Healthy Thinking | Vikram Kumar BS'99
Vikram Kumar calls himself a thought leader, and the constant concern on his mind is health care.
After graduating from Columbia Engineering with a BS in operations research—and a handful of entrepreneurship classes from Columbia Business School under his belt—Kumar attended Harvard Medical School, combining and cultivating his interests in engineering, medicine, and health. Over the past decade, he has launched four businesses, each with its own specific health care focus.
Though he juggles several projects, he is currently more heavily involved in Dimagi, a company he started in 2002. At Dimagi, headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Kumar serves as chief medical officer and leads the India office and its global research and development grant pipeline. Dimagi’s flagship product, CommCareHQ, enables community health workers to track patients and data on a mobile phone, specifically in remote areas where there are few or no clinics or doctor care.
During medical school, Kumar and his cofounders developed the concept that is today CommCareHQ. He also worked with his adviser, Sandy Pentland (at MIT Media Lab), on a mobile phone–based software tool to help detect the mood state of bipolar disorder patients using voice analysis and video games. This eventually became another one of Kumar’s start-ups, Cogito Health.
“Cogito is commercializing the use of acoustic analysis to understand mood patterns and behavior,” he says, “and has significant traction with Fortune 500 health management companies interested in this technology.”
Indeed, Kumar’s constantly thinking up health care innovations. But not all of them pan out.
It was at Columbia Engineering where Kumar got to experience firsthand the excitement of creating an innovative product as well as the not-so-easy and not-so-clear path to executing it.
“One of the most valuable skills I learned as an engineer was how to write software,” says Kumar, based now in New Delhi, India. As an undergraduate student, with former Columbia biological sciences professor and mentor Rafael Yuste, Kumar developed a software program that analyzed multidimensional neuronal data. He patented their invention and shopped it around.
“We were unable to find licensees,” he says, “but that process gave me my first taste for commercializing innovations— something I’ve done in all my ventures to date.”
While ideas seemingly come easy to Kumar, who even at age 14 invented a secure printer-fax machine with his father, he admits being an entrepreneur is likely one of the most difficult “jobs” he has ever had.
“The experience seems glamorous from afar, but it is a lot of nonstop work for little pay,” says Kumar. “The payoff is in the joy of creation, with a bonus of financial returns if you’re lucky.”
Luckily for the many clients benefiting from his products, Kumar keeps at it. In addition to Dimagi and Cogito Health, he is the cofounder of Doctor Kares, a short-stay surgical hospital he founded with his father, a well-known neurosurgeon in India.
One of the hospital’s focus areas is the use of ozone therapy for the treatment of herniated discs, a therapy developed by his father. This led to Kumar’s latest venture, Ozorie, a range of natural topical oils for pain relief and rejuvenation enriched with oxygen.
Kumar’s entrepreneurial wheels are constantly spinning. To budding entrepreneurs, he says, “Stop thinking and just do it.”