"Growing up, the pressure in my entire community was to become a doctor, and that was probably what I was going to do."
You may not know his name, but you probably have heard of ‘the guy who makes crutches that don’t hurt people’s armpits’.
Recently named among ‘Forbes 30 Under 30’, Partha Unnava is the 22-year-old CEO of medical device company, Better Walk.
Partha founded Better Walk in 2013 while studying at Georgia Tech. A sports injury inspired him to reinvent the underarm crutch.
The Atlanta-based company has already closed two rounds of funding. In February 2015, it secured a further US$450,000 (£305,000).
In our exclusive Gupshup with Partha, he tells us about meeting President Barack Obama and his obsession with hip hop music!
How has ‘Forbes 30 Under 30’ changed things for you and Better Walk?
“We’ve met a lot of really cool people that we probably wouldn’t have been able to reach out to beforehand.
“It’s almost like validation. It makes people look at us seriously when they first hear about us.”
Growing up in an Asian family, what are the expectations for you?
“The pressure in my entire community was to become a doctor, and that was probably what I was going to do. I was pre-med when I got into Georgia Tech.
“But my parents are very unique. They saw this as a time for me to figure it out. They never really put pressure on me to go into a certain field.”
“I think it is also because my dad was one of the original founders of Angie’s List. So he had an understanding of what was involved in a startup.
“That was really incredible and rare [compared with] how my friends’ parents in the community react when they want to do start-up companies.”
What is the start-up atmosphere like in Atlanta?
“It’s not so huge yet, so everybody knows or can meet each other. If you talk to people about what you’re working on, everyone wants to help each other.
“As opposed to New York or Silicon Valley, where it is really competitive and people are kind of hiding what they’re working on.”
What is your typical day at Better Walk?
“We have a team that focuses on product development and sales. I spend the first half of my day interacting with them to make sure we’re moving in the same direction.
“For the second half of the day, I try and meet as many people as possible to expand my network and the company’s investment network.”
What do you want people to think when they hear about your brand?
“Our entire marketing strategy revolves around the word ‘authenticity’. Every decision we make, we try to make it with that in mind.
“We have a blog called ‘Better Inspiration’, where we post motivational content for athletes going through an injury, and need that little push to get back at it.
“We want to do stuff like that which doesn’t bring us revenue, but is better for the world.”
Tell us about meeting President Obama at the White House Maker Faire 2014!
“Getting the privilege to pitch my company to President Obama was probably one of the craziest experiences of my lifetime. I’m still in shock that it’s real!
“The night before [the Faire] when I was in Washington DC, I got a call from them and they asked how to pronounce my name.
“Sure enough, I was one of the 10 companies selected to present to Obama and my god, he’s just the coolest guy you would ever imagine!
“He’s got this really nice vibe around him. He kept me relaxed the whole time we talked. He gave me a shout-out in his speech, which I did not expect either.”
What are your personal ambitions?
“I want to be able to create the type of impact that Elon Musk has. Every decision he makes is making the world a better place.”
How does hip hop music inspire you?
“My favourite artists are J. Cole and Drake. J. Cole comes from a really humble background. All his raps are about appreciating what you have.
“The way [Drake] writes his raps is very aggressive. Not angry, but driven to the point where it’s like ‘I’m gonna do what I need to do to succeed’. I get really inspired listening to that sort of attitude.”
Why is basketball a source of motivation for you?
“If you watched Dwyane Wade between 2006 and 2010, there were moments when he was on the court and nobody was as good as him.
“The other side of him that really gets me is his PR is so on point. He takes a lot of risk in the way he dresses, but somehow he’s branded himself in a really positive way.”
How do you relax outside work?
“I play a lot of ultimate Frisbee. If I’m not playing or watching basketball, or listening to hip hop, then I’m probably out meeting people.
“I try to meet somebody new every day. It doesn’t always work, but it’s a lot of fun.”
What do you wish you were better at?
“When something stressful or that takes a lot of emotional energy to deal with happens, I want to be better at compartmentalising that, and making decision without involving any emotions quicker.”
What is your advice for our readers looking to achieve success in life?
“I think you should figure out what you want to do and then go do it.”
Better Walk crutches will debut in hospitals in Atlanta in mid-2015. Partha is aiming to take his innovations beyond America – starting from England.
Dreaming big is not an exclusive right of young people. Like Partha said: “There is nothing stopping you from doing what you want to do other than yourself.” So what are you waiting for?