Interview: JHU Team at The Collegiate Inventors’ Competition

A team of Johns Hopkins University undergraduate biomedical engineering students is among the finalists selected to compete in the 2023 Collegiate Inventors Competition in Washington, D.C., this week.

The OnPoint Ventilation team—senior Sneha Batheja, junior Alexandra Gorham, senior Charlie Almoney, senior Ria Jha, junior Nina Nair, senior Arijit Nukala, and junior Krisha Thakur—created the “Bronchosleeve”, a novel catheter designed to reduce the complications associated with one-lung ventilation, or OLV, a common procedure in chest surgeries. The team will be competing at the National Collegiate Inventor’s competition which will be held on from Oct 24 – Oct 27, 2023

Georges Hatcheu, a graduate communication intern at The Life Design Lab, met up with two members of the team, Ria Jha and Nina Nair, to discuss their path to entrepreneurship.

Georges: “Did you always know you wanted to be an inventor or entrepreneur?”

Nina Nair: “At the start of my freshman year, I had no idea what I wanted to be. I was part aspiring pre-med, part aspiring medical-device inventor, part aspiring consultant. I honestly was not sure what my future would hold. I was just a confused freshman ready to explore opportunities and try new things.”

Ria Jha: “As a child, I was incredibly curious about the world around me. One of my favorite activities as a kid was playing with Legos. I vividly remember meticulously following the instruction manuals to construct intricate sets. It was like solving puzzles, and I found joy in assembling each piece correctly. After completing the intended model, I often couldn’t resist the urge to break it apart and create something entirely new from the existing colorful blocks. This process of deconstruction and reconstruction allowed me to explore the limits of my imagination. It was like holding a world of innovation right in my hands.”

Ria Jha: “I have always been drawn to hands-on activities, and this enjoyment for tactile exploration eventually steered me towards engineering as my chosen field of study during my undergrad years. The idea of being able to build, modify, and innovate tangible things fascinated me. The thought of designing medical solutions and making them a reality ignited the inventor within me. Since childhood, my parents always encouraged me to think big and stay curious, which played a big role in shaping my mindset. Looking back, these experiences set the stage for the inventor and thinker I am today.”

Georges: “How did you discover you wanted to go into entrepreneurship?

Ria Jha: “My deep connection to Science Olympiad has been instrumental in shaping my passion for innovation in medicine. Science Olympiad has played a significant role in my life for eight years, starting during my high school years when I competed in Illinois Science Olympiad. This involvement continued into college, where I joined the Maryland Science Olympiad (MSO) at JHU. I have taken on leadership roles as the director of the Science Olympiad Invitational at Johns Hopkins and as the State Lab Director of MSO at JHU. Through these experiences, I’ve had the privilege to connect with students from Baltimore City and Maryland, fostering their growth in STEM and reciprocating the positive influence an organization had on me. Witnessing their inventive ideas and the enthusiasm they bring to the table has deepened my own resolve to follow an innovative trajectory.”

Ria Jha: “Through my participation in Science Olympiad, I have developed a strong foundation of scientific knowledge and honed my skills in hands-on learning and critical thinking. Events such as Disease Detectives, Anatomy & Physiology, Cell Biology, and Protein Modeling have fueled my interest in biology and medicine, while events like Ecology, Invasive Species, and Herpetology have deepened my understanding of the impact of human activities on ecosystems. Wright Stuff, an engineering event, has helped me cultivate essential engineering skills, including effective prototype design, testing, and improvement. One event that particularly fascinated me was Forensics, which allowed me to apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills to piece together clues and solve a crime scene. These skills continue to be invaluable as an engineer and medical student.”

Ria Jha: “Science Olympiad has not only provided me with practical and hands-on knowledge of scientific concepts but has also taught me to go beyond surface-level information and delve into the underlying reasons behind the natural world’s development and evolution. This perspective has been instrumental in shaping my interest in biomedical engineering, where I have learned to critically analyze and engineer solutions to address contemporary challenges in biology and medicine.”

Nina Nair: “I discovered my interest in entrepreneurship and inventing at Hopkins, through the BME design team program. During freshman fall, I was recruited to a design team, what would become OnPoint Ventilation. I almost immediately fell in love with the design process. A major component of the design team process is ideating. As biomedical engineers, we are constantly faced with complex medical problems, in our case issues with One Lung Ventilation. I found immense joy in the collaborative nature of the ideation process: throwing out the most ridiculous solution concepts to these challenging issues, going up to a whiteboard, getting our hands dirty as we worked through ideas. Ultimately, the beauty of this process is how eventually we came to a cohesive and promising solution concept. Engaging in this imperfect process, a process that encourages creativity and unconventional problem solving, fueled my desire to go into entrepreneurship.” 

