Inventor Mir Imran: “I’d like to see the art of innovation taught in K-12. If we teach everyone to innovate, everyone will be an innovator, regardless of their profession.”

I’d like to see the art of innovation taught in K-12. This would have a profound impact on the future of our country, and the future of innovation. If we teach everyone to innovate, everyone will be an innovator, regardless of their profession. From tech CEOs and engineers to electricians and plumbers, if you can […]

I’d like to see the art of innovation taught in K-12. This would have a profound impact on the future of our country, and the future of innovation. If we teach everyone to innovate, everyone will be an innovator, regardless of their profession. From tech CEOs and engineers to electricians and plumbers, if you can approach problems from a culture of innovation, you’ll be better at whatever you do. Given the issues with job satisfaction today, and the trend of rote tasks being moved from human workers to robots and artificial intelligence, a shift to teaching innovation from a young age and continuing to foster it into adulthood is more critical than ever.

I had the pleasure to interview Mir Imran, CEO and Founder, Rani Therapeutics. Mir is a prolific healthcare innovator and entrepreneur who has been developing and commercializing breakthrough medical innovations for more than 40 years. Since 1995, Mir’s innovations have been developed at his life science R&D lab and incubator, InCube Labs. As an entrepreneur, Mir has founded more than 23 life sciences companies; 15 of his companies have seen “liquidity events” (IPO/Acquisition). Mir now holds more than 400 issued patents and is perhaps most well-known for his pioneering contributions to the first FDA-approved Automatic Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator. Mir has received a number of industry accolades for his work including being named one of the most inspiring people in life sciences (PharmaVoice) and one of the “Top 50 Medical Device Inventors of All Time” (QMed). Mir has also been recognized as a fellow for both the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). He holds an M.S. in bioengineering and a B.S. in electrical engineering from Rutgers. Mir also attended CMDNJ/Rutgers Medical School.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was working on my undergraduate degree at Rutgers, I was still undecided on where to apply my engineering talents after graduation. This all changed one summer after I spotted a flyer on a university bulletin board. A school that focused on the needs of children with cerebral palsy was looking for an engineer who could work with them on a project to develop communication aids tailored to their students’ individual needs. I had initially applied because I needed a summer job, but once I was accepted and began my work, I found myself entirely transformed by the experience.

On my first day, I was introduced to Jenny: a seven-year-old who was a quadriplegic and was seemingly incapable of communication or articulation. However, the staff felt she showed clear signs of intelligence. But without the ability to communicate, even with the help of speech therapists, her capacity for learning was compromised. It was my job to design a device that could overcome this seemingly impossible barrier.

I spent the first several days playing with Jenny, getting to learn the specifics of her own capabilities. Her arms and legs were paralyzed, but I was able to determine that there was a simple voluntary motion that she could make with her neck that we could use as a unique point of expression. She could use this to manipulate a device and begin to share her thoughts, feelings, and needs with others. I created a sensor that could interface with her neck, which essentially became a pointing device. This was complemented with a communication board, allowing her to point to picture phrases to express herself. This may sound primitive by today’s standards, but in 1975, tools like this weren’t available. The problem of teaching severely handicapped children how to communicate simply wasn’t being addressed at the time.

My experience with Jenny was a powerful one. It taught me the value that engineering could bring to healthcare and medicine, and it set my career on a path to apply my scientific and engineering skills to improve patients’ quality of life.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Innovation tends to come from the least likely places, and at Rani Therapeutics, this has proven right on several occasions. Our mission at Rani is to develop technologies that will allow for oral delivery of drugs that would otherwise require painful regular injections. As with any innovation, there has been a lot of trial and error to find the right solution to move this technology forward. We believe we have found that solution with the RaniPill™ capsule, a robotic pill that painlessly injects a drug into the intestinal wall, and is harmlessly passed from the body.

No one had ever thought to inject drugs into the intestinal wall via a pill. As a result, the journey to the RaniPill capsule required answering a lot of questions that had never been asked before. For example, how do you make a needle that can dissolve in the human body? Or how do you create the force needed for the capsule to push the needle into the intestinal wall? The answer to both of these, much to our surprise, benefitted from items that you may very well have in your house today.

One of our initial ideas for creating a dissolvable needle was to develop it using sugar. The substance made perfect sense in theory, but finding a way to craft an impossibly small sugar needle successfully was a challenge unto itself. Not only did it need to be small, but it also needed to be hollow to allow for the transportation of medicine. The solution, it turns out, was found in one of my wife’s bra straps (and her willingness to let me destroy one of her bras for science).

