Fahed Al Essa is a dreamer, innovator, and achiever. Born and raised in Kuwait, his first exposure to America was under difficult circumstances. During the Gulf War, his family was displaced and sought refuge in California. Many years later he would return to that state under vastly different circumstances in pursuit of an entrepreneurial dream.
Essa has always enjoyed and prioritized learning, particularly in areas where science can improve people’s lives. After getting his B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania in molecular biology, he obtained a master’s degree in biotechnology with the ambitious aim of curing cancer. It was during this time, he began conducting cancer research as an intern at the Wistar Institute. Essa, now later reflects on this experience noting “I was naïve, it wasn’t that easy [to cure cancer], but the research I was doing was part of a lab that contributed to the development of the T-cell therapy, which is the most novel way of treating cancer today”. After spending time in the life sciences branch of healthcare, Essa began to note the opportunities in the provider realm.
He created a technology company back in Kuwait that would shift Kuwait’s healthcare facilities from paper to electronic means, a move that the healthcare world has since whole-heartedly embraced and now the largest public hospital in Kuwait boasts of its fully electronic operation. However, Essa was slightly ahead of this movement and was unable to gain traction. Many entrepreneurs cite that failing was their best learning experience, and Essa is no different, seeing the lessons and opportunities that stemmed from the experience. A private hospital, Taiba, was excited about his ideas and Essa was hired to the Director of Strategy. During his tenure at Taiba, he designed and implemented the first hybrid operating room in Kuwait, a form that many hospitals have since adopted.
One of the aspects that strike people the most about Essa is his ardent belief that healthcare should be patient-centric and anyone working in the industry needs to remember that they are treating human beings. By understanding and empathizing with patients, the business can build the right solutions and profits will follow.
Essa’s latest venture after completing his MBA and MPH at UC Berkeley is Dala Wellness, a personalized wellness program with a multivitamin subscription focused on patients with chronic pain. The program is based on clinical evidence and engages chronic pain specialists, physical therapists, mindfulness experts, and nutritionists to complement traditional medicine and help patients take back control of their lives. For Dala, healing comes by bridging the mind, body, and soul. It is initially targeting patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, crest, and ankylosing spondylosis. His app stands in contrast to traditional healthcare models, treating patients like a partner and valuing their voice. As Essa states “we are also putting the patient in the center and building around them. As such everything we provide them is patient ideated, patient-driven, patient-centered and makes the patient’s life easier”. He has backed this claim up with extensive market research, interviewing over 50 patients as the app continues in development.
The mindset of valuing dialogues and incorporating the views of others comes naturally to Essa. He believes that many of the failures of healthcare stem from our own opinions and biases: we only see the world from our point of view. As a result, in Dala he is looking to address patient issues from many different angles, which leads to creative, pragmatic solutions.
Many of us could learn from Essa’s student attitude and commitment to bettering humanity. For others looking to follow in his footsteps he counsels us to invest in providing the best customer experience and learning from the negative experiences. When it comes to facing adversity, he notes, “We must learn from it, move on and know there are better times around the corner. Be optimistic and trust people until they prove you wrong. Be confident about your future and in everyone else’s”. Brave comments from a brave man.
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