Ali Ghorbangholi studied both a Bachelor's and a Master's at Imperial: the first in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and the second in Software Engineering. He completed his studies in 2013.
In October 2020, Ali was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to volunteering during the COVID-19 response. Thanks to the app that he co-founded, GoodSAM, Ali took a leading role in responding to the pandemic – joining the numerous Imperial alumni taking action during COVID-19.
We spoke to Ali about his experiences at Imperial and the path his career has taken since completing his studies, as well as his role in the fight against COVID-19.
Can you tell us about your studies at Imperial?
I started my MEng degree at the Electrical and Electronic Engineering Department in 2009. Due to hardships, I had to switch my degree to the BEng degree and then apply to the Department of Computing for an MSc later on.
What did you learn during your time at Imperial, in class or out?
Hard work, works. It’s the passion, not the money, that leads to a better place. If you are passionate about what you do, you become really good at it and this in turn makes you extremely valuable.
Who did you find inspiring at Imperial and why?
Professor Paul Mitcheson: he was one of the first people who believed in me and my abilities as a student. He was an excellent teacher: I learnt the basics of Digital Signal Processing from him, the same basics which later on allowed me to build tools allowing GoodSAM (my start-up) to measure the heart rate and the respiratory rate remotely from a mobile phone. This feature is now used by emergency services around the world.
I would also say Professor Tim Green and Dr Kristel Fobelets: when my family and I were in financial difficulties during my third-year studies and couldn’t afford the international fees for the fourth year, these members of staff went the extra mile to support me and allowed me to switch from a 4-year course (MEng) to a 3-year course (BEng) in order to be able to finish my degree.
What is your fondest memory of your time here?
When, after applying to 30+ opportunities as a second-year student, eventually I got offered an internship at a chip design company in the UK.
What is your favourite place at Imperial and why?
The EEE electronics lab. It is a nerd heaven; having access to the tools, you can play around and build some really cool programmes or electronic components.
Can you tell us a bit about the start-up you are working on?
I am the co-founder and technical director of two technology start-ups known as GoodSAM and Clinic. Both of my start-ups are in the healthcare sector and our mission statement is saving lives through technology.
The GoodSAM App allows tasking of volunteers and first responders to emergency incidents. GoodSAM Instant-On-Scene enables the emergency services and dispatch centres to immediately locate the callers and access their mobile phone camera. GoodSAM Home Monitoring enables 111 services to remotely monitor the patients who are suspected to have COVID-19 or similar diseases.
My other start-up, Clinic.co, enables GPs and clinician to be able to have a virtual consultation and communicate with any patient without the need for an app.
What have been your career highlights?
Helping to save one life every three minutes by building the GoodSAM App technology and utilising the first responder network.
Subsequently building the GoodSAM Home Monitoring solution, allowing the 111 services to monitor patients remotely.
Hearing that our video technology solution was utilised by the London Ambulance Service to help a lady give birth remotely - a use of our platform which we had never even thought about!
What does a typical day look like for you now?
I wake up at around 6/6.30am, do a routine server and infrastructure check and then look at my emails. After answering important emails, I start coding till about 9am. At 9am, I attend the team stand up and various meetings, and code between meetings till about 6 o’clock. Then I try to exercise for about half an hour and eat food. Finally, at around 7pm, I start coding again until whenever I fall sleep… I code anywhere from 10 to 16 hours a day and love every minute of it.
What are your plans for the future?
My co-founder (Professor Mark Wilson, consultant neurosurgeon and Professor in the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial) and I built both of the start-ups from the ground up, organically without raising any funds and ‘selling our souls’ to any venture capitals. Our plan is to continue building up the companies organically and help as many people as possible by always doing the right thing.
What would your advice be for current students who are budding entrepreneurs?
There are plenty of problems out there in the world that need solving, pick one and get on with it! As I always say, don’t over-engineer your solutions and don’t make up problems that don’t exist in reality.
Can you tell us about your role in the fight against COVID-19?
We were approached by NHS England to help them with recruiting and tasking volunteers in order help tackle the virus. We recruited 750k volunteers in 3 days and built the world's largest autonomous tasking platform ever made. In terms of scale in the UK, the number of volunteers on our platform is bigger than Uber and Deliveroo combined.
Where do you see opportunities for other alumni to make a difference in these challenging times?
Look to build technologies and solutions which help advance the human species, improve efficiencies and save costs. Also, the typical stuff like curing cancer and helping to slow down global warming, etc…
What makes you proud to be an Imperial alumnus?
The people. Imperial educates some of the smartest people in the world. When you are a student you don’t quite know it, but everyone around you is going to be someone someday!
What one word or phrase would you use to describe Imperial alumni?
Smart bunch of people (oops that’s four words, sometimes breaking rules is not necessarily a bad thing!)