We talked to Amol Karnick, CEO at KA Imaging, about medical imaging solutions and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Amol Karnick: Thank you for asking. My family has been keeping well. We decided to have our kids on online schooling since both my wife and I are working from home.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded KA Imaging.
Amol Karnick: I have been in the medical imaging field for over 20 years. I started my career at GE Healthcare on a training program (a great program by the way) and since leaving GE I was at several other imaging start-ups in executive positions lead, like service, business development, sales, operations, and engineering.
I, initially, met Karim Karim (CTO and co-founder of KA Imaging), while I was the Healthcare Executive in Residence at Communitech, an organization created to help companies start, grow, and succeed in the Waterloo region. At that time, Karim was working on some research on X-ray with engineer Sina Ghanbarzadeh at the University of Waterloo. We decided to form KA a few years later after reconnecting. The innovative idea of the novel x-ray technology compelled me to work full-time with Karim to form KA Imaging.
How does KA Imaging innovate?
Amol Karnick: KA Imaging develops innovative X-ray technologies, and we have products for different applications and markets, from research to health or veterinary. We just launched the Reveal™ 35C detector for the healthcare market in the US and Canada, and we are very proud of it. With Reveal, we want to revolutionize the X-ray market. It works like a traditional X-ray detector – the same size of ISO cassette, same workflow. But it offers more than traditional digital radiography (DR). It is capable of what is known as double energy subtraction, so it provides not only a DR but also other 2 images, one highlighting bones and another highlighting soft tissue. In addition, we created it to be universally compatible with other existing systems. What is really innovative is that we can produce dual-energy images with single X-ray exposure, the same one that is already used in conventional radiography. This combination of single exposure + ISO size + compatibility makes Reveal very unique because it means that we can upgrade any X-ray system to dual-energy. Dual-energy can make a difference for radiologists, as this technology improves sensitivity to various diseases.
We also have the good fortune of being tied to the University of Waterloo, where Karim is a professor. His advanced research in x-ray has been the building block for KA’s innovations.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Amol Karnick: We started working remotely almost a year ago – it was March 16 when we decided it would be safer for the team to work from home. At that time, we expected to be back in 15 days … One year later, most of our team is still working remotely. Only a few members are allowed to go to the office for essential purposes, such as working directly with an X-ray source. And yet, there are strict health protocols to be followed.
We cannot say that COVID-19 had no negative impact, but our team did a great job and remained active and productive. The challenge is to keep everyone engaged, to maintain personal connections. Working remotely can be very lonely. So we decided to use our virtual platforms to communicate as much as possible. We also hold frequent virtual social events, and I personally schedule a 1: 1 meeting with each employee to check on them periodically.
Despite the challenges, the Reveal product development was completed, plus Health Canada approval and US FDA 510(k) clearance was achieved.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Amol Karnick: The most important lesson is: Put the people first! As long as we can take care of the team and make them feel well and safe, they will work with the company to achieve our goals.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this
Amol Karnick: Videos became the new normal, so we’ve used Teams and Zoom for internal and external meetings. In that sense, our video skills have improved significantly since last year. Other than that, we were already used to collaborative applications like SharePoint, Confluence, and Jira, so nothing has changed.
From a management point of view, communication and engagement have become more challenging because of remote work. Written messages are more susceptible to misunderstandings and we often lose the body language that allows us to get a sense of how an employee is feeling or behaving. That’s why we try to over-communicate and have a “cameras-on” policy at all of our meetings.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Amol Karnick: We are competing with traditional players in the X-ray market, large companies that have existed for decades. However, none of them could do what we did: take what was considered an expensive and flawed technology – dual-energy subtraction – and turn it into a viable solution. We are very proud of that. Our plans are to continue investing in research, developing solutions that we hope can make a difference in the world.
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