Engineering a solution to malaria deaths

The story behind John Lewandowski, entrepreneur and engineer

Jeniece Montellano, Staff Reporter

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The creation of Blackstone LaunchPad at Case Western Reserve University gives students the ability to create their own companies and startups based solely off of original ideas. However, the spirit of entrepreneurship has been here at CWRU long before the help of LaunchPad: A device created by John Lewandowski, CWRU class of 2012, has the capability to provide an accurate malaria diagnosis in less than 60 seconds.

Lewandowski’s device is called RAM, which stands for Rapid Assessment of Malaria. It is capable of detecting malaria in the blood before it reaches a symptomatic concentration. Simply put, it can provide an early diagnosis of malaria, allowing for early treatment and resulting in a lower mortality rate. The device is less costly, more accurate, portable and time-efficient.

“The CWRU mechanical engineering program did a fantastic job of preparing me with the necessary manufacturing and design skills to pursue the design of the device,” says Lewandowski. As a double major in mechanical engineering and management, his education has been an integral part in creating RAM. He also returned to CWRU for his Master of Engineering and Management degree in 2013. CWRU assistant professor and malaria researcher Brian Grimberg helped Lewandowski co-found Disease Diagnostic Group, or DDG.

Under this company, they have the resources to test and create better prototypes of RAM.

Entrepreneurship has been very time-consuming for Lewandowski. He’s worked through birthdays and holidays to meet deadlines, given up family and social time for travel and work obligations, anything to make DDG even better. His favorite show is “Shark Tank,” a show featuring entrepreneurs who pitch their business ideas to self-made millionaires and billionaires, and he often thinks about how he would answer the questions in regards to DDG. “I enjoy nothing more on a Friday and Saturday night than to work on my CAD files and dissect the business plan,” said Lewandowski. “There are many things to work on with this company, and it has really strengthened my prioritization tactics.”

There is a lot of pressure on Lewandowski to make RAM succeed. Many people have donated their time, money and advice to DDG and RAM. As the youngest person ever to license a technology from CWRU, Lewandowski has been very self-motivated. He works on every aspect of his company, both technical and business-related. His love for presenting and public speaking has allowed him to meet many people who inspire him to do more with DDG.

With resources like Think[Box] and LaunchPad, Lewandowski encourages budding entrepreneurs to keep pursuing their goals. “There is room for everyone to be an entrepreneur,” says Lewandowski.

His project has allowed him to learn more about the different departments at CWRU and everything the university has to offer. His advice for students is to think carefully about their next design project and find out the problems that customers today are having. Talking to customers in real time is often the best way to discover what people want out of a business.

“Sometimes this pressure is overwhelming, but it reminds me that everybody is on my team,” says Lewandowski. “I think the best slogan for my company is ‘We are DDG.’ The ‘We’ refers to everyone who has helped us. ‘We’ is CWRU. ‘We’ is Jumpstart. ‘We’ is Cleveland.”