How did you get into an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career such as Bio-Medical sector?
Jayanth says his formative years at home living with his parents and grandparents had a big impact on his decision to enter the health space. “I’m a typical Indian dude from a normal middle class family,” says Jayanth. “Growing up in India, it was not uncommon to have three generations living at home. Until the end of his life, my grandpa was a relatively healthy guy, with no chronic conditions, but then one day he fell asleep and didn’t wake up.”
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“At the time, I didn’t know what to think. My parents assumed I would become a doctor of some kind, but I decided to become an engineer—which, being Indian, was really the only alternative option given,” he explains with a small smile. “But, as I was studying engineering, I saw my grandmother was suffering a lot. She had a hard time breathing due to asthma, which ultimately led to pulmonary fibrosis. She was a person who would cook for me when I’d go home, and suddenly she couldn’t walk easily. She reached a point where she couldn’t use the restroom, and my parents used to help. It was a very drawn out and terrible way of dying. Over the course of five years, she slowly suffocated to death.”
Can you describe your career path?
While coming to terms with his grandmother’s difficult death, Jayanth continued attending engineering school. “We tended to just accept the tough conditions in India, but then I took an Intro to Medical Devices class at Stanford which changed everything,” he explains. “That class—it was the moment I realized I could apply engineering skills to solve health problems. When I look back now, I realize my grandparents’ quality of life was compromised because someone didn’t create good enough solutions.”
After graduating from Stanford in 2006, Jayanth started his career at a medical device startup company, Radiant Medical, as a Research & Development Engineer. “There, I experienced one of the high points of my career. I was developing catheters to induce controlled hypothermia for patients suffering from strokes or myocardial infarctions, commonly known as heart attacks,” he explains. “I worked on this project for quite some time, when my manager said, ‘OK, Jayanth. Let’s go to a clinical trial.’ I was super excited. We go to the trial, and I’m in a hospital room; the physician is using the product I helped design with a group of engineers. He turns to me and asks, ‘Am I doing it right?’ It was amazing. That single interaction—where the doctor was turning to me because I knew the tool I created better than anyone—it changed my perspective on how you can develop tools and seriously impact health. It changed the hierarchy for me of physician, patient and tool-maker.”
What did you do next?
After spending six years developing successful medical device products, Jayanth found himself becoming frustrated that he couldn’t do more to help those in need. In August 2010, he joined Design Revolutions (D-Rev), a nonprofit design firm based in Palo Alto, California. “Before I joined the company, all of the products I helped create only helped one percent of the world’s wealthy population,” Jayanth explains. “I was immediately attracted to the organization’s mission to develop market-driven solutions for people earning less than $2 a day. It was exactly the job I’d envisioned. Instead of developing innovations that only a small percentage of the world’s population can afford, I was creating world-class, yet affordable, products for the poor.”
As Product Manager at D-Rev, Jayanth was responsible for design, development and launch of a world-class jaundice treatment device. “A lot of children in India, Africa and China have jaundice, a condition where the skin turns yellow because of a chemical called bilirubin in the blood. At D-Rev, we created a much more affordable style of treatment,” he explains. “When we did the clinical trial of this treatment in rural areas of India, I was floored by the response. We were in a childcare facility with rows of children and parents waiting to get treatment. Indian women walked 20 or 30 miles to bring their babies to our childcare facility to receive treatment—and then waited hours for their turn to get care. The human effort behind that is truly inspiring to me.”
Today Jayanth finds inspiration in his role as Director of Product Strategy, Health at Jawbone.