GSI Feature: Abhi Ghavalkar

Abhi Ghavalkar is a GSI for the Fung Fellowship’s Honors Fellows. Here he shares about how his own journey in design and in the start-up world has shaped his experience as an Honors GSI, acting as a mentor for aspiring innovators.

Tell us about yourself

I’m an Indian-origin third culture kid. I was born and raised in Oman in the Middle East where I lived for 17 years. Football (soccer) was a big part of my life growing up and I spent most of my time kicking a ball around.

In 2014, I moved to England to study Sports Technology at Loughborough University. Two weeks in, I decided school wasn’t for me and dropped out to pursue a career in professional football. I took a taxi to Doncaster and joined a football academy. I trained with an international team and played exhibition games with pro clubs around the country such as Newcastle United, Fulham FC, and Sunderland FC. After a season filled with injuries, I decided to go back to school and enrolled in Loughborough’s Product Design Engineering program in 2015.

I graduated in 2019 in the midst of Brexit and struggled to find sponsorship to remain in the UK. That’s when I launched my first startup, Remedic, which helped women around the world access affordable IVF procedures. That was my foray into the startup world and it’s been quite a ride ever since! I’m currently the co-founder and CEO at Prana Medical where we have designed a device that allows up to four patients to share a single hospital ventilator safely.

How did you hear about the Fung Fellowship and what brought you to apply for the Honors GSI position?

I came across the Fung Fellowship in an email sent over by department faculty that advertised GSI vacancies. After looking through the listings, I was immediately drawn to the fellowship program since it fit my background and experiences perfectly with the focus on designing for social good. I had given some talks in the UK about my entrepreneurial journey and what I learned from the mistakes I made along the way. I found this to be quite meaningful and wanted to continue sharing my learnings with others in a more structured manner, so I applied for the Honors GSI position. I didn’t get the position the first time I applied, so I waited a semester and tried again before being offered the role. What do they say about trying and trying again?

As a GSI for the Honors Fellows, what are you responsible for accomplishing within your role?

I’m responsible for guiding the students through the human-centered design process and helping them deliver solutions for projects proposed by industry partners at the intersection of Health + Tech or Conservation + Tech. I bring together examples from my undergraduate degree, the startups I’ve launched and led in the healthcare industry and in my own studies in the Master of Design (MDes) program to give fellows a roadmap for their design journeys. I hope that by going through this journey with me, the students become more confident in their own abilities as designers and innovators, and understand the power of their actions and design decisions in a broader context.

I hope that by going through this journey with me, the students become more confident in their own abilities as designers and innovators, and understand the power of their actions and design decisions in a broader context.

On top of being a GSI for the Fung Fellowship and a co-founder, you’re also a student in the MDes program. What compelled you to pursue an MDes degree?

My undergraduate degree set the foundation for me in the world of design and engineering, although the focus was predominantly on engineering. I really enjoyed the one design class we had each semester and wondered what it would be like to study design full-time.

My motivation to pursue the MDes degree was to dive deeper into the emerging technologies that will shape our lives going forward, and to surround myself with peers from around the world who brought a wealth of knowledge and experience from many different disciplines and cultural backgrounds.

Can you tell us a bit about your personal values as a designer?

My values and principles as a designer are centered around making technology more affordable, accessible, and equitable for the segments of the population that products and services are not typically designed for. Having lived on three continents and collaborated with people across many more time zones has exposed me to a wide range of cultures, perspectives, and insights that have shaped me and heavily influenced my work.

Also as an MDes student, the program has helped me double down on my values in that it really makes you think about why people should care about what you’re making, who is left out when you design something, what are the implications of releasing this technology, and just being mindful and conscious about every design decision.

What do you hope to bring from your own experience in design to help the fellows in their projects and development?

I’ve dabbled in a few different things ranging from sports to art to music to design to engineering. This bricolage of interests and experiences has helped me think in a certain way and guides the work that I do. I encourage the fellows to think about their backgrounds and interests along with that of their teammates to determine what makes them uniquely positioned to solve the problems they’ve been tasked with. I also share candidly the mistakes I made with my failed startups and what lessons they taught me along the way with the hope that the fellows, too, learn from these mistakes and aren’t afraid to fail, or to make new mistakes.

Abhi poses with the Prana Medical team and their prototype.

What skill or insight from your experience would you impart to new and aspiring designers?

To me, design is a mindset. Whether you’re adjusting the lines and curves on a typeface, engineering a rocket, running a company, or working out what to do with your life, I believe that there are certain principles that design teaches you that you can apply to almost any facet of life.

You begin by working out what you know and what you don’t know, and then create the first version of something. And then based on feedback from relevant individuals, you get more information and you can have another go. I think design means having the confidence to try something new, and also having the humility to seek feedback and improve what you’ve created, whether that is graphic design, industrial design, or designing your life.

Design means having the confidence to try something new, and also having the humility to seek feedback and improve what you’ve created

Connect with Abhi.

Edited by Alison Huh

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The Fung Fellowship at UC Berkeley is shaping the next generation of health, conservation, and technology leaders for a better world. 🌱