Having graduated from the University of Canterbury with a Bachelor of Engineering, Ashwath went straight into a PhD in Bioengeering—where he found his calling.
“The mix of engineering and clinical trials really appealed to me,” says Ashwath. “I got to see, first-hand, how research can solve problems in a way that positively impacts people’s lives.” He says his thesis involved developing software algorithms to personalise treatment for lung injury patients in intensive care. “The aim of our software was to enable hospital staff to use technology to tweak ventilator settings based on each patient’s individual requirements—rather than the traditional ‘one size fits all’ approach.”
While he thoroughly enjoyed the research, Ashwath says the clinical trial made him realise that there were “a bunch of broader issues around commercialisation that researchers are not exposed to”.
“For me, the impact of research is measured by its tangible benefit to others,” says Ashwath. “But getting it out into the world—where it can add value—requires a different, business-oriented skillset. I realised I needed to know more about things like how to find and talk to potential investors and how to validate the market for a product.”
To develop these skills, Ashwath took a job in Sydney with Accenture—a global professional services company focused on using innovation and technology to help their clients grow their businesses—as a strategy consultant. The role saw him primarily involved in developing tech-oriented business models for the healthcare sector. ”My goal was to help these companies create a culture of empowerment through the use of technology.”
During the six years Ashwath worked for Accenture, he took a one-year sabbatical to study an MBA at INSEAD, one of the world’s top five graduate business schools.
He says the study was intense. “We basically squeezed 80 percent of a two-year programme into one year!” However, he says the people he met while studying at the two campuses—one in Singapore, and one in France—are now lifelong friends, and part of a network that he still engages with today.
As part of the MBA programme (which he passed with distinction), Ashwath and a study partner began raising capital to acquire a business. With two Australian companies in their sights, the due diligence process put both out of the running. “It was an invaluable experience, even if we didn’t get the outcome we were looking for at the time,” he says.
Next on his career path was Google, where Ashwath worked as a Strategy and Insight Manager, based in Sydney. “Google was an absolutely fascinating company to work for,” Ashwath says. “Their cutting-edge technologies are truly changing the way people live and work. I learnt so much during my time there.”
But with a new baby boy in the family, Ashwath and his wife started to think about returning to New Zealand last year. He was subsequently delighted to secure the role with Viclink, where he’s been settling in and getting excited by what he’s seen so far. “The quality of research at Victoria is world-class, and there are so many commercialisation opportunities bubbling up.”
The huge supporter of commercialising research very nearly followed a different career path after working as a full-time actor in his teens, on the TV show The Tribe. “Being Indian, I did briefly consider the idea of heading to Bollywood to try my luck,” he smiles. “But the career I chose instead has given me the opportunity to make a difference in the world—I’ve got no regrets!”
The former Wellington College student is happy to be back where he grew up, and is enjoying the New Zealand lifestyle once more. “After years of apartment living in Sydney, it’s great to have a backyard again, and such easy access to the outdoors. My son is only one, but he’s thriving being outside so much.” The only downside? “I have to mow the lawns and do the gardens!” he laughs.