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Women on Top in Tech – Angela Wu, Founder Member at Agenovir Corporation & Assistant Professor at HKUST

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

I met Angela Wu, Founding Member at Agenovir Corporation at EmTech, Singapore 14-15 February. EmTech is the annual global emerging technologies conference hosted by MIT Technology Review, the world’s oldest and most respected technology publication since 1899. This unique event has grown into a global community which runs in the United States, Europe, South America, India, Hong Kong, and Singapore. It is the world’s most important conference on emerging technologies that matter.

She was one of the finalists of the Innovators Under 35. Assistant Professor in Hong Kong university, she is working on single-cell genomics, microfluidics, and other biotechnology development. Highly interdisciplinary work that bridges engineering and basic biology, with the goal of eventually translating some into the clinic/industry,

 

Founding Member - Angela Wu


What makes you do what you do?

I have a general curiosity and like to learn. My interest has always been in science. Since biology can be perceived as rather esoteric at first, I enjoyed bio-engineering as well as it applies engineering solutions to the basic science. So, I became a Bio-Engineer.

When at UC Berkeley, Professor Luke Lee accepted me into his lab and I really enjoyed it.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I had the support of many mentors, including. My father who is also an academic and provides me invaluable advice and support. One thing I did realize that helped me to advance myself, was that women need to take the extra effort to ask for what they want. I totally agree with the book “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. Women are often shy to ask for what they want or need in their careers. I learned and trained myself to ask even when I may feel hesitant.

One example was when I wanted to do an internship in Management Consulting in the middle of my Ph.D. programme. Even though it was unconventional and not really aligned with what I was supposed to be studying, I had to go ask and fight for the opportunity because I felt it would be good for me. It introduced a different side of the world to me. The skills during that internship helped me tremendously, especially now that I am in the start-up advisory role. So, I believe there are lots of opportunities to learn and advance, but sometimes we have to fight for them.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?

From the beginning, I was already a non-conventional engineer or scientist. I am not a person who keeps to myself or a person who doesn’t understand people, like how scientists are portrayed in the comedy sitcom, The Big Bang Theory. I have always been extroverted and social, am organized and am comfortable in people-facing roles, and leadership roles.

Founding the startup was something new for me, and also allowed me to explore leadership positions outside of academic science. This entrepreneurial opportunity allowed me to experience different roles in a short amount of time. To me, this is exciting and fun. Also, many of these skills cross-over to how I now manage my academic laboratory.

Eventually, I want to start another company. So, this previous experience with founding Agenovir has prepared me for the future.

Who are the other mentors you had?

As mentioned earlier, my father is my life mentor. Even now, he is still providing me with advice, as well as support.

The second mentor I had was my Ph.D. advisor, Prof. Stephen Quake. He is a super inspiring person and I really admire him a lot. He taught me how to turn lab research into real products that can impact people in the world through commercialization. There are very few people in our field who is as successful as he is at commercializing his academic findings. Steve is also my co-founder at Agenovir.

On the business side, my mentor is my other co-founder Bruce Hironaka, previously CEO and Board of Directors of Agenovir. He is currently retired but has a lot of wisdom about the business world, leadership, and entrepreneurship. He is the mentor who taught me the ropes for the business side of starting a new company. Bruce took me under his wing and we continue to keep in contact. He clarified many of my non-science questions, especially those questions from the business side. Even today, I often seek his advice on how to manage my academic lab and how to be a good leader. He is also a great advocate for women, and actively mentors women like me so that we can go further in our career.

Both of my mentors, Steve and Bruce, wrote recommendations for me for the nomination to Innovators under 35 for EmTech Asia.

Have you ever gone after a mentor not consciously?

I do not usually go after a mentor formally. I do not feel there is no need to “go after” mentors; the mentor-mentee relationship happens quite organically. You can find someone you look up to and just try to have interactions with them, such as asking for their advice or opinion on questions you are unsure about. If that person offers you their time and advice, you will naturally feel supported and empowered.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?

I try to encourage women to pursue even when they have doubts. For example, I recently met a female student who was very excited about my lab group’s projects. However, when I asked her if she wanted to join my lab group, she said that she didn’t feel confident because she is not from the same scientific background, and she wasn’t sure she could make it in my group.

I told her, “If you already made it so far, why are you doubting that you can’t do the next thing you want? Take that little leap of faith, and have confidence in yourself and your abilities. You can go home, and think about the offer some more before you reply me.”

