Interview with Firoza Kothari, co-founder Anatomiz3D (Video)

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Firoza Kothari, Co-Founder & CTO – Anatomiz3D Medtech Pvt. Ltd. – A B.Tech in Biotechnology Engineering, Firoza Kothari started her journey to provide patient-specific medical solutions and one day end the organ donation problem by creating live organs out of patients’ stem cells. With that aspiration, she gave birth to Anatomiz3D. She, along with her team, was the first to execute soft tissue models in India through Paediatric Cardiology, partial amputee prosthetic hand, first kidney tumor case in India, and the model for tongue cancer was the first in the world. Being a Co-founder and CTO of Anatomiz3D, she, along with her team, has successfully added 700 plus case studies. Her multi-disciplinary expertise prevails in converting 2D DICOM CT/MRI/Echo Scans to 3D Printed anatomical replicas, medical devices, and allied products, using various combinations of Hardware and Software, across multiple medical specializations. Anatomiz3D has played a vital role in creating the market for 3D Printing in the Medical industry in India and are pioneers for the same. Firoza will be speaking on her experience of Point of Care at 3DHEALS2020.

Jenny: What were you thinking when you first encounter 3D printing? What were some of the earliest projects you did with 3D printing? 

Firoza: During my first encounter with 3D printing, the first thing that struck my mind was an opportunity to create a difference in the world. I, being from a biotech background, started evaluating the possibilities of turning this technology into a healthcare benefit. My initial projects were some of the cornerstone projects for future cases.

First Pediatric Cardiology case, which turned out to be the first case of the country.

First partial amputee prosthetic hand and first kidney tumor case, both cases were designed for the first time in India, and the model for tongue cancer was the first in the world.

Jenny: How did you decide that Healthcare will be your focus in your work with 3D printing? Was this driven by external factors like patients, or was this driven by more internal reasons, such a fascination with medicine? 

Firoza: As a kid, I always dreamt of becoming a neurosurgeon or a cardiac surgeon. However, I realized very early in my days that I could not handle blood. Instead, I chose a very interesting field in Biotechnology, which taught me more about fascinating advancements in Tissue Engineering, Genetics, Molecular Biology, etc. So when I heard of 3D Printing and its developing applications in healthcare and Bioprinting, I could only think of combining my dream of becoming a doctor (in this case assisting surgeons) and passion for Biotechnology.

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Jenny: What made you decide to take on a job as a startup co-founder?

Firoza: It was more organic and fluid than an overnight decision. I was employed under Sahas Softech for a year, where we carried out pilots in Healthcare under my guidance. Even though it was going well, it was important to give a strict focus and dedicated time to healthcare. Hence, the partners at Sahas and I decided to form a new company and that’s how Anatomiz3D was born. 

Jenny: I know that you are in a unique position that your co-founders are also your brother and your best friend. Can you tell us what the dynamics of the working relationships among you? How do you deal with conflicts?

Firoza: It’s quite an interesting dynamic. We have to ensure that we don’t mix our personal and professional life but also use our chemistry to its utmost in order to maintain clear and open communication. It’s a very thin line. Conflicts sometimes can cross that thin line but we have known each other for a lifetime and that connection makes it very easy to give solution finding precedence overextending arguments. All in all, it’s family at work. 

Jenny: Who inspired you the most along this journey in 3D printing? This can be a mentor, a patient, something you read/saw on TV that had a profound impact on your decision to embark on this journey. 

Firoza: I was inspired by a famous surgeon and TEDx speaker Dr. Anthony Atala, a surgeon who started with “Can we grow organs instead of transplanting them?” 

Next, the answer sent everyone to amazement. He provided a solution with his 3D generated organ. I was mesmerized by the whole concept, even though I realize it was more structural than functional, and the thought of making the world free from waiting for organ donors and create live organs out of patients’ stem cells helped in setting my goal.