Nina Nair: “I actually do not plan to pursue a primary career in entrepreneurship. Instead, I hope to go to medical school and pursue a career as a surgeon. However, I think the labels of an entrepreneur and innovator will forever remain a key part of my identity. My experiences and the skills I have gained through design team will forever be applicable to my career goals as surgeon. In my work, if I observe unmet needs, I hope to apply my innovation and entrepreneurial skills to ideate and develop solutions to improve the quality and efficacy of patient care.” 

Georges: “How has your time at Johns Hopkins contributed to your entrepreneurship journey?

Ria Jha: “The support from Johns Hopkins BME department and the Department of Anesthesiology & Critical Care Medicine was instrumental in our innovation journey. In the early stages, thorough stakeholder analysis helped align our invention with diverse perspectives. Brainstorming sessions led to a simple yet effective solution, resonating with stakeholders’ needs and supported by the resources and advisors provided through JHU BME.”

Ria Jha: “Prototyping played a pivotal role, allowing us to transform our idea into a tangible prototype through iterative design and valuable user feedback. We tackled challenges by conducting in-depth root cause analysis, enhancing our understanding of the problem’s complexities. Our advisors, Dr. Elizabeth Logsdon, PhD (director the BME Design Team Program) and Dr. Brijen Joshi, MD (Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology & Critical Care Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine), provided us guidance and advice throughout this process. Hands-on experiences and shadowing procedure in the operating room provided practical insights and identified areas for improvement.”

Ria Jha: “Additionally, an extensive stakeholder analysis involving over 150 clinicians, patients, and committee members nationwide provided diverse viewpoints, enabling us to comprehend the multifaceted nature of the issue and the potential impact of our intervention on various stakeholders. Johns Hopkins’ support empowered us to navigate these complexities and develop a solution with significant impact.”

Nina Nair: “The student body at Hopkins is very inspiring. Sometimes, my friends tell me about their research work, social enterprise endeavors, or BME medical device projects which they are working on. Every time I hear such things, I am genuinely in awe of how diverse and passionate our student body is. I am very grateful to be surrounded by students who are so passionate about advancing healthcare and are all invested in creating a better future. Being in such an environment keeps me really grounded and motivated to pursue innovation that makes a meaningful impact on humanity.   Another amazing thing about Hopkins is the BME Design Program. From faculty advisors to the resources in the design studio to organizations such as FFU, student innovation and creativity is so well supported and encouraged. There are so many resources which make the entrepreneurship journey accessible and easier to navigate. I cannot even count the number of meetings we have had with stakeholders or advisors which we could not have had without the network which Hopkins and the BME programs provided us.”

Georges: “Who are some people who have been instrumental in your entrepreneurship journey?

Nina Nair: “Dr. Brijen L. Joshi our clinical advisor and a cofounder of OnPointVentilation has been instrumental in our team’s entrepreneurship journey. His continued guidance and genuine passion for our project motivates me and our entire team to pursue this project with the utmost rigor and positivity. On a personal level, as an anesthesiologist and inventor, Dr.Joshi inspires me to merge my future career goals as a surgeon with entrepreneurship.” 

“Dr. Elizabeth Logsdon has also been instrumental in our project. As our faculty advisor, she provided us such insightful feedback and guidance throughout the design team process and has always been there to support us. Also all my team members.”

Ria Jha: “Growing up in a household that valued curiosity and problem-solving, I was encouraged to explore and question the world around me. My parents always fostered an environment where creativity was celebrated and mistakes were seen as stepping stones to learning. I moved around quite a bit as a child, and these communities provided me with diverse perspectives and challenges that fueled my innovative thinking. From the quiet suburb of Westland, MI to the slow-paced town of Fort Wayne, IN to the vibrant city of Naperville, IL, I interacted with people from all walks of life. Interacting with people from various backgrounds exposed me to unique problems and opportunities, prompting me to seek novel solutions. Witnessing the collective efforts of my family and community in overcoming challenges ingrained in me the belief that innovation thrives when individuals come together with a shared purpose.”

We thank Ria Jha and Nina Nair for taking the time to answer our question and we wish them good luck in this week’s competition. If you are interested in the profile of the team members, you can find them on linkedIn: Ria Jha, Nina Nair, Sneha BathejaAlexandra GorhamCharlie AlmoneyArijit Nukala, and Krisha Thakur

By Georges Hatcheu
Georges Hatcheu