Sitali Mushemi-Blake and her team at Cardiac Health Across Zambia (CHAZ) won two prizes, Best Idea and Collegiality, in the Lion’s Den Challenge. InnoCentive delivered the Lion’s Den Programme in cooperation with King’s College London.
I first heard of the Lion’s Den Challenge through a close friend, Dr. Jason Mellad, who won the competition in 2010. I since wanted to enter the competition but remained focused and dedicated to completing my degree. Besides, I had too much on my plate at the time juggling studies, work, and life balances as a mother. When I finished defending my PhD thesis in Cardiovascular Medicine in the Fall of 2012, I received a circulating email informing prospect applicants that the Challenge was running for 2012-13. My focus changed as I realised that the window of opportunity was narrow.
My experience with the InnoCentive team has been a very positive one from the time I first walked through the door. Despite my lack of business experience, I quickly felt at home. I was keen to win the prize, and therefore attended the associated seminars and contributed to group discussions. The seminars proved to be a great source of information regarding business awareness, the different stages involved in the competition, and identifying strong team players. I made use of the networking sessions by speaking to attending mentors, guest speakers, and previous winners. The team at InnoCentive followed up on my email enquiries regarding able mentors.
It was after attending team building seminars that I trusted my ‘gut instincts’ in finding prospective passionate team members to help develop my idea. Our highly specialised multi-disciplinary and culturally diverse team from Kings College London consisted of myself (an imaging specialist), Dr. Sitara Khan (a cardiac registrar), and Dr. Yiwen Liu (a cardiac scientist) – a team with skill sets that if partnered with the Zambian government would make an impact on people’s lives. We worked incredibly well together and were able to effectively focus on different areas of the business.
Our hard work was guided and supported by two great mentors, Mr. Zulfiqar Deo and Mr. Gerry Creedon, who were able to develop my initial idea. What started out as a vague idea for a clinic in Zambia grew to a plan for a social enterprise providing training for Zambians and students for the UK.
As a team, we worked hard alongside our mentors to draw up a business plan and submit our proposal, which to our delight made it to the semifinals. We had to work even harder to consolidate our idea into a six-minute pitch to present in front of the judging panel and the Lion’s Den team. Our hard work paid off and our team was awarded not one, but two prizes: Best Business Idea and Collegiality.
Winning the Lion’s Den Challenge has helped our enterprise secure seed funds to register our company and cover some of the legal costs. My experience with InnoCentive has no doubt enhanced my career path and confidence.
To all future entrants of the Lion’s Den Challenge or any competitions organised through InnoCentive, my advice would be: As Sir James Black said to me in 2008, “pick up those pebbles on the beach because if you don’t, someone else will.”