This article is in partnership with Marico Innovation Foundation.
“It is a great idea that gives birth to an innovation, not necessarily higher educational degrees,” says 57-year-old Pune-based Sudhir Wagamare, whose indigenously developed ventilator device has helped save thousands of lives across more than 500 hospitals in India.
This ventilator, specifically designed to address the COVID-19 situation, is the latest in a long line of several pediatric and neonatal ventilators for the past two decades innovated by Sudhir as part of his startup — Shreeyash Electro Medicals. A first-generation entrepreneur, he says that his interest in ventilation devices grew after realising the dearth of ‘Made in India’ critical medical care technologies. What followed were years of hard work, self-teaching sessions and perseverance to master a sector that hardly existed in the ’90s.
How I Became an Entrepreneur
Sudhir grew up in a middle-class family, where the sole breadwinner, his father, worked as a government employee. Throughout his childhood, the importance of education has always been highlighted and held to the highest regard. So, before his dream of becoming an entrepreneur, Sudhir wanted to become an engineer.
But this dream was short-lived because something bigger was waiting for him.
“I got into a good engineering college but failed to get my preferred specialisation. My father advised me to either stick with it or wait it out for a year. I was not ready to compromise so I chose the latter and decided to enrol in a B.Com degree course for the year. As per the plan, I was to try again next year but something changed in me in the meantime. I realised that even while officially studying B.Com, I was involved in teaching myself the basics of engineering. Even though I was not an engineer by degree, I was a born innovator and that year I successfully built an electric heating pad, something that was still a rarity, back then in 1983,” he shares.
That was the beginning of his long career as an innovator and finally an entrepreneur in 1985.
From Infants to Adults: Ventilation Devices Saving Lives
By the end of the century, Sudhir was already following his passion as an innovator and had just created a niche in producing mechanical ventilation devices.
“My interest in ventilation devices grew in 1999 when I started to research about the same. I would spend hours in the college library and several across the city, or approach medical experts to help me understand the requirements and nuances of building a mechanical ventilation device. After two years of hard work, in 2001 I finally built a Bubble CPAP, which is a non-invasive ventilation device for newborn babies with infant respiratory distress syndrome (IRDS). Then in 2004, I built a pediatric and neonatal ventilator,” says the innovator, who went on to build an advanced high-frequency oscillating ventilator for babies, in 2006.
Throughout the years, Sudhir was always keen on creating medical devices focused on newborns or infants, and not adults. However, the pandemic pushed him to reconsider and use his expertise to create an advanced ventilator for adults as well.
“During the peak of the pandemic, a number of scientists and doctors reached out requesting me to use my expertise in ventilation devices to make one for adults. It was to be equivalent to the top-of-the-line devices imported from Europe and other developed countries. While I am always up for a challenge, I was initially hesitant to diversify and shift my focus from pediatric and neonatal devices. But then the realisation hit that in these dire times, my innovation can potentially save innumerable lives. This pushed me to give my best,” he shares.
Finally, in March 2020, Sudhir began working on the new ventilation device for adults. By April, he was able to come up with a prototype that was then sent for trials across several private hospitals in the city. By July, the Shreeyash ventilator suitable for both adults and newborns was finally ready. It has now been installed in almost 80 hospitals across India.
Affordable Innovation at Par with High-End Devices
A ventilator device built-in-India, it has been certified with a European CE (Conformitè Europëenne) mark, in addition to IEC and several other government certifications for quality checks.
“Generally, in India, high-end ventilators are imported from America, Germany and other countries at a huge cost of around Rs 10 lakh to Rs 20 lakh. Moreover, the cost of the ventilators varies from Rs 14 lakh to Rs 18 lakh. With the COVID-19 situation becoming critical, hospitals were in dire need of ventilators and so finding a cost-effective alternative became crucial,” adds Sudhir, whose full spectrum ventilator is priced at a mere INR 4 lakhs which is a whopping 70% cheaper than its international counterparts.
In addition to being cost-friendly, the Made in India ventilator also has an automatic ventilation feature which allows doctors to control both the pressure needed by a patient and the volume of air delivered.
A paediatrician with over 40 years of experience, Dr Sheetal Shah adds that a feature like this is only found in high-end expensive ventilators. “With his ingenuity, he has managed to recreate this affordable version of ventilators suitable for adults. I have been using the Shreeyash ventilators, especially for newborns, for almost 20 years now and I’ve never had any problems,” he says.
A platform for rapid deployment to fight COVID-19
In June 2020, Sudhir participated in the #Innovate2BeatCOVID Grand Challenge—that was initiated by Marico Innovation Foundation, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic—by combatting the short supply of ventilators, protective gear and other respiratory solutions to aid the medical fraternity.
“A friend had told me about the Marico Innovation Foundation and its #Innovate2BeatCOVID Grand Challenge. Although excited, I was also nervous about whether I was too old an innovator to participate in a competition which would be flooded with young innovators. But then he made me realise that it is the idea and its impact that matters, not the age of the innovator,” shares Sudhir, who eventually won in the best innovations in ventilators and other respiratory solutions category.
With a grant of Rs 43.5 lakhs from the Marico Innovation Foundation, Sudhir was not only able to improve the work on his innovation but also get the international and national certifications, including one from the Central Drugs Control Organisation.
“It takes lakhs of rupees to get these certifications done before one can start putting their innovations into the market. And the Foundation’s support was a life-saver in this area. But additionally, they also guided us in creating a robust business growth strategy and improving the quality of our devices with the help of intensivists and medical practitioners,” he says.
With each innovation, Sudhir is taking a step towards revolutionising healthcare technology in India and bridging the gap of access to quality medical care.
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