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Dr Heloise Greeff (MPLS Enterprise & Innovation Fellow 2019-20) is a Junior Research Fellow in Engineering at the CHI Lab at the University of Oxford, and member of Linacre College. Her work focuses on creating novel machine learning algorithms for remote health monitoring systems in limited-resource settings. Her previous research resulted in the patented system for handpump monitoring in rural Kenya and Bangladesh. She is now leading CHI Lab’s Wellcome Trust-funded initiative on critical care innovations for LMICs. Heloïse has an entrepreneurial focus on needs-led data-driven technologies and the importance of interdisciplinary collaborations to deliver impactful solutions. She was named as one of South Africa’s Fifty Inspiring Women in tech, and was joint winner of the Oxford Vice-Chancellor’s Innovation award.

Tell us a little about your path to entrepreneurship

I’m an engineer by background and training. I’m originally from South Africa, and I came to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, to do the 1+1 MBA plus Masters in Engineering, which I did from 2013-2015. I was passionate about addressing healthcare inequalities in South Africa. But when I got to Oxford, I realised that there are so many other social impact projects to plug into. So I got involved in the Smart Handpumps project, a DFID-funded project which won the Oxford Vice Chancellor’s Innovation Prize in 2018. We were using machine learning to address water supply issues in rural Kenya, and then later in Ethiopia and Bangladesh. I worked on that for my Masters, and then later I also focused on it for my DPhil, designing algorithms for predicting the failure of hand pumps in the field. After my MBA I worked for M-KOPA in Kenya for a year and a half as a consultant. I was helping to design a pipeline for data coming in to monitor and support their rural sales force - they have thousands, across multiple regions, so it was quite a large-scale project. All these experiences have seen me combine my passion for engineering with a desire to develop solutions that help solve real world challenges through innovation.

What made you want to become a MPLS Enterprise and Innovation Fellow?

During my time at Oxford, I bounced back and forth between the Engineering department and the business school, and I loved them both. I had a deep desire to be involved in technical projects that are applied to real world challenges. So doing the Enterprise and Innovation Fellowship seemed to be the perfect way to bring the two things together.

What has the Fellowship enabled you to do?

The main thing I wanted to showcase to others who are also finding their way through the academic/real world jungle is that you can take a more unconventional path.

The Fellowship was really a way for me to try to capture all the magical things that have happened along the way for me as they evolved, and try to make it replicable for others.

At Oxford, I found that there's a lot of leeway for unconventional thinking. If a door is open in a small way, and you can get your foot in, then there is definitely scope for pushing the boundaries. And that’s what I’d like to impart to people around me: even if it initially feels uncomfortable or a bit difficult, there is scope for pursuing your own path. There are bits of funding around Oxford that, if you seek them out, can enable you to do a project that might be tangential to your core research, but that could have an impact and lead to something else.

What’s next?

For now, I’m just enjoying my junior research fellowship at Linacre College - I have another year to go. Ask me again in six months and I’ll have a clearer idea of where I’m going next!