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An Interview with Joel Arun Sursas, Head of Clinical Affairs at Biorithm, Singapore

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Joel Arun Sursas is the Head of Clinical Affairs at Biorithm, Singapore. He works closely with engineers and implementation consultants to achieve medical technology solutions that improve patient outcomes, enhance monitoring and protect patient privacy.

Tell me about your best and worst days at work.

The best days at work are typically days which involve multi-disciplinary collaboration and brainstorming. As a startup, we are privileged to have subject-matter experts sitting at an arm’s length away from one another. Unlike MNCs where “departments” are often fragmented and walled-off, we can achieve a lot of mileage in small focus-group discussions. As a physician, I immensely enjoy exploring the minds of the engineers, business developers and product developers in my midst.

The worst days at work would be the days I spend dealing with the mountain of paperwork that comes along with regulatory requirements. As a startup we are looking to market our device in the EU, UK, Australia and Asia – each region has a unique regulatory framework, each with its own accompanying set of essential requirements and documentation. Navigating this space can be complicated, time-consuming and confusing. It’s part of the learning process, however, and being accustomed to the various regional requirements and legal stipulations will benefit us in the long run as we develop our future pipeline of products and services.

Who are the clients/what are the projects that you most enjoy working on?

I enjoy going back to my roots and engaging with clinical users the most. The projects that give me the most fulfillment are those that directly engage physicians and nurses; I think that my role enables me to be an effective bridge between the IT domain and the health domain. After all, the core of health informatics is the people, and engaging in discourse with the key stakeholders enables me to manage patient data in the most effective, safe and optimal manner.

What was your biggest ‘a-ha’ moment?

I would have to say that it would be in formulating the value proposition of our medical device to multiple stakeholders. Initially, our medical device was positioned as a patient-advocating device – which it is. However, I think we started to turn more heads when we buttressed our value proposition to include physicians, midwives and the hospital administration. This change made me realize the importance of developing an all-encompassing value proposition that attracts as many vital stakeholders as possible. It makes the conversation a lot easier as no matter how diverse your target audience is, the message is a positive one.

What has been the most important part of your professional journey?

I thought that medical school would have taught me most of what I knew about medicine. However, my two years in the Singapore Armed Forces developing and implementing Southeast Asia’s largest EHR and my time spent at Biorithm have taught me a lot more about the medico-industrial complex. While I have furthered myself professionally at Harvard Medical School and Johns Hopkins Medical School in the field of health informatics, the self-learning from these pivotal experiences has been challenging, immense, and extremely rewarding. I would say that this experiential learning has been the most crucial part of my professional journey thus far, and I would venture to say that it will continue to be.

 What risks is your company facing?

 Although we do face competitors as a fetal-maternal monitoring company, Biorithm views competition as an opportunity. Firstly, the fact that there is viable competition validates the space we occupy. Secondly, it keeps us on our toes and encourages us to continually seek differentiating factors which will eventually culminate in better clinician and patient outcomes. Thirdly, competition can always be converted to collaboration should the occasion arise!

What would you do with unlimited resources?

This is a tricky question. Intuitively, I would invest most of it in the company as (unsurprisingly), I believe in our company. However, on that note – I think that the success we have achieved so far as a small startup has been contingent on the limitation of resources we face. That constraint forces everyone to learn, step out of their comfort zone and upgrade themselves daily. That’s the “burning platform” that most startups face at some point in their life cycle, and it is what most successful startups attribute their success to.

When was the last time you totally lost yourself in doing something?

It would have to be in writing our Clinical Evaluation Report (CER) for our device, for CE marking. The CER contends with the background literature – my research background comes in very useful for this segment which is typically medically jargonized. I enjoy looking at up-to-date evidence for subsequent analysis.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I juggle my work with freelance medical writing which I do to finance my post-graduate studies. Because of the time zone difference, I’m usually up in the wee hours of the morning in Singapore attending live lectures in Boston or Baltimore. I’m an exercise addict, so the adrenaline of post-work exercise helps to keep me awake!

How do you feel you make a difference in the world?

I’m confident that our team-effort at Biorithm towards innovation will see an impressionable mark on the way obstetric and fetal monitoring is conducted. The technology has remained grossly unchanged since the 1960s, and we are poised to change that.

You can know more about Joel Arun through his Website and LinkedIn.

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An Interview with Paulette Chaffee

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Paulette Chaffee Intrerview times of startups

Paulette Chaffee is a teacher, speech therapist, and attorney deeply involved in the Fullerton community. As an educator and member of various non-profit boards, her focus has always been on providing children with the highest quality education. Ms. Chaffee holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Redlands, a California Lifetime Teaching Credential, and is admitted to the California Bar.

