Bright colours, bright lights and even brighter ideas come from Indian weddings. This was exactly the case for Vidhan Bhaiya, a Northeastern University graduate with a degree in chemical engineering.
The beginning of his diabetic footwear venture all started out at an Indian wedding he attended four years ago. He recalls his favourite uncle who, back then, was shuffling awkwardly. When he asked him why, his uncle told him he had diabetic neuropathy.
This condition damages nerves in the legs and feet. The lack of proper footwear kept him from enjoying festivities which is a travesty if you’re at an Indian wedding.
Now, online retailers like Amazon, sell Dr. Brinsley shoes, produced by Bhaiya’s startup venture. In India, they’re sold at 85 hospitals and clinics along with countries like Singapore, South Africa, Bahrain, Colombia and soon to be more.
Set to pursue an MBA at Harvard in 2023, we speak to this chemical engineering graduate from Chennai on how his studies abroad led him to where he is now.
Walk us through your interest in chemical engineering.
My family runs a special chemical manufacturing plant. Having grown up around that led to my natural curiosity in chemical engineering.
Since chemistry was a subject I thoroughly enjoyed in high school, I thought pursuing a degree in chemical engineering was the next right step.
What made you choose to study in Spain, the UK and the US?
Northeastern University in the US stresses the importance of global experiences and I couldn’t agree more. Travel definitely helps me continue to broaden my thinking by challenging assumptions and allowing me to learn from different cultures.
I decided to study chemical engineering in the US because I think it has the world’s most seasoned higher education system which continues to adapt to future needs. As for the UK, I chose the London School of Economics and Political Science.
This was because I was curious about econometrics and the impact it can have on companies. It’s a world leader in this space and I thought it would be a great chance to explore London too.
I also studied abroad in Tarragona, Spain which is the Chemical Engineering Capital of Europe. Part of my coursework involved visiting factories of some of the world’s largest chemical companies and seeing the scale and processes they follow. Quite fascinating.
Which country stood out to you the most?
I spent most of my time in the US and therefore it was the most impactful. The innovative ecosystem including research and subsequently spinning out into startups is truly unparalleled.
Tell us a bit about your career.
Through Northeastern, I had the opportunity to take on two co-ops (six-month internships) in the middle of my chemical engineering studies. The first one was at Pillar VC, an early-stage venture capital that focuses on emerging technologies like AI/ML in healthcare, blockchain, synthetic biology, quantum computing and more.
This was great as I got to observe startups close and find trends that succeeded and failed. It was a chance to be on the investor’s side of the table and see things through their eyes.
For my second co-op, I decided to commercialise my research on designs for diabetic footwear that combined medical performance and style to reduce amputations. I took eight months off from school and as part of the Sherman Centre Engineering Entrepreneurship Programme, I went to India to launch it as Dr Brinsley.
Why choose to get your MBA at Harvard in 2023?
During my time in Boston, I had the good fortune to be able to attend a number of conferences and events at Harvard. I began to see the power of the Harvard network and learn from incredible people who visit and lecture there.
Aside from the coursework, this exposure to the world would be crucial to moulding me into a capable leader.
Can you share something about Chennai with us?
Chennai, where I grew up, is a small town in India with about 11 million people. It has the world’s second-longest beach (The Marina). Chennai is also the cultural capital of India with a lot of temples and great food.
What’s the local food like in the countries you’ve studied in compared to home?
There is nothing like home but I loved the “paella” (rice dish) in Spain. I wasn’t particularly impressed by British food but juice with every meal in Costa Rica was one of the best traditions I’ve come across.
Is there something you wish you studied more of?
I wish I took more courses on strategy as it’s a subject that I really enjoy and allows me to connect my chemical engineering knowledge to the business world.
How did you successfully apply for your first job?
Northeastern has a phenomenal career centre that guides you through company selection, resume building, mock interviews and so on. I felt very prepared.
What was the process like?
It was a lot of fun! I walked in and had a conversation with my manager about what I did at school, my interests and the books I was reading. We then went on to talk about the research I was doing on diabetic footwear and a couple of days later, they called me and told me I had the job.
What advice would you give other fresh graduates entering the workforce?
Try to create processes to ensure you don’t end up having stuff fall through the cracks. Whether they’re tasks at work or staying in touch with people you care about. “I forgot” is a statement I try to avoid saying.
If you could turn back time, what advice would you give yourself?
Don’t rush through college. Take as much time as you can because it’s a fun experience. After graduation, things change drastically.
How did you spend your first paycheck?
I sent US$100 notes to some of my mentors from childhood along with a note thanking them for their support.
What matters more to you: work satisfaction, salary, social life or a work/life balance?
Work satisfaction and then a work/life balance. They go hand in hand.