnant with her son, Shaw was diagnosed with preeclampsia, which disproportionately impacts women of color, and was forced to deliver six weeks early. She also suffered an eclamptic crisis after delivery. In addition to advocacy work with the Preeclampsia Foundation, this experience eventually led her to apply to the online MIT-Harvard Medical School Healthcare Innovation Bootcamp in 2021, in the heat of the pandemic. 

“The spirit of the Bootcamp is to come ready to learn and … do the work that’s required to be a strong participant in the program but also with your team,” says Shaw.

Raised by a single parent, Shaw never dreamt of being on the same team with doctors and top medical professionals. One case study that stuck with her from the MIT Bootcamp was about a team of scientists who raised $15 million to resurrect the woolly mammoth. Shaw admits that examples like this empowered her to dream big.

This year, Shaw is launching her first brick and mortar clinic in the Seaport area of Boston with Paul Bergerad. The clinic is part of the greater vision to champion women’s reproductive health from the first pap smear visit through perimenopause.

Shaw is also the youngest person globally and the only person of color to make a patent attempt on the vaginal speculum, which will be used in her practice. This device has a controversial history, with many iterations from the early 1900s tested on women without consent or anesthesia. Her patent attempt is aimed at improving the process of pelvic exams and pap smears and empowering patient’s voices, particularly those historically excluded from design and development of medical devices.

Creating space for mental and physical fitness

Jitendra Chouksey, another MIT Bootcamps alumnus, founded India-based FITTR to simplify the experience of getting healthy. Growing up, Chouksey was considered unfit until he seriously took up bodybuilding while working in the IT sector in Pune. His transformation prompted others to seek his advice. To share it at scale, Chouksey published a free e-book called “Get Shredded,” and so FITTR was born.

In 2019, FITTR had a $5 million run rate, but Chouksey was struggling to lead the company that he inadvertently started. He traveled to the MIT Innovation Leadership Bootcamp in Japan, searching for a short reputable program that would teach him the essentials of entrepreneurship. What he also found was a supportive Bootcamps community that helped Chouksey confront the mental health challenges of running a fast-growing company.

“It is a great way for busy entrepreneurs to learn a lot in a short span of time,” Chouksey says of the MIT Innovation Leadership Bootcamp. 

Startup founders experience a high rate of mental health challenges, while having to constantly make decisions that can be life-altering for themselves and their teams. Chouksey, for example, had to make a solo decision to take his company out of Y Combinator, one of the most reputable incubating programs, which he had worked hard to join. He realized that the timing of the program did not align with company priorities.

Today, FITTR boasts 6 million users who use it to access customized online coaching, even supporting individuals with Type 2 diabetes management. With $15 million in recurrent annual sales, FITTR is funded by top local and global investors including Sequoia Surge, Elysian Park, and Dream Capital. Chouksey wants to spread his awareness of mental health issues with other founders in India and the region by creating a venue where these conversations would be possible. Whether acting as a CEO or peer, he says he’s focused on putting both the physical and mental health of his communities first. 

The power of community

What unites these innovators is their passion for improving patients’ health and experience, their trust in the MIT entrepreneurship method, and the community they encountered at MIT Bootcamps.

A former contestant on Australia’s Masterchef show, Agahari believes that sharing meals is the best way to unite the team and speed up its transition from norming and storming to performing. Shaw treasures her Bootcamp team’s encouragement for her nonlinear career path, including pursuing a midwifery degree in her late 30s. And Chouksey, who has attended three MIT Bootcamps to date, draws inspiration from MIT Professor Sanjay Sarma’s quote “the future of work is learning.”

This article was republished with permission from the MIT News Office


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