Mantej is part of the IB Class of 2017 and survived the IB journey on Teh Peng from Oasis. He is also the founder of 2 start-ups and is heavily involved in its development. He hopes to pursue a double major in Biomedical Engineering and English Literature in University. In his free time, Mantej is often seen brainstorming ideas in Toast Box because, contrary to what many say, he thinks it has the best tea and kaya toast. If you have any questions or need help in entrepreneurship or IB, feel free to reach out to him through his website! Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite 🙂
Hi! I’m Mantej (name doesn’t ring a bell? I’m the bearded guy who wore the turban in school). I’m a survivor of the IB programme of 2017 and I want to share a bit about what I do. I love building medical technology that fuses medicine and technology to empower human health. Ever since I was young, I have loved creating and tearing things apart with my hands. I still remember when I was 10, I found an old Dell computer in the garbage and brought it home to my mum’s furious disapproval. She told me to put the computer back into the trash and not to return home till I did. So I did the right thing and spent the next 3 hours in the dump tearing open the Dell computer and was in awe when I saw the old RAMs, circuit boards and other components.
Thankfully, I’ve moved back to my room since then. Alas, I still continue tearing things apart and building new creations. The current project I’m working on is called MAMx, a software that uses artificial intelligence to scan breast mammograms and highlight potentially cancerous cells. This project, while the toughest so far, has also been the most memorable one for me. Before I could even teach a software how to read a mammogram, I had to first learn it myself. But I hadn’t even taken IB Biology! (Best decision of my life by the way). So I went online and took courses from the University of Malaya on how to read mammograms. It was a really interesting and awkward experience especially when all my classmates were female nurses and here I was, an 18 year old boy trying to complete his Physics IA at the same time.
There was a very steep learning curve. However, instead of letting my lack of knowledge in this field hinder me, I took it as a challenge to see if I could use it as an impetus for growth. Reading mammograms is harder than trying to find a student when his final EE is due next period. Cancerous cells are white, but so are fatty tissues and calcium deposits. So it was basically like trying to find white cells in a sea of white, almost like a game of “Where’s Waldo?”. So I spent hours every night every night reading mammograms.
See what I mean?
One night my mum came in and asked what I was doing. The conversation went something like this:
Mum: What are you doing so late at night?
Me: (with a straight face) Looking at womens’ breasts.
You should have seen the look on her face though!
I’m sure you’ve heard of the sensational success stories of Elon Musk or Steve Jobs, and what motivates them. For me, my main motivation was very different. My motivation was guilt.
Every mammogram initially represented pixels on a screen to me, but soon I started to see the human side of it. I saw each mammogram as a human being suffering from a life-threatening disease and my software had the key to offer them a better chance of survival. Thus, every time I made errors in my code or wasn’t making progress, I felt tremendous guilt. I felt that my incompetence in areas of this project was preventing me from bettering the lives of others. It was this guilt that motivated me to push past adversities and make progress.
My entrepreneurship journey has not been easy – and frankly it never will be. An entrepreneur’s road is a lonely one and there is very little support. The option of giving up is very tempting and often seems justified. Honestly, at countless times in this journey, I wanted to throw in the towel. For example, when I was ready to pilot my software, I emailed over 130 companies, professors, and NGOs for help in this and not a single person replied. I had the door slammed in my face when I tried to meet organizations and pitch my idea to them. It was a really tough time for me, especially having to balance school work along with all this. Furthermore, I needed money to fund the development of this project, but everything had to be self-funded. So I spent hours at night washing dishes at Baker & Cook to help me fund this project.
However, I wanted to share two pieces of advice that really helped me in my journey. Firstly, it is to always know why you’re doing what you’re doing. Have your purpose really close to your heart and hold it tight. When I faced tough times, I imagined MAMx being used to detect cancerous cells which could potentially save the life of a woman. That thought helped me realign my focus and motivated me to overcome the adversities.
Secondly, have a solid support foundation. No lone wolf can change the world. You need people supporting you. For me in AC, my friends and family were my support pillars. Even though they couldn’t really offer me technical coding help to solve my problems, their faith in me, the frequent ice cream breaks and H2H talks on Skype or by the koi pond helped me break out of my mental trough of despair. It was only through this strong and loving circle of friends and family in AC that I was able to see past the rough and tiring days to brighter days ahead.
Now, I’m really excited to be able to partner with an NGO in Uganda, Africa, which is using MAMx to help screen and diagnose women in areas where appropriate medical screening is inaccessible or prohibitively expensive. It is at this stage of the entrepreneurship journey where all the trials and tribulations don’t matter anymore. Seeing this software being used to better the lives of others has made this entire journey worth it. In the end, always remember to…
Find your passion, keep it close to your heart and keep pushing through the obstacles.