January 8, 2020

Inside the Patient Entrepreneur’s Mind: David Hojah

Managing a chronic illness is challenging, whether it is your own or a loved one’s. Starting and running a business also poses unique challenges. If you struggle with a chronic illness, have started a business, or want to start a business, this blog series can help guide you. “Inside the Patient Entrepreneur’s Mind” offers key insights into chronic disease and mission-driven entrepreneurship by some of the most innovative patient entrepreneurs in the world. 

David Hojah is the Co-Founder & CEO of Loro. 

As a patient entrepreneur, can you describe your personal connection to Multiple Sclerosis and how this experience drove you to innovate the space?

I think my main connection to MS is through my friend and mentor, Jack, who is a scientist from Cornell and CalTech and now lives with the disease. These days, he cannot walk or talk. He is one of my main inspirations for building Loro as well as to help others with similar conditions. I remember discussing with him, how can I help you and how can I help other people? Since I come from a technical background, and he comes from the same, we can speak the same language in terms of translating MS needs into technical solutions. After we came up with the idea for Loro, and once we implemented eye-tracking movement (which I was so excited about in the lab), I came back to Jack with the device and he was so happy. The device enabled him to be more independent, which is my personal motivation: to be able to give others the freedom to do what they want. At that moment, Jack was about to cry and I really felt I was doing something great, not just because I’m close with him, but that I could do something bigger.

What makes Loro unique and how does it meet an unmet need of the MS community?

One of the challenges with MS is they face a lot of symptoms including inability to walk, talk and move their bodies. There is not a lot of technology available to help with these challenges. Loro is unique because by using eye-tracking, we can enable individuals to control and communicate with minimal input. We implement technology to serve the MS community so that they can do more themselves without relying on their caregiver all the time.

Are there any other unmet needs of the MS community that you think take priority in working to address? How are patient entrepreneurs well-suited to meet these needs?

Honestly we haven’t explored this much yet for Loro, but as an AI companion, the device will be able to better understand the patient and their behaviors in the future. I think this will be helpful for how patients manage their diseases and conditions on a daily basis. Tracking behavior and managing and tracking disease progression is equally as important to address. Loro will be able to collect data and help health professionals to advance the management of the disease to hopefully find a cure. Currently there is no 100% cure, so patient entrepreneurs have a better idea of what to prioritize and how to understand symptoms in relation to the progression of the disease in order to develop the best solutions.

Where do you draw your inspiration and motivation from to keep forging ahead as an entrepreneur in the healthcare industry? Is there a particular healthcare innovation that inspires you?

As a kid, I used to play a lot and create and invent new things. Being an innovator is in my DNA and I’ve always had a passion for creating. I’ve been inspired by Stephen Hawking both personally and professionally in how people can use technology even if they are severely handicapped by disease. A lot of companies are doing amazing things to empower people to live better and more freely. On my team, everyone has relatives or friends with conditions like ALS, MS and other severe conditions. We know their pain very well and want to help all of these people. How can we help these people to become actively engaged in society? The answers to this question is our collective goal. Reaching this goal will help to improve society overall by creating more active members of society like designers and engineers. Professionally, we can help empower people on disability to be able to work a job. Personally, we can ease the burden of the patient-caretaker relationship and have patients feel more engaged and like themselves. Our mission is to help people with physical challenges to feel connected to the world.

Lastly, what do you do for fun to manage the stress of running a business as both a person connected to a chronic disease like MS and an entrepreneur? Do you have any similar advice on work-life-disease management balance to others out there thinking of starting a business to meet an unmet need of a chronic disease patient community?

As an entrepreneur, we love to work too much. We are all workaholics. Especially starting something new, you become so addicted and passionate that sometimes you forget to have a personal life. My advice is work to achieve something but stop to take breaks and have fun. For me, that is by practicing yoga and meditation. It has helped me to manage stress, minimize overthinking, and relax within the confines of my own mind and body. I also love art. I draw and paint a lot which has helped my creativity and ability to innovate. One time, I was drawing and found the solution a particular aspect of the business we were stuck on. Loro is constantly running in the back of my mind so when I do something creative, it can spark a positive change somewhere in the business.