Paulette, Thank you for talking with us. In what ways can a school support a student struggling with mental illness?

There are so many ways schools can support their students. On the ground level, educators should know the warning signs of mental health problems, and there should be a set chain of command of who to inform and what resources are available. In addition, teachers should promote healthy social and emotional development and recognize students who are at risk.

Schools need to create a positive and safe environment; this includes encouraging students to be active and help one another. Finally, there must be increased awareness and education on all levels. Developing and implementing school-based mental health programs is essential while also providing counseling. If a child needs additional assistance, parents should be informed that 504 plans and IEPs (individualized education programs) are available.

How has the spread of the recent Omicron COVID variant affected students, teachers, parents, and other staff?

For a brief time, students and teachers returned to in-person learning; however, the rise in cases due to Omicron has forced many school districts to consider returning to online learning. The schools that want to stay open have difficulty keeping sufficient staff. And although it may seem like online learning is a simple solution, it is more complicated than that. Parents have to make adjustments to their work schedules and childcare. There are concerns of more significant educational disparities when remote. On top of that, many students are falling behind academically, and there has been an increase in emotional and behavioral issues. Many students need the balance of education and extracurriculars like sports, which has become challenging to maintain.

The pandemic has shown us how quickly we can be in the middle of a crisis. What should schools do to prepare for crises that may arise in the future?

The first thing should be to create a crisis response team that responds to major events. This team should create a crisis response plan that outlines who is in the response team and their responsibilities. In addition, it should include protocols on what to do for unique situations and natural disasters. The last part of this plan should consist of how to communicate with outside sources; this includes media, parents, and the community. There should be plans and processes on every level, including school, district, and regional.

How can transparency be created when discussing education budgets with the public?

Implementing a SBB (student-based budgeting) funding system is the first step. It goes by many different names, but this type of funding system is one where the dollars are based on student needs. This type of budgeting relies on three pillars: equity, transparency, and flexibility. To create transparency, it’s crucial that the public has access to the budget and reports and that there are standards in place to maintain the integrity of these documents. In addition, allowing the community to participate in the process creates trust and inclusiveness. When the general public feels like they know what is happening, it can generate quality and accountability in school budgeting.

How can the community get involved in budget decision-making, and how can school districts make this accessible?

Develop a process that allows everyone to be heard before making a major decision. Having open forums for the public to attend to ask questions and voice concerns can be one way of doing this. Also, make an online survey available to give feedback and quick input for the people who cannot participate in a forum. Make sure when developing the budget and other accompanying documents and reports they are “public friendly” and easy to understand. School staff must be prioritized in budget discussions and district communications as many students and parents will likely get their information from staff.

There are a variety of hardships and disparities a student can face. What can schools do to ensure there are resources and support systems for these students to improve equity and inclusion? Should there be resources for parents as well?

There are endless things a school can do to improve equity and inclusion. Start with increasing staff training and reviewing the hiring process to allow equity and inclusion to start at the top with a more diverse staff. In addition, changing procedures is essential, such as eliminating 0s for late work or removing more challenging prerequisites for AP and Honors. More often than not, these procedures adversely impact and create barriers for disadvantaged students to succeed.

On that same note, reviewing the curriculum and making sure it is accessible is critical. Speaking with the students can help schools identify what they need and gaps. This also means identifying and providing systematic help to those falling behind to prevent grade repetition.

Finally, parents and families should be resources because students’ education doesn’t stop when they leave school. Therefore, there needs to be a strong link between home and school, and support should be provided to families who need additional assistance. Also, family engagement should be encouraged and provide ways to close the gap for parents struggling to help their children at home.

Is it essential to provide implicit bias training to teachers and administrators? Could you expand on that?

Yes, but it can’t simply be one session. A school needs to have an overarching plan, and implicit bias training should be integrated. It should review policies, practices, and structures and work to make them as unbiased as possible. There should be reasonable and attainable goals set to address needs and problems and active changes made to reach them. One of the most important things to note in the training is that discussions about bias are difficult for everyone. Provide the tools on how to handle these conversations and manage emotions. This plan also needs to have specified training for teachers, guidance counselors, security, etc.

What are the biggest accessibility challenges you see schools facing, i.e., transportation, access to the internet and technology, etc.?

