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Alumni Profile: Maryam Saleh '96 (Pre-U '97)

Business developer and Innovator

Maryam Saleh knew that she wanted to pursue computer engineering in her post-secondary education but, at the same time, had a need to feed her creative spirit and passion for the arts. Fortunately, she had the guidance of her LCC university advisor, Mr. Kevin Callaghan, whose insights played a significant role in her decision.

After graduating from Pre-University, Maryam went off to Brown University because, in her advisor’s words, beyond learning about her selected discipline she would also have the opportunity to expand her mind, learn how to think critically, and satisfy her curiosity about things unrelated to her academic or career path.

Although Maryam’s intention was to combine her scientific interest with the arts, thinking perhaps about a career in special effects, her course was altered when she took a class on using machines to interface directly with the brain. The connections that she made through that experience led her, in turn, to becoming one of the founders of Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems, a company that commercialized a brain implant that aimed to restore movement in paralyzed people.

Five years later, and with an interest in health care ignited, Maryam headed to Chicago to complete a doctorate degree in computational neuroscience. During that time, she continued to run clinical trials for her startup company but realized that she didn’t want to do research anymore. “As much as I enjoyed it, the impact on patients wasn’t as clear to me,” she says. “I needed to see it in a more immediate way.”

Working first at the Innovation and New Ventures Office at Northwestern University to help move research innovations to the market, Maryam was recruited to join the founding team that launched MATTER, a 25,000-square-foot entrepreneurial hub for the healthcare industry. “Today we have 170 startups who are members of MATTER,” Maryam says. “At our core, we equip startups with the resources they need to validate their businesses by connecting with their customers, typically larger businesses in healthcare. If you’re a healthcare entrepreneur, your product touches patients, clinicians, manufacturers and insurers. MATTER convenes all of these stakeholders together and thereby makes it easier for an entrepreneur to validate his/her business model.”

Most entrepreneurs at MATTER have a personal story and are actively trying to develop solutions to help themselves, their relatives, or others who may have similar experiences. This is where Maryam can see the real and direct impact on people. "One entrepreneur is losing his hearing and was interested in the sound quality that could be perceived by individuals with cochlear implants. He is currently developing software to address this issue so that he can continue to enjoy classical music," she says.

As someone who thrives in an environment that is ambiguous and where there are big challenges to solve, Maryam believes that her contributions to the creation and growth of MATTER are among her most significant achievements.

Maryam has always been a trailblazer, having been part of the first cohort of girls at LCC. As one of four girls among more than 80 boys, she learned then how to adapt quickly to a new and different environment, a skill that she says helped her as she moved to different cities and through many jobs. “The coeducational experience was a positive one because I believe that being exposed to diversity, in this case gender diversity, gives you more perspective,” she says.

Maryam appreciated the breadth of choice that LCC offered in a curriculum that deviated from the structure that she was used to. “The art of critical thinking is not something that you can usually learn in a didactic setting,” she says, “but somehow it came out in the classes at LCC. We learned how to ask questions before forming a judgment, which is more important than any facts that we have to memorize.”