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Entrepreneur Under Interview

When you’re an entrepreneur, creating companies that deliver financial returns is great. But far greater is creating companies that solve real problems, alleviate suffering and improve people’s lives. For me, that’s the highest goal of entrepreneurship.

Ran Poliakine has founded several successful companies, including Powermat Technologies; the original wireless charging company. He is passionate about “using technology for good.” From using technology to hydrate Africa, to devising a solution to eradicate bedsores, to inventing a new way for the visually impaired to communicate via written text, Poliakine’s entire career has been about innovating new technologies to solve real-world problems, alleviate suffering and improve people’s lives.

Where did the idea for Wellsense come from?

I was doing some in-flight reading on a trip from New York to London and I learned that 60,000 Americans die from bedsores every year. To put that number in perspective, bedsores claim about 20,000 more lives annually than car accidents. I discovered that these deaths are totally preventable and decided I had to do something about the problem. I knew technology would provide the answer.

So I went to work with my business partner and founded a company called Wellsense, which developed the first-ever technology that helps take the guesswork out of repositioning non-ambulatory hospital patients and nursing home residents by mapping out areas of pressure on the body and producing a color-coded, live image on a bedside monitor.

There are 2.5 million new occurrences of pressure ulcers each year at an estimated cost of treatment of more than $125,000 per instance. I knew there was a better way than the current “guesstimation” protocol currently used by nurses to reposition patients. Now, Wellsense is used in major facilities nationwide and we’ve lowered the instance of pressure ulcers in those facilities to practically none.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My day starts in a storm. Our five kids keep my wife and I quite busy, especially in the morning when everyone needs to get going with their day. Being busy makes me productive as well as setting clear realistic targets for the day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

About 17 years ago I was traveling around Mexico City. I had never been there before and didn’t entirely know what to expect. One of the sights that moved me was people stretched out in the street in obvious distress. When I asked my traveling companion the cause of this suffering, she told me that it was “water sickness,” and that it was common throughout the country. Later on, when I learned the root cause of this disease, it shocked me almost as much as the sight of its victims: a simple lack of access to clean water.

That experience eventually led me on a mission to find a solution. I knew there was no shortage of reputable charities and organizations attempting to cleanly hydrate developing nations. But I also knew that I could help by finding a long-term, low-cost solution that would address the need for drinkable water at the household level. To do this, my business partner and I created the Water Elephant. It’s a device that uses the ultraviolet waves commonly found in fluorescent lighting to kill bacteria. It’s a hand-operated UV water-purification system that can easily be used in the home.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Digital health really excites me. You might think the revolution is already here with the start of digitization of patients’ data and wearable devices that can document all kinds of information and share it, but the truth is that we’re merely at the start. In developing countries, telemedicine holds the promise of overcoming large distances and acute lack of local qualified personnel and adequate equipment.

Take for example, cervical cancer, the second most common cancer in developing areas. Early detection here is crucial in preventing the progress of disease and the deterioration of the patient’s condition. That’s why I founded a company called Illumigyn. It developed the Gynescope™, a handled compact device with machine vision capabilities. Its cloud-based networking system enables non-experts such as nurses and caregivers in remote, rural and underserved locations to easily obtain high quality cervical images based on which virtual consultation with expert anywhere in the world can take place instantly. The result is a lifesaving increase in the reliability and accuracy of gynecological monitoring, specifically cancer screening, for every woman in the world.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I enjoy hiking. This quiet time in nature with no phones and interruptions is the time where my eureka moments occur.

What advice would you give your younger self?

When you’re an entrepreneur, creating companies that deliver financial returns is great. But far greater is creating companies that solve real problems, alleviate suffering and improve people’s lives. For me, that’s the highest goal of entrepreneurship.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I believe there is nothing new under the sun. In my experience, there is only old wine in new bottles. By that I mean there is always a way to introduce a new twist. Looking at things from a different angle, outside the “box” of their origin or intention, can be useful in an entirely unexpected way. In fact, I have a penchant for reinventing old technologies to address newer, more modern issues. When I spot a need and formulate a solution, I’m not afraid to step outside the box or break the rules a bit to make it happen.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Every day I set a clear target of the things I want to accomplish by the end of the day. I only select three things – any more than that would make me inefficient. Any fewer would not be enough. From my experience, I highly recommend other entrepreneurs adopt this balance between fantasy and reality.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

You need to realize that technology on it own is not enough. Creating an ecosystem and partnerships will drive the business. There are other technologies that can be great but the market approach and how you engage the consumer will make the difference. Powermat™ is a good example. We have managed to create the standard in the wireless charging ecosystem by joining forces with Duracell as the partner who makes the technology accessible to the market. Finding the right partners that share the same vision and goals is key.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

The common thread between all the failures I have experienced was falling in love with the innovation and overlooking the real value to the market. I have learned that success is a combination of cutting-edge technology that inspires you, realistic evaluation of the market need, and finally execution.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Always follow your instincts.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?


What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

During the last few years I have been working closely with several Japan-based partners, getting personal insight into their remarkable culture. Since then, I have revisited books that I read 20 years ago gaining a new perspective, and one that I recommend is Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.

What is your favorite quote?

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, represents the balance between being a dreamer and making things happen. It inspires me to adopt the agility required to overcome the gap between fantasy and reality.


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