Bra straps have a certain amount of elasticity to them, and this elasticity comes from incredibly small rubber threads that are less than a millimeter in diameter. Dipping one of these rubber threads into molten sugar causes the sugar to stick to the rubber thread. Pulling both ends of the rubber thread, I was able to free the clung sugar, which had now created a hollow tube. I then made a sugar tip and fused it to the tube as a proof of concept — we had our first dissolvable needle. Since that time we have created a machine that can make these (without needing to destroy my wife’s wardrobe further), and have moved from sugar to polymers that are easier to mold. But at its inception, the RaniPill capsule’s dissolvable needle was the result of sugar and a kindly-donated, gently-used, undergarment.

No clothing was harmed in finding the solution needed to create the force required to inject the needle, but there was an upset stomach. After dining on a particularly spicy Indian dinner, I found myself at home with tremendous heartburn. To calm things down, I dropped a few Alka Seltzer tablets into a glass of water — and that’s when it hit me: the same type of reaction that creates effervescent bubbles in Alka Seltzer was precisely the kind of safe, body-friendly solution that was needed to create intestinal wall-piercing force in the RaniPill capsule. After drinking my much-needed glass of heartburn relief, I was back in the lab working on the solution that ultimately found its way into our technology.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

There are hundreds of millions of people around the world who must endure painful daily injections to treat a range of conditions, including diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. The RaniPil capsule is designed to replace such injections with a single pill, helping patients who would otherwise experience discomfort, or may even show poor compliance with their prescribed medication.

While the technology behind the RaniPill capsule is nothing short of revolutionary, we’re most excited about the activities we’re engaged in, around its individual applications. We are currently working on converting a number of injectable drugs for delivery with the RaniPill to treat several chronic diseases. Replacing painful injections would not only improve patient compliance but improve the quality of life of millions. Having that kind of impact is what keeps me motivated every day.

Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

There are several reasons for decreased job satisfaction, but in the end, they all tie back to education, and its relevance to the changing nature of work.

There was a time in our very recent past that you could go to college, learn a trade, and the skillset wouldn’t change or evolve in any significant ways throughout your entire career. In today’s world, however, access to and participation in continuing education is a crucial component in maintaining success. Things are changing daily, and workers are expected to keep up with these changes or get left behind.

The question becomes, then, what are we doing as a society to prepare workers for this new reality? And how is the education system adapting to handle this? In many instances, the knowledge a student gains in their first year of university is obsolete by the time they graduate. It’s a changing world, and collectively we all need to do our part to transition workers to this new reality — whether that’s an education system that focuses on adaptability over rote details, government agencies taking a role in re-training and career transition services, or employers who provide ongoing learning opportunities to ensure their existing team stay relevant.

The culture of constant change; of continuous learning to remain relevant — it can create feelings of anxiety, low self-worth, and even depression. We can’t slow the pace of innovation to fix this, but we can change how we deal with it, and make an effort to make sure nobody feels left behind.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

These are all intrinsically linked — an unhappy workforce is less productive which, in turn, can impact the bottom line. The mental health and well-being of an employee is crucial to the success of a company. It ensures focus, diligence, and passion for their work. If someone is depressed or anxious, especially if they’re feeling inadequate or overwhelmed in the face of change, their ability to solve problems will suffer. Investing in your workers’ well-being is one of the smartest investments any company can make if they’re interested in improving their overall bottom-line.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Be a coach, not a boss: If you want to bring out the creativity of your employees to foster company innovation, you need to be there to work alongside them and help them along; not merely be there to bark orders and set targets. I don’t have an office for this very reason. If you visit Rani Therapeutics, you’ll find me working alongside whichever member of my team could most benefit from my input or assistance, from other executives to the most junior members of our team.

Celebrate failure: Innovation can never succeed unless innovators are given permission to fail. Many employers don’t allow for this, and it leads to staff that fearing the repercussions of failure, and feeds a culture of caution. If a bad idea could stifle someone’s career, they’ll likely feel more comfortable not suggesting an idea. At Rani Therapeutics, it’s our policy to welcome, embrace, and even celebrate failure — because every failure teaches us something that brings us one step closer to success.

Hold freedom accountable: The best companies provide their employees with a great deal of intellectual freedom, providing them with the tools they need to explore ideas that could ultimately blossom into the next big thing. But this freedom also comes with a need for accountability. Whether their efforts succeed or fail, every team member needs to be expected to contribute in a meaningful way. Freedom to explore ideas should never be confused with “freedom to do whatever you feel like,” so it’s essential to set clear boundaries regarding while encouraging a culture of innovation.

Don’t silo employees: If you want to foster innovation, it’s important to build teams that work well together rather than having employees siloed in the corner. In Silicon Valley, you’ll often see employees sitting in a room all day and coding alone. That can’t be healthy for them and doesn’t lead to a lot of creativity. At Rani, we build teams that ensure the type of communication needed to evolve an idea, and we encourage cross-discipline pollination to make sure that everyone has a basic understanding of what everyone else in the company is doing.

