Lida Kourita, Honors Mentor: “Envision the future and execute on your vision without ever sacrificing your values.”

Lida is a mentor for the Fung Fellowship’s Honors Fellows, working closely with Team Bright Mobile. Here, she shares about her unique experience as a physician-entrepreneur, her role within the fellowship, and her underlying values as an innovator.

Tell us about yourself!

I grew up in Greece, in a city port by the sea called Volos, the ancient Iolkos from where Jason and the Argonauts set off to find the Golden Fleece. Growing up, my fairy tales’ readings were themed around Jason and the Argonauts, Ulises’ adventurous journey of return to Ithaka, and Theseus’ fight with the Minotaur in the Cretan Labyrinth. The dimension of symbols and myths that sparked my childhood imagination defined my journey as an aspiring leader in the quest for health’s golden fleece as a physician-entrepreneur, armed with empathy and knowledge to face the human conditions’ metaphoric Minotaur.

I was also blessed with a beautiful family as I was growing up. My parents are both teachers, my father of math and my mother of French literature. Their unconditional love for science and the arts meant that I learned to define true value and accomplishment not by society’s definition of success, but rather by seeking “Universal Truth” and serving mankind. They equipped me with unshakeable values and an entrepreneurial mindset. My brother, a talented artist, now an orchestra conductor and professor, was my coach and inspiration as I refuged back to art for my soul to persevere through the human suffering I encountered within my medical profession.

How did you arrive at the unique intersection of physician-entrepreneurship in your career?

In many ways, the art of philosophical thinking framed how I aspired to transform myself in answering real problems that arose in my medical practice. I had a very traditional medical training, where at times not having answers to questions that arose in the pathophysiology of disease was just given a title of “idiopathic” and hence we “did not know.” This mindset prompts the treatment of symptoms rather than addressing and looking for the root cause.

The great philosopher Socrates, whilst agreeing with the concept of “One thing I know is that I know nothing,” never halted the dialogue of discovery. Instead, he persevered deeper in search of truth and empowered others to do so as well. For me, this meant I had the drive to keep asking questions and step out of my traditional role to keep this dialogue of discovery alive as a clinician. When you challenge yourself to discover how to solve real problems and unmet needs, by default you need to transform yourself into an entrepreneur. This is exactly what I decided, and through it, I have been blessed with answers.

“I had the drive to keep asking questions and step out of my traditional role to keep this dialogue of discovery alive as a clinician.”

How did you hear about the Fung Fellowship and what made you interested in helping out as an Honors team mentor?

In some sense, the universe conspired for me to discover the Fung Fellowship as I had the privilege of crossing paths with the Executive Dean of the School of Engineering, Professor Karl Van Bibber.

When I learned about the Fung Fellowship, I considered the mentorship opportunity as 1) a wonderful way of giving back to the Berkeley family that has been so generous to me and 2) my duty as a physician and patient advocate-turned-entrepreneur to empower our young aspiring leaders with knowledge and values based on the Hippocratic oath. This opportunity is a hands-on experience of building real-life innovative solutions for the benefit of people.

Team Bright Mobile’s pitch deck which details how sleep intervention can help improve adolescent health and academic outcomes.

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

As Honors mentor, I have the privilege to work with team Bright Mobile, who are working with our UCSF Innovation Ventures industry partner Lorraine and UCSF Professor Lauren Asarnow on a sleep-based intervention aimed at improving adolescent health. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this project as the pandemic has challenged the sleep and mental health of young people even further! Tyler, Pari, Christian, and Isha are very talented and driven young individuals, with a diverse set of backgrounds and skills, aspiring to do good. Our year-long collaboration allows for a sustained and deeper type of mentoring relationship. In fact, my aim is to create a lifelong relationship with my students, and I aspire to bring this and many more projects to fruition, into the hands of people who really need them.

I aspire to bring this and many more projects to fruition, into the hands of people who really need them.

