While at the University of Toledo, Ketal Patel originally envisioned himself becoming a physician, until he took engineering classes his senior year of college. He became hooked on engineering and started exploring Biomedical Engineering graduate programs, leading him to Case Western Reserve University’s (CWRU) highly rated program.
At CWRU, Patel focused on medical imaging and worked on projects involving MRI systems and software. After three semesters, Patel graduated and started working at Hitachi Medical, a company that was building some of the world’s first open MRI machines.
Patel spent 10 years at Hitachi Medical, but was ready for something new and then joined the startup ViewRay. He and his team at ViewRay saw tremendous growth during his tenure. They were able to build the Cleveland-based company from scratch, commercialize their product, and eventually treat cancer patients, ultimately improving the outcomes of cancer patients.
From there, Patel continued to work for various companies such as QiG Group as a software architect where he worked on an implantable neurostimulator for pain management, as well as at CardioInsight leading product development.
Working at startups was a way for Patel to “do a lot, experience a lot, learn a lot and really go outside my comfort zone.” However, after acquisition of CardioInsight, and working at a large corporation like Medtronic, Patel realized that he actually preferred the fast paced entrepreneurial environment.
While at Cardio Insight with fellow CWRU alum, Charu Ramanathan, Patel recalled, “Charu and I started to talk about doing something new, something different and something meaningful. So we quit our jobs with no plan and we had a whiteboard session about what we wanted to do next.”
While writing down their thoughts onto the whiteboard, Patel realized that two things stood out: access and inclusion. From here, Lokyata was created, a company that would credit score individuals who didn’t have a bank history. As a result, the company was able to provide scoring for millions of micro-loans and nano-loans to those who needed it.
Yet, while Lokyata was able to do a lot of good, they realized that their passion was ultimately still in healthcare. Taking the same two desires they had for Lokyata, inclusivity and accessibility, Patel and Ramanathan launched Vitalxchange.
Patel explains Vitalxchange’s concept as “The idea is to exchange vital information, from someone who either has experience or a professional background, to somebody who could use that health information to really improve the care of themselves or their individuals that they're caring for.”
Soon after creating Lokyata, Patel and Ramanathan were on their way to creating a healthcare community platform that would greatly improve the lives of many.
Vitalxchange is a digital ecosystem where parents and providers caring for special needs children can partner to help children thrive. On the digital platform, parents are matched to highly experienced mentors and experts to guide them along every step of the way.
The pandemic helped the two realize the importance of providing a platform like Vitalxchange. Patel explains, “We learned that parents not only needed to connect with experienced parent mentors, they also needed to connect to professionals in this space who could provide point solutions..”
While the pair continued to build the product, they focused on providing a platform that surrounded parents of special needs children with the resources they needed. Patel stated, “We wanted to connect parents with resources and information to help them make care decisions. When we talked to special needs parents, we saw that there was a great need there. There was a great opportunity to really help people access the care they needed and be inclusive of a crowd that really hadn't been included before.”
As co-founder and CTO, Patel works to consistently deliver new ideas as well as lead the development of theVitalxchange platform, which includes a mobile app, web app, and portal for VitalGuides.
Patel recalled, “We started out as a mobile community app…and as we evolved the product through customer feedback we built features into our platform that would make accessing our VitalGuides easy for our parents. As a company we focus on access and inclusion, and our product is a result of that focus.” .”
Life as an Entrepreneur:
Looking back, some of Patel’s proudest moments have been the launches of new products, like the Vitalxchange platform.
“When you actually launch your product, that's the culmination of so many things and so much work,” Patel explained. “I've had the opportunity to launch several different products in my career and each one gives you that high nervous energy when you first put it out there. When you see the product succeed, you get this awesome feeling. It brings a tear to your eye hearing the stories of the ways your products have been able to help people.”
Patel, however, initially ignored his natural entrepreneurial tendencies.
He stated, “My parents, who are immigrants, worked very hard at their jobs to put me through college. The thought was always to get a job and climb the corporate ladder. Taking risks wasn’t in our vocabulary.”
However, Patel explained, seeing the potential of building products starting from an idea excited him more than the corporate world ever could. “I didn't know I wanted to be an entrepreneur at first, but once I got a taste, I could never go back.”
And while launching products are a part of Patel’s proudest moments, it is the journey, he says that is the most rewarding.
“In a startup, the friendships and contacts you make, the things you learn and the people you meet is the coolest thing,” Patel explained. “Only one in 20 startups is successful. So you can't use ‘is the startup successful’ as your main criteria. It's really, how did you get there? It’s all about who you were with and what you learned along the way.”
CWRU, Patel explained, was able to provide him with the necessary technical skills from great professors, as well as the opportunity to work on projects which ultimately helped him prepare for his career.
“I was able to interact with the professors to work on really meaningful projects. My project became a prototype for something that eventually would be commercialized. I was able to work not only with my CWRU advisor but gain valuable experience of working with others in industry.
Patel continued, “CWRU and its professors really helped me to jumpstart my career. Much of what I do today is a result of my time at CWRU.”
As for advice, Patel emphasized that students should take the time to realize what they truly want.
He explained, “Take the chance to find the sort of thing that makes not only use of your skills, but follows a passion that you have, because if you do that you're going to not only be successful, but happy.”
Patel continued, “You just need to go and experience all that you can. Go and see what something is like. And if you don't like it, there's always time to change.”