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Jenny: Can you share with us some of your early successes and failures with your work at Anatomiz3D? How did these shape your work today? 

Firoza: Our first-ever case was in Paediatric Cardiology, wherein a 6-month-old infant was suffering from a complex congenital heart disease called DORV (Double Outlet Right Ventricle) with VSD (Ventricular Septal Defect). This patient was initially rejected for surgery considering the complications associated with a procedure of this level. But the medical team had heard of 3D Printing and reached out to us (Back then we were doing our pilots through our now sister concern – Sahas Softech) to take up the case, hoping to still be able to provide the infant with a last chance at a procedure. We designed the heart of the infant in collaboration with the medical team, studied the model together to understand the risks and the complications, and to our delight, they realized that the patient can actually be given the best possible surgical output. This was our first success story and it was also a huge boost to find out that this was the first-ever case in India, not only in Paediatric Cardiology but also in Soft Tissue Modelling overall. Since then, we have opened up multiple such avenues of application and intend to continue doing so. Now, our applications range from Pre-surgical planning, Cutting and Drilling Surgical Guides, Custom Orthotics, Patient-specific implants, and Implant molds. 

Considering our experience with over 700 live cases, we have a library of complex cases across specializations that serve as great teaching and training tools, reducing the need for cadavers and allowing for reproducible training across various locations and making learning possible to everyone. 

With the above as our start, we decided to branch out to multiple specializations and product areas, a lot of which we chose to not focus on eventually. This decision was based on the fact that the technology is more useful in some specializations than others so a dedicated focus on that would yield more value. Even our failures taught us and gave us direction. 

Now, after all those ups and downs, our strengths lie in designing as per surgeon’s requirements and patient’s needs, no matter what anatomy, no matter what technology, no matter what product. 

Jenny: If you can go back 5 or 10 years, what would you have done differently? 

Firoza: 5 years ago, I would have tried to understand the nitty-gritties and challenges of business alongside my technical strengths. It would have helped me a lot during my journey for smoother transitions and faster decision making. 

Jenny: Software, materials, or 3D printers. It has been a debate in the industry forever as to which is the most important player. What do you think is the most important player in healthcare 3D printing? 

Firoza: Healthcare can’t function without Doctors, Nurses or caregivers. They all are an integral part of the process. Similarly, if you want to pick out one as the most important from Software, Materials, or 3D printers then it’s not possible. But for debate’s sake if we have to answer specifically for healthcare, then it has to be the designing. The reason being there are multiple printers, software, and materials out there, but what you do with those tools, the expertise in being able to design clinically accurate customized products is what defines Additive Manufacturing in Healthcare and aids surgeons. 

Jenny: Can you share how can Anatomiz3D differentiate itself from other companies that also produce 3D printed anatomical models? Do you think Anatomiz3D is achieving Point of Care? 

Firoza: Anatomiz3D is more than a company; It is reliable support to the healthcare system with its motto: Personalizing Healthcare deep-rooted into services. We cater to the needs and requirements of the doctor and provide customized solutions. We make sure the doctor is able to comprehend and implement the technology in its optimum capacity.

Initially, making the centers aware of the importance of Point-of-care was a challenging task. Once the awareness process was through it was easy to project the benefits and what fruits it could bear for success.

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Jenny: I remember you mentioned that Anatomiz3D was able to dominate the medical modeling market very quickly in India. How does Indian’s unique healthcare system allow such growth? What is Anatomiz3D best to achieve such growth? 

Firoza: Being the first in India to have started soft tissue designing and making it 3D print ready really helped us spur that growth. As a Biotech Engineer, I was able to very quickly adapt to the medical language and accordingly try to develop products for their needs. This also meant identifying the right problems that 3D printing could provide solutions to. That being said, the Indian healthcare ecosystem is challenging to break into. There is a huge population awaiting access to quick healthcare at affordable costs and that sometimes poses to be quite a challenge. Nonetheless, this also means that surgeries need to be faster, easier and more precise. That’s how 3D Printing sees the light of the day here as customized solutions help achieve all that and reduce the possibility of revision surgery. 

