The experience was not easy, however. Long working hours and many pivots on the original opportunity were constant, Gurie recalls, admitting she felt pushed to her limits. “You think you can’t do it, you think you can’t stay up any longer, you can’t polish the presentation on the final day, but you actually can, and it’s very rewarding,” she said. “In a short space of time, the education from MIT really helped to shift the project almost from ideation to seeing that it is actually possible and will have a phenomenal impact.”
Since the Bootcamp, Gurie has been talking to players and applying to various competitions “to put the project out there.” The startup has already won the 2018 Johns Hopkins Healthcare Design Competition and was a finalist of the EIT Health grant. “We will continue to develop our technology, as there are other interested stakeholders”, she said.
Vanessa Gurie at Cirque du Soleil
This is not the first time that Gurie has challenged her limits in her career. For six years, she traveled across five continents leading the performance medicine team of the live entertainment company Cirque du Soleil. As she pointed out, being part of that small, elite, male-dominated set was scary but fascinating at the same time. She resigned from her role when she realized that she wanted to have a more direct impact on people’s health.
That is where I-Ophthalmology came in. Even though she was unsure of how to leverage her experience and diverse skill sets, she pitched this opportunity at the Bootcamp and realized that the problem she wanted to solve had legs. Soon, she realized her mindset resembled those of many of her colleagues.
Help with a life decision
During the same Bootcamp, research student Suhyun Kweon found out she did not need to build a company to be an entrepreneur. Every field can benefit from this paradigm shift and these skills. “This experience helped me to make a life decision,” Kweon said. The 22-year-old student will graduate in optometry later this year and envisions earning a Ph.D. in the United Kingdom to research early biomarkers for neurodegenerative diseases.
As a South Korean who moved to Australia nine years ago, Kweon stepped outside of her comfort zone early. She and her brother started from scratch in the new environment while their parents stayed in Korea. During the Bootcamp, Kweon said, she came out of her comfort zone once again. “The program showed me I can push harder, and it gave me more confidence,” she said.
“This experience helped me to make a life decision,” says Suhyun Kweon (in green) about the MIT Bootcamp
The scholar also joined the MIT-HMS Healthcare Innovation Bootcamp last August. Since then, Kweon has been working on a project related to accessibility for children with life-threatening and rare diseases. “I’ve been contacting our team members for the past weeks, and it’s great how we are trying our best to find a solution [for the children],” she said.
One of the youngest students in the Australian program, Kweon did not feel intimidated by the large professional experience of her fellows. Instead, she saw that she was surrounded by peers trying to make a difference: “I didn’t feel the age gap; everyone is equally passionate like me, and everyone has a voice.”
Changing the routine
At the other end of the age spectrum of the Bootcamp in Australia, commercial analyst Harry Chiam, 55, agreed the diversity of people pursuing the same goal can actually be inspiring. Chiam has worked for over 20 years in financing and accounting and was “tired, fed up, wanted to do something else.” While he did not know exactly what to expect from the Bootcamp, he decided to give it a go.
“I did not have very high expectations,” he admitted. “And there I was taught not only the disciplines of entrepreneurship but also how to spot an idea, an interest, something that is special. It gave me the impetus to start to explore things, which I had not considered before it.”
The Bootcamp turned out to be a life-changing experience for him. “In life, you always have several next steps,” he wisely said. And Chiam’s latest step was finding a new job that feeds him with new energy. On the side, he also pursues the creation of a start-up to provide self-adjusting glasses for low-income people. As many cannot afford a visit to an optician to get a pair of custom-made lenses, this cheap option is designed so that users can alter the power of lenses themselves to correct their own eyesight.
“In life, you always have several next steps,” says commercial analyst Harry Chiam
Chiam seeks to raise funds from charitable foundations to take the venture off and has been working with researchers in the UK to further develop the technology. “The Bootcamp encourages collaboration and teamwork, so I became much more collaborative and team-oriented after that,” he said.
The Bootcamp has laid the foundation of the entrepreneurial journey of these alumni. Coming from different life experiences and likewise pursuing separate goals, they share a common passion towards solving real problems and now can do it together as part of the network of innovators they joined.
“I was able to catapult my project further because I could contact many different alumni and get really in-depth responses from them,” Vanessa Gurie said. “There’s nothing more special when someone believes in you, and that is the great thing of the MIT family. Everyone believes and holds the vision for you.”
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