Ashwinraj (Ashwin) Karthikeyan, a rising UVA Fourth Year and the CEO and Founder of InMEDBio, has long embraced his penchant for seeking out answers to tough questions, both about the current state of the world and about what the future holds. As a young, curious kid, his parents “used to get slightly irritated… I’d always ask ‘why’ a lot – to the point of exhaustion on my parents’ part.” As far as entrepreneurs go, this trait seems to come with the territory, and sure enough, Ashwin tells me, he dabbled with business ideas in the years before founding InMEDBio.
In keeping with his focus on the future, “in high school, I was into robotics” in addition to exploring numerous other ideas in the consumer products space. While none of these business ideas stuck for too long, he felt continually compelled by the notion of “building something on my own and seeing where I could take it.” But he was in no particular rush to commit to one venture as a career path – after all, his dad had worked for twenty years as a researcher before starting his own business. However, when the idea for InMEDBio and its first product in-development, Phoenix-Aid, began to take shape, Ashwin was finally fully captivated by one timely idea.
The idea, naturally, evolved from a question of why. The summer before Ashwin started as a First Year at UVA, someone he knew passed away unexpectedly from a surgical site infection. He truly couldn’t reconcile the idea that we live in such a high-technology, modern world and, yet, the care of a wound following a sophisticated surgery could actually end an otherwise-healthy life. During his first year at school, he began working on a research project trying to uncover some answers.
What began as a quest for understanding quickly gained steam as a full-fledged business idea. The team – consisting of Karthikeyan and a rotating roster of several of his UVA classmates – started winning a few grants, allowing them to consider seeking access to a biomedical space to actually begin developing a potential solution to the wound care/infection cycle. They also spent considerable time speaking to folks who could shed some light on this complicated issue.
As they continued having these conversations – Karthikeyan says they’re now up to 1200 people or so – their focus began to shift away from the initial surgical site care idea, and they “started identifying regions [they] hadn’t even thought about.” One of those areas was in chronic wound care for diabetics – particularly those in medically underserved and socioeconomically disadvantaged areas. After consulting with two important collaborators who came on board around this time – Akwasi Asante, a 2015 UVA graduate who now serves as InMEDBio’s COO, and Dr. Bala Mulloth, an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at UVA who specializes in developing markets – InMEDBio zeroed in on South India – an area with a high prevalence of diabetes – as a place to launch their product with maximum social impact.
The first product within InMEDBio’s portfolio is Phoenix-Aid, a wound dressing that the team is specifically tailoring to fit the profile of the South Indian diabetic population. They’ve equipped the product with the features that group needs most, including affordability, durability, breathability, and an ability to control exudate and prevent pathogens. The team has big plans for the near-term – they’re traveling to India later this summer to better get to know the market and interact with hospitals, doctors, and patients on the ground.
Even in its early existence, InMEDBio has been the recipient of several awards and grants from organizations such as WeWork, VentureWell, and the University of Virginia. But what matters most to Ashwin is the notion that he can put this funding to use creating a better answer to the concerns that plague others. Though entrepreneurship is always an uncertain path, Karthikeyan is less worried about taking risks and more concerned about ensuring he leads a life that allows him to never look backward. “There’s no way I could not do this – it would be the biggest what-if…I would always wonder.” Instead, he keeps his eyes fixed on the exciting future ahead.