My role is to provide strategic guidance to the team but also prompt them to be bold and step out of their comfort zone. In fact, we have many funny stories to tell, proof of how much fun we actually have. We have stood outside Berkeley High and approached adolescents to discover unmet needs and empathize with them for user design, but also applied for the NSF Berkeley I-Corps to map and explore all the stakeholders involved to bring our product to real life.

We got to interview some incredible people: sleep diplomat Prof. Mathew Walker, the chair of Exponential Medicine Dr. Daniel Kraft, and even the Surgeon General of California Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, who praised us for our work. Team Bright Mobile’s enthusiasm and hard work helped us become endorsed for the National NSF I-Corps and nominated for a $50,000 award! This brings us completely out of the classroom and into real life as we aspire to execute our mission of helping our youth!

What do you hope to bring from your own background as a physician-entrepreneur to help the Fellows in their development?

The Fung Fellowship is the only undergraduate program in the United States linking human-centered design, digital technology, and innovation. By joining this incredible innovation effort, as a physician-entrepreneur, I am empowered to help people directly and indirectly. I hope to bring the breadth of experience I was blessed with through my own personal odyssey literally and metaphorically.

Navigating life from a traditional medical role into the cutting edge of innovation and design meant I had to challenge my own assumptions and empower myself with skills outside my comfort zone. I am a Berkeley Haas School of Business alumni and three of our four defining principles are “students always,” “challenge the status quo,” and “beyond yourself.” These principles all apply to my professional path and vision.

Apart from insights into “static” medical knowledge as a physician and healthcare stakeholder ecosystem analysis as a business strategist, I hope to inspire [the students] to continually teach themselves new skills so that they are empowered to challenge the status quo of healthcare in a constructive way. Finally, I also hope they realize that through this challenging journey of standing up and advocating for others, they find themselves transformed for the better — this transformation is life’s gift to self for choosing to go “beyond yourself.” I am very grateful for the visionary leadership of the Fung Institute’s founder Coleman Fung and Fung Fellowship director, Dr. Jennifer Mangold, for allowing outside mentors to be part of this incredible innovation life challenge.

Lida and Team Bright Mobile pose together in front of Shires Hall.

What is your relationship with design and emerging technologies outside of the Fung Fellowship?

I am fortunate enough to be part of two very early-stage, cutting-edge health tech and precision medicine companies. The first one neuroFit, a NASA spinoff developing oculometrics (eye-tracking) as a new “brain health vital sign,” is now an industry partner at the HealthTech CoLab here at Berkeley. The second one, DiscernDx, does business as Naring Health and is a precision medicine startup that combines Network Medicine and Precision Nutrition.

As part of the initial teams in both startups, I had to learn to wear multiple interchangeable hats: the hat of the physician-entrepreneur identifying an unmet need and evaluating markets, the hat of a business strategist thinking about business models and commercialization pathways, and the hat of a designer walking in the shoes of our end-users to draw insights for the design of our minimal viable products.

I am also very passionate about destigmatizing “titles” and diagnoses of disease. “Disease” is just a phenotypic expression of imbalanced physiology in genetically predisposed individuals. But now we know, for example, that our genes do not predetermine our health or wellness in a static manner, but in a dynamic fashion wherein with the right nutrition and lifestyle, to some extent and for certain chronic diseases, including neurological and mental health we can become the masters of our own biological destiny.

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

Do not fall in love with your technology and your solution. Fall in love with the problem at hand and think of the user as a person you want to empower in their everyday lives in a seeming less way. Be flexible and curious, bend yourself to understand problems at a deeper level and from multiple angles. Do not judge — walk in other people’s shoes, and empathize.

Be humble and strive not to be right, but to discover the truth and root cause of what you are solving. Strive for the impossible and be ready to ignore naysayers. Envision the future and execute your vision without ever sacrificing your values.

“Do not fall in love with your technology and your solution. Fall in love with the problem at hand and think of the user as a person you want to empower in their everyday lives in a seeming less way.”

Are you currently working on any other projects that you would be willing to share about?

On the side, I am working on my own venture for the empowerment of the human soul through education, empowerment, and art. Watch for a website called LifeisX!

Connect with Lida.

Edited by Alison Huh

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