As mentioned above, Anatomiz3D’s strengths lie in designing as per the surgeon’s requirements and patient’s needs, no matter what anatomy, no matter what technology, no matter what product.

Jenny: What motivates you the most for your day-to-day work? 

Firoza: In healthcare, new cases come up with different sorts of complications. The majority of the cases are either unique or their solutions are not easy to achieve. The drive to handle that unique case and get that unachievable solution for the patient is what keeps me and our team motivated. Our motivation is a result-driven rush, which settles only for results and nothing else.

Jenny: What was your biggest victory in 2019? What was the story? 

Firoza: The biggest achievement we had last year was one of the first-ever 3D Printing Lab in India that we set up at Max Hospital in Delhi, India. Its an incubation center meant to provide faster access to customized products and solutions. It had been a very long time since we were pitching this idea and its acceptance was a huge moment for us. We have more such centers in pipeline and we can’t wait to see how this will redefine 3D Printing at Point Of Care. 

Jenny: What is the biggest challenge you are facing in 2020, and how do you plan to overcome this?  

Firoza: Until now, our biggest challenge was making this model scalable worldwide. However, now with the outbreak of the Coronavirus and the Global economic slowdown, this discontinuity in our work will be the biggest challenge we will have to overcome.  

Jenny: What good advice would you give to a smart driven student to succeed in the “real world”? What bad advice they should ignore?

Firoza: One of the things I wish I had known was to trust my instinct, to never discard any ideas, no matter how stupid they might sound. Elaborate on that idea, do your research on its needs, validate it, and if it still doesn’t feel suitable, that’s when you can choose to discard it and repeat the process with your next idea. Another advice is not to let failures weigh you down, in fact, they should be enough motivation to do different and better next time. It’s only when you’re at your worst, can you think of the best ways to pull yourself back up. 

Ignore anyone telling you that you can’t do it. With the right background work and some correct guidance, it should be achievable. 

Jenny: What was the best investment you made in 3D printing? 

Firoza: The team at Anatomiz3D is the best investment we made. We are a combination of Biotech, Biomed, Mechanical, Electronics, Robotics, Mechatronics, Industrial, etc. Engineers who are all passionate and wanting to work on something different and challenging. It is difficult to keep up with their ideas at times and that’s what keeps us stimulated and motivated.

 

Jenny: What was the biggest risk you took in your career? What was your thought process to overcome your fear? 

Firoza: Starting the company was probably the biggest risk I have taken till date. Starting something of this scale in uncharted territory at such a young age of 22 years with not enough ‘real-world’ experience and no steady income, however being responsible for the paychecks of my team members, was quite scary. I wouldn’t say I have completely overcome it yet, I have just learned how to deal with it, keeping in mind the bigger picture and the satisfaction of my team members.

Jenny: What do you enjoy in your spare time? What are you passionate about outside of your work/3d printing? Do things you like outside of work relate to things you like at work? 

Firoza: I used to dance a lot, even professionally. It has reduced a lot now. Some group activities organized in the city keep things light-hearted. As of now, I stick to reading books that pique my interest in historical fiction or fantasy fiction. I also read books on startup journeys, journeys of established companies, people management, etc. 

Jenny: What is your favorite quote? Why? You can also give us your own quote. 

Firoza: My favorite quote is something I recently heard from my Business Coach. “Successful people did not become so because they had all the solutions to the problems posed to them, but because they learned how to deal with the uncertainty of the outcome” 

Jenny: What does the word “3DHEALS” mean to you?  =)

Firoza: Ever since I started the company, I had been reading up about and on 3DHEALS and all its contribution towards spreading awareness in the community. It was a channel to lookup specifically for relevant information on healthcare and 3D Printing. Meeting you last year intensified that respect and credibility 😊

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