Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs and is the number one infectious cause of death among children under five years of age. Through Nopneu, Temiloluwa Adeniyi is developing a revolutionary tool that works like a pregnancy test to diagnose pneumonia in a simple and quick way.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs and is the number one infectious cause of death among children under five years of age. More children die from pneumonia each year than measles, malaria, and AIDs combined. That’s close to 1 million children annually.
According to UNICEF, death caused by childhood pneumonia is usually linked to poverty-related factors such as: “undernutrition, lack of safe water and sanitation, indoor air pollution and inadequate access to health care.” The American Thoracic Society says, “Pneumonia does not have effective advocacy…. It does not get the attention it needs from biomedical scientists or from research funders. More effort is needed now.”
Attempting to tackle this issue is biomedical engineer, Temiloluwa Adeniyi, with her biotech startup, Nopneu. Through Nopneu, Adeniyi is developing a revolutionary tool that works like a pregnancy test to diagnose pneumonia in a simple and quick way using color coded results obtained from saliva swabs.
This process cuts back on the time lost through the current standard diagnosis method which is a chest x-ray– time which is often critical in whether a child lives or dies. In many countries and communities where childhood pneumonia deaths are so prevalent, access to equipment such as chest x-rays and specialized staff members who can operate these machines are often scarce.
A passion to help since childhood
This Dominican/Nigerian engineering scholar formally began her startup in 2016, but she’s had a passion for science and humanitarian causes since childhood. She reflects on the formative experiences that helped her developed these passions.
She remembers watching shows such as The Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy, which nurtured her interest in science. Commercials for organizations such as Save the Children and The Red Cross also impacted her as a child. “I would watch the commercials time after time and wonder how I could help the people those organizations served,” Adeniyi explains.
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Her mother was also a crucial influence, always volunteering and helping out within her community. She also encouraged Temiloluwa’s passion for S.T.E.M. by enrolling her in science enrichment programs and driving her to science museums for weekend excursions.
“All these childhood experiences have made me really passionate about driving social change with engineering.”
When pneumonia became a real challenge
Temiloluwa took these passions and went on to study Biomedical Engineering at the University of Cincinnati where she began working on what would eventually become Nopneu.
Her early project was an algorithm for a class that could determine when an infant was susceptible to pneumonia and the onset of the disease. After the project was completed Temiloluwa could not forget the 1 million children who continued to die yearly from the disease. “This fact was unacceptable to me,” she said.
She cites her spirituality as an important factor in starting her business. “I felt God urge me to keep working on this project, and finally I accepted the challenge.” She formally began Nopneu in October of 2016. From there she began her journey as an entrepreneur, navigating the various challenges of entrepreneurship.
The challenges of entrepreneurship and pneumonia
“One of the biggest challenges for me has been doing things for which there are no models….There aren’t many people of color in S.T.E.M and there are even fewer who are leading change in biotech…especially Afro-Latinas.”
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Finding supportive groups such as the National Society of Black Engineers and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council Student Entrepreneurship Program have helped her access great opportunities and meet other like-minded individuals.
Another challenge has been raising money for her startup. “Many entrepreneurial resources…suggest first raising money from friends and family.” This may be an easy strategy for upper class entrepreneurs, but for those who come from working-class backgrounds like Temiloluwa, it is not so feasible. Instead, she has applied for grants and pitch competitions along with also setting up a GoFundMe page.
Her Latina background has been her strength in navigating these challenges. “When you come from a working-class background, like me, you learn how to make amazing things from a small amount of money.” She has implemented innovative strategies to work with her limited funds and make big changes. “It’s no different than what I …and what so many other Latinas see their Moms do. With a few simple ingredients and a small budget you could have a fabulous meal. I’m doing the same now, only with biotech.” Without her Latinas background, Temiloluwa believes she wouldn’t have the same strengths and approaches to problem solving and innovation.
Because of this, she urges other Latinas to utilize their strengths in their own endeavours.
“What the world perceives as our disadvantages can be our superpowers if we decide to see them that way, and leverage them to our full ability.”