Push people outside their comfort zone: People like an opportunity to learn, to be challenged, and to test their abilities. Giving them opportunities outside of their usual scope can create a sense of accomplishment that fuels their overall satisfaction. An excellent example of this from our own experience was when we needed a hydrogen peroxide sterilizer for an isolator we were building. Ordering one would have taken too long, so we decided to make one ourselves. This was a task that no one on the team had ever considered tackling, but I joined some of our engineers in solving the issue, and rather than waiting 2–3 months for a commercial sterilizer, we had a prototype up and running within 2–3 weeks. We were all working outside of our comfort zone and learned so much in the process.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

We need to encourage people to question everything, including the status quo. Questions are how we learn, and if some of those questions are tough or even uncomfortable, that’s okay — the answers they produce in the end will be even more meaningful. Questions are at the very heart of innovation, and we need to validate a culture of curiosity rather than discourage it if we want innovation to thrive.

This is something that can ultimately start with early education. Young children are frequently encouraged to explore the world around them and ask questions, but this shifts quite considerably as they age. Instead, this should be something that is at the core of learning throughout a student’s entire experience.

Especially in light of automation and other trends that may displace jobs based on learned repetition, it is crucial that we are encouraging everyone to think critically and question everything.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

Leading by example is essential to ensuring mutual respect and instilling confidence in leadership. I practice everything I preach: questioning everything, collaborating across different teams, taking on projects outside of my areas of expertise, and openly analyzing failures so that the entire team can benefit from the accrued knowledge.

People in large companies tend to have reasonably narrow job descriptions, and there are penalties for thinking outside of the box, as well as for any failures that result. In my company, I want people to push the boundaries and solve problems. I want them to take leaps, and they can’t do that if they’re afraid to fail. Celebrating my failures gives them the freedom they need to do the same. And because I prefer to roll up my sleeves and work alongside everyone in my company from top to bottom, we’ve created a culture where my lead-by-example approach impacts the entire organization.

On that same note, I also try to manage my emotions in a way that our staff can emulate. Extremes aren’t good for the culture. If I’m too excited about success, failure to gain this same reaction from me in other instances can be a crushing disappointment. Similarly, any expression of disappointment should be tempered with understanding on my part, and how such expression can have a direct negative impact on employee morale.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my mother’s encouragement and support of my childhood curiosity put me on the path that made me who I am today. Her parenting created an environment where exploration and experimentation were never discouraged. When I was a young boy, for example, I would take my toys apart to try and understand how they worked. Rather than chastise me, my mother began to buy two of each toy: I’d have one to play with, and one to disassemble.

When I was very little, I would take things apart with a rock or a hammer, but as I got older, I would use the proper tools and eventually got to the point where I could put things back together. This fascination continued well beyond my youth, and by the time I was enrolled in university, I knew the inner-workings of just about anything you could name because I was given the freedom to dismantle it and study it in all the years that led up to this.

The safe environment my mother created for me to explore within had a profound impact on my life. Rani Therapeutics is named for her. Rani means “queen” in Hindi, and this was her nickname.

Professionally, I owe a great deal of gratitude to Dr. Sidney Deutsch. He was a professor of mine at Rutgers, and he encouraged me in the direction of medical engineering when I was just 19 years old. Back then I was relatively inexperienced, but he had so much faith in my abilities, and that opened a lot of doors for me that helped me achieve my goals.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

While the origins of the quote are mostly a matter of debate, there’s an adage that says “The road to success is paved with failure.” In cases of innovation, this is doubly true. Every moment of my career, from my first experiences with Jenny to the development of the RaniPill capsule, have been punctuated by the failures that helped inform my eventual successes. Being comfortable, and even appreciative of failure has been a critical ingredient in making me the person I am today. You can’t let failures discourage you; you have to let them teach you.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d like to see the art of innovation taught in K-12. This would have a profound impact on the future of our country, and the future of innovation. If we teach everyone to innovate, everyone will be an innovator, regardless of their profession. From tech CEOs and engineers to electricians and plumbers, if you can approach problems from a culture of innovation, you’ll be better at whatever you do. Given the issues with job satisfaction today, and the trend of rote tasks being moved from human workers to robots and artificial intelligence, a shift to teaching innovation from a young age and continuing to foster it into adulthood is more critical than ever.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...


A Converstation with Mir Imran on The Future of Healthcare

by Christina D. Warner, MBA

Leadership Edge with Mir Imran on The Future of Healthcare

by Christina D. Warner, MBA

The Importance of Business Innovation

by Craig Kilgore
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.