By Megan S. Willman

Angelique Johnson’s new medical innovations will provide impactful benefits to the community. Photo by Melissa Donald 

Angelique Johnson never planned to start her own company. After graduating from the University of Michigan with her Ph.D. in electrical engineering and attending the University of Louisville for one year of post-doc work, Angelique realized she had a solid business idea. Using innovative technology, Angelique is exploring the ways that implantable electronics can be used to treat diseases and neurological disorders. Not only will these advances lower the cost of various treatments, but she anticipates tremendous improvements in the performance of those devices. “I didn’t expect to become an entrepreneur, but I saw a need, and I thought, ‘Let’s go after it!’” Angelique says. That idea became the beginning of her company, MEMStim.

To help me understand a bit about her vision, Angelique invited me to recall that when computers first came out they took up an entire building. Now we carry them around in the palm of our hand, and they have the power to do anything we need. Advancements in automation led to the functionality computers have today, and Angelique wants to do the same thing for the medical industry.

Consider cochlear implants, medical devices that do the work of damaged parts of the inner ear, so that the individual can hear. Cost for the current version of this device is around $30,000 and that does not include the surgery to implant it. Angelique’s design replaces the hand assembly of those implants with machinery, which will significantly reduce cost and increase access for individuals who may not be able to afford them otherwise.

This cochlear implant has been placed on a penny to show its length. 

Among many other possibilities, Angelique also hopes to work with spinal cord stimulators, helping those people in chronic pain to avoid dependence on medicine (and the potential for drug addiction to those medicines).

Through MEMStim, Angelique has brought to life her vision to use technology in the body as a way to enhance one’s quality of life. Life as an entrepreneur, especially with a start-up, is not a simple endeavor, but Angelique is finding success.

She shares the following tips and strategies that guide her:

1. Faith
“Business is so risky, and there are endless decisions to make. There’s always someone smarter and stronger. At the end of the day, you’re just not that significant. It helps me to remember that. I pray, and I get myself centered. Without my religion, I couldn’t make it.”

2. Friends 
“If I’m going through something, I can call my friends and say, ‘I’ve got to talk about something.’ I call it the Vent Line. It starts with a vent but once I talk through it, I realize it wasn’t such a big deal. In the business world, if I bring too much personal stuff into business, it will cloud the issue. I need a personal outlet for what’s troubling me. I get it out, have that emotional release, and then go back to work and address the problem. If I didn’t have that, I might take it out on co-workers, and that’s no good.”

3. Health
“I try to eat reasonably well. I don’t subscribe to any particular thing, but I’m conscious of what I take in. If I feel lethargic, it sets the tone for the day. It can be an excuse to feel overwhelmed. I’m also a runner. I’ve done four full marathons and now run in a group locally called Black Men Run (women are welcome too.) Running is great because it requires no pre-planning; just open your door and go out to do it. My mind can wander, and it’s another stress release for me.”

4. Fun
“I’ve got to make time to do something social. Sometimes you’re just grinding away and not really accomplishing anything. Give yourself a break. For me, that can be salsa dancing, cooking, trying out local restaurants, and traveling whenever I can.”

5. Escape
“All your problems seem so big when you’re running the same cycle. Get away if you can. Escape that environment for just a little bit. When I can get away from the haze of it all, I can usually come back and solve the problem.”

6. Sacrifice
“The hardest part of entrepreneurship is really kind of dying to yourself. It’s easy to get consumed in your own pride and ego, and it happens in subtle ways. I might have a decision to make and the best choice may not be the best for me personally. I must be able to make the best choice for the company or another colleague to help them have a better quality of life.”

7. Fail 
“You are constantly confronted with failures or things that aren’t as good as you want them to be. You can fixate on that or can focus on how to take a positive action. As a woman and African American, I experience lots of micro-aggressions. I have to remember that not everything is worth going to battle, so I die to myself in that moment. I have to remember that what I’m trying to achieve is bigger than my own feelings in that moment.”

8. Impress
“The STEM field and the start-up world are male-dominated. People see me first as African American and then a woman. But sometimes it works to my benefit. It’s nice to surprise people every now and then in their bias and ignorance. They see the quality of your work and they’re mesmerized. It keeps them coming back.”