This student didn’t even hesitate, and immediately said yes. All she needed was a little bit of confidence and encouragement. Now, she is a final year undergraduate student who will join my lab as a Ph.D. candidate in a few months. She is a very motivated and talented lady. However, she still needs to build confidence to believe in her own abilities.

 

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?

I think one example of a great leader in my industry will be my mentor, Bruce. He treats everyone with respect and in the way that you want to be treated. He does not fit the stereotype that all leaders are brutal and aggressive, despite many business cultures which will give this impression.

What it is that is making you tick?

In terms of leadership, I try to be an empathic leader of my research group and also to take their perspective. This helps me understand where they are coming from, which allows me to clarify their doubts and pain points. I generally tend to encourage the team, even when mistakes are made. I think it is not productive to just get angry and make them work hard without letting them understand the mistake and learning from it.

Of course, I am just starting out, so I am not so sure if I will be successful with this leadership strategy but I am still figuring it out. I am by no means an expert qualified to give advice.

What does Angela Wu and her research group as an STEM innovator think about everyday?

Our body contains trillions of cells, and each one contains a copy of our genome, our body’s instruction manual, telling the cells what to do, how to function. Using modern DNA sequencing technology, we can now study how our genomes dictate the functions and malfunctions of our organs and tissues. Until recently, we have studied our organs and tissues by looking at the average state of millions of cells from the organ. This is like trying to understand a country by looking at average data of the citizens of that country. We know the average age or average height of the population, but we don’t know what each individual is doing. Just like people have different jobs in a society, different cells also have different roles in an organ. Rather than viewing each cell as the average of millions of cells in an organ, we need to better understand them at the individual, single cell level. My research group creates technologies like microfluidic chips (image below), to allow us to isolate and read the genomes of each of those trillion cells in the body – Rapidly, accurately, automatically, and at scale. Using these technologies, we want to create a Human Cell Atlas – A Google Maps of the human body that catalogues the location, function and role of each of the trillions of cells in our body.

If anyone wants to ask anything about the fields I’m in, you can contact me.


To learn more about Agenovir Corporation, please see https://www.agenovir.com/.

 

I am a huge fan and cheerleader of Women Leaders — If you know of an AMAZING Woman Founder, CEO, Leader in Tech or you are one yourself — Write me here.
AMPLIFY Conscious Business Leadership with me.

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Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and Digital Innovation Strategist

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

I am talking to Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and freelance Digital Innovation Strategist. Tara was selected and recognized by TheNextWeb.com as one of the 500 most talented young people in the Dutch digital scene during the 2017 TNW edition. Tara is known for her creative, entrepreneurial spirit, which she is using to her advantage in leading the change in SMEs and corporates around the globe.

What makes you do what you do?

I tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle. Because of my curious nature, I am in constant development, looking for new angles and new approaches to business problems. Innovation through technology is exploring ideas and pushing boundaries. The most radical technological advances have not come from linear improvements within one area of expertise. Instead, they arise from the combination of seemingly disparate inventions. This is, in fact, the core of innovation. I love going beyond conventional thinking practices. Mashing up different thoughts and components, connecting the dots, and transforming that into something useful to businesses.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I consistently chose to follow my curiosity, which has led me to where I am today. If you want to succeed in the digital industry, you need to have a growth mindset. Seen the fact that the industry is evolving in an astoundingly quick rate, it’s crucial to stay current with the trends and forces in order to spot business opportunities. I believe taking responsibility for your own learning and development is key to success.

Why did you take on the role of Digital Innovation Strategist?

The reason for this is twofold. On the one hand, I got frustrated with businesses operating in the exact same way they did a couple of decades ago. Right now we are in the midst of a technology revolution, and the latest possibilities and limitations of cutting-edge technologies are evolving every single day. This means that companies need to stay current and act lean if they want to survive. On a more personal level, I noticed that I felt the need to use my creativity and problem-solving skills to their maximum capacity. In transforming businesses at scale, I change the rules of the game. I love breaking out of traditional, old-fashioned patterns by nurturing innovative ideas. This involves design thinking, extensive collaboration and feedback, the implementation of various strategies and tactics, validated learning, and so on. I get a lot of energy from my work because it is aligned with my personal interests.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries?