Concerning transportation, this is where I see some of the most significant challenges. It becomes a complex regulatory landscape for drivers to function between federal and state laws. Funding has been relatively stagnant, which creates various issues. One is environmental harm and safety due to not updating buses and outdated technology. Also, so many more school choices and students not going to their zone schools have created the need for a new bus system. However, lack of funding slows this necessity down. With COVID, there are additional safety, staffing, and funding issues to consider.

Regarding the internet and technology, budget limitations lead to outdated network infrastructures and unreliable or outdated software and devices. As a result, there is a resistance to this change by teachers and typically a lack of training. In addition, there usually needs to be an updated curriculum that integrates these technologies.

Students with disabilities struggle with unique accessibility issues. Physical inaccessibility in schools can make it difficult for students to get around. It isn’t uncommon for there to be a lack of individualization and specialists. Unfortunately, disabilities come with stereotypes and biases from students and staff. Typically, a student must request accommodations, which can be slow, including the dispute process.

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Interview

An Interview with Steve Sasson, Inventor of the Digital Camera

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Steve Sasson changed the way we capture memories when he invented the digital camera in the 1970s. The popular technology speaker believes that every workplace should invest in its inventors and innovators, and the only way to disrupt your industry is to experiment – even if that tempts failure. In this exclusive interview for Times of Startups, Steve reflected on his experience at Kodak and offered advice for the inventors of the future.

In the workplace, why should business leaders allow for experimentation and inventing?

“If you’re leading some sort of corporate entity or something, not only should you allow it, but you should also encourage it, because what do you think your competition is doing?

“It’s the lifeblood of the future of a company, you know? And so most companies, they’ll basically say they really like experimentation, they like innovation, until it happens to them and then it becomes a challenge to them rather than an opportunity. And I think that’s the danger sometimes.

“You should definitely encourage that in your organisation, discuss it and make it part of your everyday. Not an unusual thing, it should be part of the everyday discussions. And it doesn’t have to come from a research laboratory! It’s basically people challenging the established processes in order to see something new, and you’ll see a lot of failures.

“You’ve got to basically celebrate the failures a little bit, say, ‘listen, we didn’t succeed here, but we did learn the following and that’s a success’. So I think we have to make innovation and experimentation more an everyday, ordinary thing as opposed to some exceptional event.”

Having disrupted the photography industry with your digital camera, why should businesses strive to disrupt their own markets?

“I will tell you that digital photography was something that occupied me and a number of people at Kodak for well over three decades before it happened.

“In the case of photography, it was a technological revolution that took place – silicon technology, light and digital technology came together and offered another pathway. And by the way, that pathway was well known and practised by a whole bunch of other companies that never considered photography as part of their business. You know, the Sony Corporation wasn’t considered a photographic company back in 1980, for example.

“You have to constantly think about how you can disrupt, how your business could be disrupted and how you can anticipate that. You know, the old expression, ‘only the paranoid survive’, I think is very, very apt. I don’t know if you have to be paranoid – in the case of Kodak, I think a little bit more paranoia would have been helpful, but it would have been pretty trying to exist in a paranoid state for 30 years.

“You should be the devil’s advocate, try to disrupt your business and have real honest conversations and empower the change agents within your organisation to make powerful arguments. Lots of times that change comes in and says, ‘hey, we could do it differently’, and they’ll say, ‘yeah, well, we don’t want to do it this way’. We had that.

“I had that argument for many decades with Kodak. You know, ‘why would anybody want to look at that picture or a television set? Prints, people love prints. People have been doing prints for a hundred years, what do you have that says that they don’t want prints?’

“[I would say] ‘OK, well, tell me the two or three things that would change your mind about this. If this was developed, if that was developed, if the cost of this got down to that point, then would you consider it’. Then you get down to the specific breakthroughs that might change their mind.

“You’ve got to empower people who think differently and give them a chance to have really valid arguments.”

What advice do you have for the inventors of the future?

“Start now. Don’t be afraid of failure, failure teaches you a lot. I got very comfortable being wrong, I know it’s a sad thing, but get comfortable being wrong because you’ll learn a lot. And then you do your calculations, do your experiment, and all of a sudden you see something you never expected. And that is kind of thrilling to me.

“You know, it humbles you and excites you at the same time. I don’t worry much about reputation, and I recommend you don’t do either – start young when you don’t have a reputation. And then if you’re old and you have a reputation, put it on the shelf and use it when you can.

“There’s a lot going on. Things move faster than ever before. Innovators, just be curious, be comfortable with failures, learn from them and just keep going forward.”

