Bridging the Gap between Research and Entrepreneurship

Brief Background

Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine at Yale University

Founder, Bridge to Care Refugee linkage to care program, Nebraska

Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance Associate for Social Entrepreneurship

Harambe Pfizer Fellow Awardee for focus on healthcare innovation

Board Member, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, New Haven, CT

Co-founding Member, Yale Network for Global Noncommunicable Disease

Education & Training

MSc London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, TMIH

DTMH London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

MD University of Nebraska

Residency, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Board Certification AB of Emergency Medicine

Dr. Christine Ngaruiya credits much of her success to several mentors that have gone out of their way to nurture and cultivate her natural talents throughout her academic and professional career. Her unique story––born in Nebraska, raised in Nairobi, Kenya, moved back to the States at 15-years-old to attend university––and the positive impact of mentors, sparked her passion to create a path toward success for people in similar situations. Over her career, Dr. Ngaruiya has mentored several hundred trainees. In that time, she realized a significant number of students, researchers, and mentors are always looking to connect for research opportunities, medical rotations, or seeking advice and introductions. This critical mass led to her founding KEDU (Kenyan Doctors USA), a platform designed to bring together and support this ecosystem of collaborative efforts among like-minded individuals seeking to collaborate in the US and to bridge gaps back at home, in Kenya. Our Program Manager chatted with Dr. Ngaruiya about how she’s leveraging her experience to build a bridge between academic research and becoming an entrepreneur.

Looking back at your early career choices and academic pursuits, was becoming an entrepreneur part of your plan?
To me, an entrepreneur is someone with an idea that is targeting and solving a problem for a specific audience and willing to take on the risk of putting themselves and their idea out into the world. With that in mind, I never explicitly decided that I wanted to become an entrepreneur, however, I was exposed to entrepreneurship in the home. My mother had a series of businesses, one in the States and two in Kenya, which contributed to supporting our family. She is an entrepreneur. It wasn’t until later in my life that I realized I had the benefit of observing a woman conceive ideas, create a solution and commit, and risk, her own resources to deliver them to the market. So, although it wasn’t top of mind, I realized this in hindsight. I have always questioned if there were more efficient and effective ways for things to work. My path toward entrepreneurship started at home and the trifecta of exposure, grit, and a desire to help othershas gotten me to where I am today.

How has your professional and/or academic experience influenced or shaped the way in which you think about entrepreneurship, innovation, and leadership?
Academic research has been the focal point of much of my professional career even now as an Emergency Medicine doctor, I spend a lot of time on research. Over the past five years, I’ve participated in several projects focused on developing the competencies, capabilities, and primary data available to the scientific communities in East Africa and Kenya. Most recently, one of my largest undertakings was as a Senior Contributor conducting research on the magnitude and impact of non-communicable diseases (NCD) in Kenya. This work, a study ratified by the World Health Organization and supported by the Kenyan Ministry of Health, is the first collection of primary data on NCDs in the country and will translate toward better allocation of resources to address the issue. In the past, only secondary data and that from Western countries has been available, which is not suitable because it is not necessarily representative of the African setting. In contributing to research efforts there, time and again, I’ve experienced partners willing to invest and engage but are either completely overwhelmed, as one of a few advancing research efforts, or lack the training to be able to do so. I know the Continent needs support given a lack of adequate workforce in research to provide peer mentorship and training to upcoming scientists. More formative means are needed that build research capacity, develop grant and academic writing skills, and that equips individuals with how to manage and lead a lab or research project. It is about teaching the man how to fish. All this to say, my research efforts there have been entrepreneurial in nature seeking out opportunities to do so. These have included facilitating research workshops, leading an academic writing hackathon with a set of medical students at the University of Nairobi, and currently I am partnering with stakeholders to develop a long-term intervention to address just this issue. In sum, these efforts are quite similar to that of entrepreneurship, which requires learning about your audience, developing a solution, and introducing a new method suitable for the environment.

What are the traits that have served you well in your academic and professional career? Are there specific tools that have enabled you to succeed, thus far?

Being a black… immigrant… woman, living in the U.S., there are several instances where I could have been sidelined. There are three things that really made sure I “made it”:

  1. Mentorship. Throughout every stage of my career I can pinpoint 1-3 people, who were not family members, who had never met me before and unabashedly and incessantly pushed me. Even when I didn’t believe in myself.
  2. Self-sufficiency. There is a certain extent to which privilege and biases can no longer be an excuse. Each of us are responsible for tapping into energy, strength, and support that can help to build our confidence.
  3. Engaging, learning, and reading. Audiobooks are fundamental to my life and consuming more literature has better equipped me with the ability to engage at a higher level on several topics.

There are so many tools you can leverage. It’s a non-excuse to allow challenging times to define you.

From your experience, what has changed the least, yet still has major impact regarding gender parity within entrepreneurship, technology, and healthcare?
Barriers begin falling when women are in leadership positions. The Chair of the Yale Emergency Department is a woman, she’s one of three female Chairs at Yale and one of only a few of Emergency Departments across the country. Our department has a significantly more favorable ratio of women to men physicians and in leadership positions, as compared to our counterparts. Having a woman in this position ensures the issues discussed at the table include key parity concerns that then translate to an environment that is able to retain female talent more effectively. In our department the pay parity is being addressed and there is a focus on better maternal leave policies for staff as well. Unfortunately, it’s not something that has changed as drastically as it could be in the industry––even though there is plenty of research to support women in leadership positions and the implications of having them in these roles.

What makes a good leader? Is a leader born or can she/he be shaped?
Being a good leader has a lot to do with being an excellent listener and more importantly, an understanding listener. This translates to your ability to assess and evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, and needs of the individual or group of people whom you are potentially leading. Leaders shouldn’t look to reinvent the wheel, in terms of creating mini-versions of themselves, instead they should guide and cultivate the strengths of their “followers” so they are becoming the best version of themselves. Forcing your perspective and mindset onto others will reap a lot of resentment, even in those that are able to adhere and especially for those who cannot. And in this way, leaders are shaped as much as they are shaping others. And when you have a leader that is not actively pursuing opportunities for growth themselves, something is wrong.

What is your advice to women and what actionable steps can they take as leaders or aspiring entrepreneurs in the health & tech industries?
This goes back to my point about being self-sufficient. I returned to the States at the age of 15, with no clout of family members (except for an equally young sister) or close friends here to help me with the transition or to guide my footing to achieve my goals. I started from the ground up and created opportunities by really seeking them out. I applied for every opportunity and sought out ways to grow myself. I sat outside my college advisor’s office frequently, we even emailed and texted multiple times after hours (bless her soul!). I secured a full-time scholarship for college, and partial scholarship for medical school. I applied and was accepted to medical school. I got accepted for residency at one of the most competitive programs in the country, and so on. There was no one, in my circles around me, who I could go to that had had a similar experience and could provide all of the necessary support that I needed to overcome all of the hurdles – that of a young, immigrant girl – except for myself. Mentors helped fill some of the gaps along the way. They were integral in cultivating my talents, providing opportunities, and shaping me academically, even though none could fully understand my personal journey. External forces are a large factor in our development as leaders, however, initiative, motivation, and passion have to come from our internal drive to be self-sufficient.

Lecky’s Final Thoughts

Independence, self-reliance and self-support are the very foundation of what enables one to be successful. Mentorship, exposure, and opportunities created as a result are additives to one’s own efforts. The trifecta of exposure, grit and desire is that TNT that ensures and secures results.

If you would like to recommend a female entrepreneur in healthcare technology to be featured, we encourage you to contact us.

Contact information:
Sharon Mwale       Program Manager        [email protected]