Engineering Alumnus Developing, Producing Ventilators for Congo
By: Amanda Bowman
Adam Shebindu and his company, Bora Technology, sprang into action to help the people in his home country fight COVID-19.
The ferocity of the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S. in March 2020. When the virus became prominent in Lubbock, Texas Tech University students and faculty came together to build ventilators and face shields and donate personal protective equipment (PPE).
Like many, Adam Shebindu – a Texas Tech alumnus who earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering with a concentration in thermal fluids and his thesis in biomedical engineering through the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering – saw a need in his home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
"During the pandemic, the Congolese capital city of Kinshasa only had 55 ventilators for a population of 14 million people," Shebindu said. "COVID-19 didn't reach the Congo until April, so it was a big deal – it's still a big deal. It's a challenge."
As fate would have it, Shebindu had started a company, Bora Technology, in February 2020. His goal is to provide technological independence to the Congo.
"Since the Congo imports everything, it's very complex to actually become a developed country or to bring the country to some type of progress, because the difference between a developing country and a developed country is the ability to develop its own technology," he said. "So, once you become independent technologically, you're now on the table among emerging countries."
When the coronavirus came to the Congo, Shebindu knew he had to be proactive.
"I told my guys that my goal is to develop technology and use my knowledge of medical technology," he said. "I told them we should start developing something that we can use in case of an emergency, at least. So, we started developing a mechanical ventilator in April. We did all the designs, and now we're in talks with the Ministry of Health in Congo to start doing some clinical trials with our machine."
The mechanical ventilator Bora Technology developed is a temporary solution, but it's still extremely beneficial during this time.
"The machine itself can sustain a person for at least a day until the doctors can find out what the patient's issue is and fix it," Shebindu said. "It's more of a reanimation device that facilitates breathing for a period of time."
As if that wasn't impressive enough, Shebindu is running his Congo-based company from more than 7,600 miles away in Denton, Texas.
"During the day, I'm working my job here in the U.S. as a process engineer at Tetra Pak, and at night, since there's a seven-hour time difference, I'm working virtually in the Congo starting at midnight U.S. time," Shebindu said. "Then, I'll go to bed around 4 a.m. and start all over again.
"When I started Bora Technology in February, I had three employees. Now, I have 11 people in the company. I develop the technology from the U.S., then I basically give my employees direction and what to do."
Another passion Shebindu mandated at his company is for all the engineers to give back to the community.
"All of our engineers are required to volunteer in their communities for at least five hours per week," he said. "This mostly goes into education and inspiring students, mostly young girls, to pursue a STEM education. During the lockdowns, we taught girls how to assemble 3D printers and how to print face shields and supply them to local hospitals to protect first responders against COVID-19.
"Also, the company focuses on creating a middle class in the Congo. There is a very uneven distribution of wealth between the top 1% and the 99%. In the Congo, you are either rich or poor, the middle class is non-existent. With this company, our goal is to ensure that most college graduates in engineering around the country find a place to work and fulfill their dreams."
The Congo was not hit as hard by the coronavirus pandemic as other places around the world, but Shebindu notes that prevention methods – washing your hands, avoiding touching surfaces, etc. – aren't as commonly used there as in the U.S.
Since the U.S. has more technological advancements than the Congo, people can avoid touching surfaces because of automatic sliding doors, for example.
"For the most part, unless you're very upper class, we don't have that kind of technology," Shebindu said. "So, my team and I started developing automatic hand washing posts, and our goal is to put them at schools, in hospitals and even on the street."
Shebindu began his collegiate career at the University of Texas at Dallas. Struggling to find the assistance and acceptance he needed as an international student, he started looking at other Texas universities.
"I had three options: The University of Texas, Texas A&M University and Texas Tech," Shebindu recalled. "I visited all three schools. However, the community in Lubbock, to me, was very welcoming. It's a community-based system that I was looking for because the Congo has a very community-based system. I also received multiple scholarship opportunities at Texas Tech. I took full advantage of all the opportunities.
"I moved to Lubbock, and I loved it. My friends think it's weird, but I tell them home is Lubbock. I was able to blend into the community. That's why I appreciate the university."
Once Shebindu arrived at Texas Tech, he wasted no time getting involved in research competitions. In 2017, he finished in first place in the Innovation Hub at Research Park's Idea Competition. His idea was to develop a high-tech, portable beverage bottle that uses a four-refrigeration system to cool and maintain the temperature of the bottle's contents, among other features.
"I learned a lot about entrepreneurship while at Texas Tech," he said. "I was able to develop those skills, which helped me when I started my own company."