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Interview

An Interview with Nicky Moffat, previously the highest ranked woman in The British Army

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nicky moffat interview with times of startups

In this exclusive interview with Nicky Moffat, via The Female Motivational Speakers Agency, discover the secrets to strong leadership and high-performance teamwork. Nicky was the highest-ranking woman in the British army until 2012, when she pursued her passion for workplace performance and became one of the UK’s foremost corporate consultants.

Nicky’s knowledge and extensive experience of leadership, teamwork and inclusion is proven in this insightful interview, where she reflects on the biggest life lesson she learned in the military. Do not miss this exclusive Q&A with Nicky Moffat, a pioneer of corporate excellence.

What is the most important quality of a leader?

“One of the important qualities in a leader is emotional intelligence, the ability to recognise that people process things in different ways and therefore, find ways to bring those people on board. There’s always going to be some people that have the same thinking and motivations that I might have as a leader, but just because the others don’t it doesn’t mean they’re not great employees!

“It just means that I’ve got to find another way to reach them, to give them time to process the change and then to encourage them to come on board with the journey. And of course, sometimes people who take longer to process change are busy reflecting and thinking about change in a way that might be different to me. They can come up with points, ideas, things that can actually make change go better because they have a different perspective.

“When we talk about diversity, it’s not just about Black, White, gay, straight, male, female and so on. It’s about people who lead differently, react differently or think differently.”

During periods of stress, how do you find the motivation to persevere?

“I think one of the things that brings on stress is a loss of control.

“What happens to me – and maybe this is one of the reasons why a career in the army was perfect for me – when I’m under stress, the adrenaline kicks in in a positive way. So I want to engage with it, whatever that thing is that’s stressing me, I want to make a plan. I try to be logical and to think through how to turn a bad situation, into a better situation.

“What I’m effectively doing is I’m trying to gain some semblance of control. And in terms of ownership, I’m trying to own the solution to the problem that I’m experiencing. But I thrive on responsibility, I think I do my best work when I’m under pressure and some element of stress. Sometimes I’ll inspire that by working late to a deadline rather than perhaps starting things earlier!

“And again, it’s important to know yourself, because if by doing that I’m stressing somebody else who process things differently, then I need to be aware of that. That’s a key part of emotional intelligence.”

What advice can you give businesses on how to build high performing teams?

“Building a high performing team starts with the leader. I often refer to something called Mission Command, it’s from the Prussian Chief of Staff many, many years ago.

“I can simplify it into three key areas: firstly, it’s about clarity of direction. A leader must have a clear vision and give direction on what needs to be done by the organisation. People must properly understand what’s being asked of them and why. 

“Secondly, you need to have an environment of mutual trust, where I trust my teams to go and deliver what I’ve set out. They also must trust that they can come to me if there’s, for example, a lack of clarity or insufficient resource. 

“And the third thing is true and full empowerment. So, building a high performing team, if I use Mission Command, is about clarity of direction in an environment and culture of mutual trust, where people are genuinely empowered.

“The other thing about a high performing team is that diversity within the team can add real value. I don’t just mean diversity as in Black, White, gay, straight, male, female. I mean diversity of experience, perspective, insight, culture and capability.” 

The military appears incredibly masculine, did you feel a pressure to fit in and conform to that environment?

“Back in 1985, it was very much a case of wanting to fit in, wanting to prove yourself. You wanted to prove your credibility. You don’t want to let your colleagues down.

“But I certainly found having done that and then having established myself and grown in confidence and knowledge and credibility and so on, I was able to be more myself. I mean, what the military does in training is it sort of breaks you down – and I don’t mean that in a really negative way, it breaks you down so you can contribute as part of an effective team.

“Once you’ve done that and you’ve proved yourself, then the military encourages people to bring their personalities to the fore.”

What was the biggest life lesson you learnt in the military?

“I think in terms of life lessons, again, this was something that came to me over time, and I actually think it’s about self-care. What military people tend to be, not just because it’s ingrained in us and in our training, is very mission focussed mission, hugely focussed on developing our teams and the individuals within it. So we expend a huge amount of our energy on other people.

“And I think it took me some time to realise later on in my career, when I was a Colonel, that I was pushing myself too hard. I remember a particular job when I was working in the Ministry of Defence, I was really focussed on helping to create ministerial endorsed and funded policies that would support our troops on operations.

“And, of course, that’s a really important task. But I put so much energy and effort into that, that I would go home at the weekend exhausted and tired.

“So the biggest life lesson is that if you’re going to be a good leader or deliver your best in any role, then you’ve got to be match fit. And I was most match fit when I made sure I got the balance right between the energy and effort that I was expending on my work and [making time for] rest, recuperation, decompression and some time out.”

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