Serial entrepreneur and Ocular Therapeutix president & CEO Amar Sawhney was named among the White House’s Champions of Change for his work in medical devices and "passion for life-saving innovation" and his leadership as an "Immigrant Innovator."
Sawhney, who has more than 120 patents to his name, immigrated from India in 1987 to attend the University of Texas in pursuit of a Master’s degree in chemical engineering.
"Unlike many immigrants, I was not fleeing persecution or economic stagnation," Sawhney wrote in a short article about how he came to be a serial medtech entrepreneur, which he characterized as "through a series of happy accidents and some deliberate decisions."
He faced some rather daunting roadblocks on the road to success, least of which was his early inability to get find work because he didn’t have a green card. Yet it was precisely that setback that led him to pursue a Ph.D., which "turned out to be a seminal move," Sawhney wrote.
"My academic advisor and I invented some very cool technology," he wrote. "We invented methods to do super fast chemical reactions to build materials on living cells and tissues, without harming them in the least bit. This opened up some wide new horizons for the field of tissue engineering."
It was during that time that Sawhney was approached by a California venture capital group that offered to launch a company around the technology Sawhney was building.
"I remember thinking then that only in the United States would someone funnel millions of dollars into the idea and dreams of a 25-year-old kid!"
Sawhney went on to develop early surgical sealants that help improve outcomes in patients undergoing brain, lung, cardiac and other surgeries, decreasing scarring and lowering radiation exposure to healthy tissue, among other applications.
"The applications seem to be endless and we are continuing to eagerly solve new challenges each day," he wrote. "I feel humbled and privileged to have the opportunity to do what I do. I realize that nowhere else in the world would I have been able to launch into an entrepreneurial career, the way that I did, except in the United States."
Prior to steering the ship at Ocular Therapeutix, Sawhney founded and was CEO of Confluent Surgical (a biosurgery company acquired by Covidien), the chairman of MarketRx (a pharmaceutical marketing and sales and intelligence provider acquired by Cognizant), and technology founder of Focal, Inc. (acquired by Genzyme) and Access Closure Inc.