Fehmida Kapadia standing above an atrium

5 questions with….Fehmida Kapadia, alumna, adjunct professor and champion of entrepreneurs

Fehmida Kapadia (GRS ’12, biology) has held many roles at Case Western Reserve: graduate student, postdoctoral researcher, adjunct professor in the Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program and, now, strategy and business consultant with the Human Fusions Institute.

As we approach E-Week 2020, a weeklong event designed to celebrate and raise public understanding and appreciation of engineers’ contributions to society, we talked to Kapadia. She shared how the skills she impressed upon her MEM students—namely the ability to be flexible, pivot when needed, and embrace one’s inner curiosity—helped shift her own career path to one that combines her background in science with her entrepreneurial spirit.

A scientist by training, Kapadia earned her PhD in biochemistry at The Ohio State University. But it was at Case Western Reserve that she discovered her passion: helping companies develop customer-centric products.

In 2005, Kapadia accepted a postdoctoral research position at CWRU, where she was introduced to the Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Program (STEP), which features a curriculum designed for students with a background in science and an interest in entrepreneurship.

“In entrepreneurship as well as in life, nothing is set in stone. The best quality we can have is to be flexible.”

Fehmida Kapadia

It took only a few courses to inspire her to pivot—leaving her research position to pursue a master’s degree through the STEP program, earning a degree in biology with focus on entrepreneurship.

Through positions at Cleveland Clinic and BioEnterprise, Kapadia helped researchers move their products to market. She then founded KapaMed Consulting, an innovation management and strategic marketing consulting firm that combined her STEM background with her passion for product development.

In 2015, she pivoted again, returning to CWRU as an adjunct professor in the MEM program, where she guided the students in her Technology Entrepreneurship and Project Management course through the process of developing a startup. Her students—engineers on a management track—learned how to combine their background in scientific processes with the creativity required to develop and move a product to market.

Kapadia feels that background in process and problem solving makes engineers uniquely suited to pursue entrepreneurship. “It’s not just about creativity,” she said. “It’s about being able to look at and identify problems that need solutions, but then also know how to implement them so you can build something successfully. Without the process, an idea is just an idea.”

Kapadia used her successful MEM curriculum as the basis for her Fulbright application, and last fall headed to Brazil as a Fulbright Scholar. While there, she taught classes and workshops on the topic “Designing Entrepreneurship: Bringing Together Process and Creativity” at institutions in Florianópolis and across Brazil. She also immersed herself in the country’s vibrant entrepreneurial environment, visiting incubators, startups and co-work spaces.

She also had to practice what she preached, using her own lessons on the importance of flexibility, pivoting and creative thinking in a country where she didn’t know the language or have any contacts. But the language barrier didn’t stop her. 

“People everywhere are the same,” she said. “You don’t need to speak the language to communicate. If you have something meaningful to contribute, people will be happy to collaborate and work with you.”

Learn more about Kapadia in this week’s five questions:

1. What’s your favorite restaurant in Cleveland?

I tend to gravitate toward spicy foods and South American cuisine. If I had to pick one, I’d pick Barroco.

2. What’s the most difficult class you’ve ever taken?

All of math, in general, was vexing to me!

3. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you pick

Florianopolis, Brazil—where I did my Fulbright Scholarship—stole my heart. I wouldn’t mind living there.

4. What famous person—alive or deceased—would you most like to meet?

Tim Brown, the former CEO and current chair of IDEO. I consider him to be the guru of design. IDEO effectively revolutionized how we think about, and practice, design thinking. Design thinking is not new. It is what designers use to design. However, IDEO was the company that mainstreamed the concept by creating a practice and process that can be used by everyone in many diverse situations beyond product design.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

The people. I get to interface and work with the most amazing people here at the university.