Nishi Rawat (EMBA’19) on Integrating Her Passion for Medicine and Business Through OpenBeds Inc.
Nishi Rawat is a graduate of the McDonough School of Business Executive MBA (EMBA) class of 2019. Rawat was a practicing critical care physician and medical researcher at Johns Hopkins when she decided to launch her own business. She and her father founded OpenBeds Inc., a software platform that uses technology to improve access to behavioral health treatment. OpenBeds was later acquired by Appriss, where she now serves as senior vice president.
How did you end up starting your business, OpenBeds, and why did you decide to attend business school?
I had been practicing within Johns Hopkins Medicine as a critical care physician and had difficulty trying to get people from rural, smaller hospitals to tertiary and quaternary care services, so I decided to build technology around that. Eventually, we saw a greater need for our technology platform in behavioral health. I soon realized after starting the business that I wanted more formal business training. Initially, my plan was to build this within academia, but I quickly realized that was going to take a long time, so I ended up bootstrapping it outside of academia. My father actually is a co-founder, and for a long time, it was just the two of us. Slowly, we started to hire more people, but the beginning was painful. Initially, I was working full time clinically while struggling to do research, writing grants, and trying to get the business off the ground. When OpenBeds started to take off, I gave up my full-time position for a part-time, unpaid faculty position.
While obtaining your EMBA, how did the learning process compare to your undergraduate or M.D. experiences?
It’s intense in a different way because you are working full time. However, it’s not a medical residency or fellowship, where you’re working 80 to 100 hours a week, perpetually tired, and on call every third night. The difference is that I’m more mature, older, I know what I want to learn, I know how I’m going to apply it, and I’m hungrier. I knew what I was going to do with the knowledge while getting my EMBA, whereas in medical school, it’s an avalanche of information and you are not quite sure how you are going to apply it.
Was gender an issue during your educational experience?
I didn’t give much thought to these struggles until I transitioned from medicine to the world of business. In medicine, quite frankly, I’d never felt as though my decision-making or procedural skills were questioned or second-guessed because of my gender. At the hospital where I worked, the gender partition was 50-50 male positions and female positions. There are a lot of women in leadership positions throughout Johns Hopkins. I went from that environment to the realm of business where all of a sudden it felt as though people weren’t taking me seriously. It often was subtle, but I was constantly underestimated. I felt like I needed to conform to other people’s expectations: Should I be more assertive or should I be nice? I didn’t feel like I could be myself, and it was really frustrating for a long time.
As a female entrepreneur, did you feel like you were treated differently when you were looking for funding or at any other point along the way with OpenBeds?
When we initially went out looking for funding, I felt as though people didn’t take me as seriously because I was a woman. For example, I went to a healthcare investor meeting with over 200 people and was one of the few women there. Nobody really wanted to talk to me. I felt invisible. The point of this meeting was to connect entrepreneurs, right? I had set up meetings, but there were many occasions during which I felt people were looking past me.
Do you anticipate that the gender makeup in entrepreneurship and business will change?
I had this conversation with a colleague of mine who spent 30 years working at Morgan Stanley. He is now retired, but he described that they made him undergo intense bias training. Through this, he realized early on in his career that he had significant biases toward women. To his credit, he worked really hard to reverse those. He underwent training and then successfully applied what he learned. He ended up mentoring and elevating many women throughout his career. He told me change happens by giving women the opportunities that men often get, especially the opportunities to stretch themselves, and actively pulling women up into leadership positions.
What is one piece of advice you would give to a female entrepreneur beginning her career in business?
Focus. In today’s era of social media and the need for self-promotion, there often is a pull on entrepreneurs to stop focusing on business and pleasing customers. It becomes more about themselves, the pitch competitions, the social media promotion, and the speaking engagements; that’s all busy work that takes you away from building your product and company.
How do you manage a work-life balance?
You can’t do it all. At some point you need to make a choice, and I had to make that choice. I miss clinical medicine dearly, and I’m certain that I will go back to it at some point.
This story was originally featured in 60 Years of Alumnae: Memories, Milestones, & Momentum. In honor of Women’s History Month, purchase your copy for 50% off throughout the month of March.
- Executive MBA