After founding my first startup in the U.S. during my medical school fellowship – and facing several challenges to make it work — I knew I wanted to get an MBA. I have always had a passion for entrepreneurship and saw the value of obtaining a business education and learning how to successfully launch a venture. That dream however, was set aside for a bit so I could focus on my medical career.
Several years later, my father had some health issues and I needed to help manage my family’s textile factory in Egypt. I became managing director and acting CEO. Being immersed in business issues, I decided it was finally time to go back to school.I was already managing a business with more than 500 employees, but the MIT Executive MBA program gave me the confidence to make the leap to full-time entrepreneurship. It helped me build the analytical and leadership skills needed as well as the drive to build something. When the pandemic hit, I decided to combine my medical background and entrepreneurship skills to make a difference.
The pivotal moment occurred during Innovation-Driven Entrepreneurial Advantage. This module teaches students how to take an idea and bring it to fruition – in one week. The lectures of that week happened to be in March at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since my family owns a textile factory in Egypt and there was an extreme shortage of personal protective equipment for front-line responders, I pitched the idea to make quality fabric masks for the general public and donate medical-grade masks to hospitals with the proceeds. I received great interest from classmates, and my team helped develop the idea with feedback from our EMBA professors. I went from inception of the idea to launching our first crowdfunding campaign for Masks2Heroes in just two weeks. I used my medical background and worked with colleagues on the fabric mask design and secured suppliers in China to order the KN95 masks.
In a very short time, we raised $50,000 from backers, distributed the fabric masks, and donated more than 10,000 KN95 masks to 20 hospitals in Boston and around the country. This initiative was truly humbling and a class-wide effort with my incredible cohort. We combined our knowledge, skills, and networks to make a meaningful impact that helped others.
As the pandemic continued, other MIT EMBA classes helped me refine the business model. In Competitive Strategy, I formulated a strategy for my factory to stay competitive and minimize the impact of the pandemic on our business. Disciplined Entrepreneurship taught me the steps to successfully build a startup. And Data, Models, and Decisions showed me how to create decision trees to make better decisions in the uncertainty of the pandemic.
As I learned concepts about focusing on customers’ needs, I realized that their needs were changing. While masks were becoming increasingly available, hand sanitizer remained scarce. I thought about alternative ways to meet the ongoing need for sanitizing surfaces.
In medicine, we use ultraviolet C lights to effectively disinfect and sanitize equipment and labs. This technology is also used to sterilize food warehouses. UV-C can kill 99.9% of viruses and bacteria, including COVID-19. I began researching how I could make UV technology accessible to everyone for sterilization purposes. After all, students will eventually return to schools and colleges, and more adults would be going back to work. I wanted a way to put this technology on the back of everyone’s smart phones so people can sterilize tables, desks, utensils, kitchen counters, airplane trays – any surface that they need safe and clean.
Again, I reached out to the MIT EMBA community. I asked if anyone had an engineering background to help develop this type of light-weight UV light for the back of smart phones. My classmates and professors immediately helped connect me with the right people. An MIT alum came on board as a cofounder. And folks at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship put me in touch with my third cofounder, who is an MIT lecturer.
We’re now well on our way with the UVLyzer. We created a 3.5-mm sticker that fits on the back of phones. With the press of a button, you can sterilize surfaces in a few seconds, and it recharges with the phone charger. You can even have art or logos added to the device.
Our UVLyzer team recently won the Audience Choice Award at the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition, which was attended by a record number of more than 2400 participants from 34 countries.
If you had asked me before MIT where I saw myself in two years, I wouldn’t have imagined that I would be the founder of two successful startups – much less ones related to helping people manage a pandemic. But MIT inspired me to take action to make an impact.This is not the end of my entrepreneurial goals. I have more ideas in the pipeline and MIT’s fantastic ecosystem is helping to open doors in unexpected ways. The MIT motto Mens et Manus, “mind and hand,” is very apparent during this pandemic as we are treating the pandemic not as a roadblock, but as an opportunity for groundbreaking innovation and entrepreneurship. The EMBA program truly does develop innovative leaders who can make a positive difference in the world.
Dr. Ahmed Mady, EMBA '22, is a physician-scientist, a serial entrepreneur, founder of Masks2Heroes, UVLyzer. He is currently the Managing Director and President of Shaturna Factory for Knitting & Textiles in Alexandria, Egypt.