This from Lauren Landry and BostInnovation Magazine about Jeff Engler and his works (and the MIT100K) to prevent amputation, worldwide.
“What brings you here?” I asked.
“Oh, my story isn’t that interesting,” Engler replied. “But, listen to her story,” as he began talking about the girl sitting across from him, who’d only shared her story with him moments earlier. His enthusiasm was boundless. It wasn’t until someone said, “He just won an elevator pitch competition,” that he finally started talking about himself, and even then adding, “Well, we were one of six finalists.”
His modesty struck me, as did his story. He said his team was working on developing a “smart” shoe insole that would “predict” ulcers before they develop and then send that information to a patient’s physician. For those with diabetes, ulcers have led to nearly 100,000 amputations and over one billion dollars in costs. The proposed idea could help save thousands of diabetics from leg amputation.
“That is amazing,” I said, after Engler finished pitching his product. “I need to tell your story.”
Originally from New York, Engler, 28, is the type who needs to experience everything for himself. His philosophy? “If it’s only happened in books, it hasn’t happened.” In college, he volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and traveled to Ecuador. He worked for two years in corporate finance before deciding to work for a microfinance company in India, assisting a disadvantaged population learn about capital acquisition. After leaving Delhi, he felt as though he was at a crossroads between a career in venture capital, private equity and entrepreneurship. He chose entrepreneurship, and entered an incubator program in Pennsylvania called Dreamit.
While there, he tried developing a peer-to-peer lending platform for small businesses. He continuously set milestones for himself and pivoted a few times, but ultimately gave himself a deadline: If he didn’t raise enough money or have customers by the following January, he’d quit. He did neither, so he headed back to Harvard Business School, and participated in a startup weekend for medicine at MIT. Of the 18 teams who pitched, his was one of the finalists, and flush with their $1,000 winnings, they began further developing their idea.
Engler said he enjoys using technology in novel ways to solve big problems. With a doctor, two engineers and someone who’s worked in the devices space on board, he said their team has a long way to go. With access to physicians and professors, however, he’s been gathering research and advice to bring back to his group that he repeatedly emphasizes are the real brains behind the whole project.
Inspired by Douglas Ranalli, the founder and CEO of NetNumber Inc., Engler began sharing his tips and tricks of the entrepreneurial world, including the three ways you make money: Having assets, being an expert in something or working really hard. If you’re an expert, he said, you’ll work harder, and if you’re working to solve a problem you have yourself, you’ll work even harder than that.
“Every company is the very efficient answer to a problem,” Engler said, who refuses to start a company unless he finds an idea he absolutely can’t kill by thinking of another one that’s bigger, better and more beneficial to society. His drive, his ideas and his motivation were inspiring, as I sat there listening to him talk about how the secret to success could be failure, Peter Thiel’s view on the portfolio theory and how he hopes to bring more entrepreneurship into the classroom.
“I would love if more people tried things out, tried to figure out what they’re passionate about and then try to solve a problem in the way they know how,” Engler said.
Engler’s solving problems in the way he knows how, under the radar with his modesty intact. Even then, after telling me his entire story, I knew he was wondering, “Why would you even want to write about me?” Because it was clear he had a story to share, and I wanted to be the one sitting at the Startup Supper table to tell it.
(Writer’s note: This is the start of many student profiles I plan to write. Have a story to tell, or another I should know about? Share it by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org)