Yes, I look up to Drew Boyd. He is a global leader in creativity and innovation. He taught me how to evaluate ideas in order to select the best ones to proceed with. This is crucial because otherwise,you run the risk of ideas creating the criteria for you because of various biases and unrelated factors. He also taught me a great deal on facilitation of creativity workshops.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I tend to have the characteristics of a transformational leader. People have told me that my enthusiasm and positive energy is motivating and even inspiring to them. Even though I take these comments as a huge compliment, I am not sure how I feel about referring to myself as a leader. To me, it still has a somewhat negative connotation. I guess I associate the concept with being a boss who’s throwing around commands. But if a leader means listening to others and igniting intrinsic motivation in people, then yes, I guess I’m a charismatic leader.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Yes, one hundred percent. I believe that creativity and innovation flourish when a highly diverse group of people bounces ideas off each other. Diversity in terms of function, gender,and culture is extremely valuable, especially in the ideation phase of a project, as it can help to see more possibilities and come up with better ideas.

Do you have any advice for others?

Yes, I have some pieces of advice I’d like to share.
First of all: Develop self-awareness. You can do so by actively seeking feedback from the people around you. This will help you understand how others see you, align your intentions with your actions, and eventually enhance your communication- and leadership skills.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable and inspiring people. They might be able to support you in reaching your goals, and help you grow both personally and professionally.

Ask “why?” a couple of times. This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. Make sure to often remind yourself and your team of the outcome of this exercise to have a clear sense of direction and focus.

Data is your friend. Whether it’s extensive quantitative market research or a sufficient amount of in-depth consumer interviews (or both!), your data levels all arguments. However, always be aware of biases and limitations of research.

Say “Yes, and…” instead of “No”. Don’t be an idea killer. Forget about the feasibility and budget, at least in the ideation phase. Instead, encourage your team to generate ideas without restrictions. You can compromise certain aspects later.

Prioritization is key. There is just no way you can execute all your ideas, and, quite frankly, there is no point in trying to do so. Identify the high potential ideas and start executing those first.

Encourage rapid prototyping. Don’t wait too long to experiment, launch, and iterate your product or service. Fail fast and fail often. Adopt an Agile mindset.

If you’d like to get in touch with Tara Velis, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/taravelis/

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Callum Connects

Marek Danyluk, CEO of Space Ventures

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Marek Danyluk has a talent for assessing the competencies of management teams for other businesses and pulling together exceptional teams for his own businesses!

What’s your story?
I am the CEO of a venture capital business, Space Ventures, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses. I also own and run Space Executive, a recruitment business focused on senior to executive hires across sales, marketing, finance, legal and change.

My career started as a trainee underwriter in the Lloyds market but quickly moved into recruitment where I set-up my first business in 2002. The business grew to around 100 people. I moved to Asia in 2009 as a board member of a multinational recruitment business with the mandate to help them scale their Asian entities, which helped contribute to their sale this year, in 2017.

My main talent is assessing the competencies of management teams as well as building high performing recruitment boutiques and putting together exceptional management teams for my own businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
Building the business is very much about attracting the best talent and being able to build a culture which people find invigorating and unique. It’s an exciting proposition to be able to define a culture in that regard and salespeople are a fun bunch, so when you get it right it’s tremendous.

From a VC point of view there is just so much happening. South East Asia is a melting pot of innovation so the ideas and quality of people you have exposure to, is truly phenomenal. The exposure in the VC has taken me away from a career in recruitment. Doing something completely different has given me a new level of focus.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Whilst I came here with work, both my boys were born in Singapore and to them this very much is home. That said, my father in law spent many years in the East so coming and settling here was met with a good degree of support and familiarity.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Possibly Hong Kong. It’s the closest I’ve been to working in London. Whilst there are massive Asian influences people will work with you on the basis you are good at what you do and work hard. I find that approach very honest and straightforward.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Always treat people well on the way up!”

Who inspires you?
I like reading about people who have excelled in business such as Jack Ma, James Kahn, Phil Knight, Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, all have great stories to tell and they are all inspirational. No-one has inspired me more than my parents and they are well aware as to why…

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Pretty much any technology innovation blows me away.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Whilst it is important not to have regrets I do continually wake up thinking I’m still doing my A’ Levels. So, I’d have probably tried a little harder in 6th form.

How do you unwind?
I like the odd glass of red wine and watching sport

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan skiing. I love skiing and Japanese food and it’s a time when I can really enjoy time with the wife and kids. I recently tried the Margaret River which was divine, although not technically Asia.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Barbarians at the Gate

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive is the fastest growing recruitment business in Singapore focused on the mid to senior market across legal, compliance, finance, sales and marketing and change and transformation. Multi-award winning with exceptional growth plans into Hong Kong and London this year, and the US, Japan and Europe by the end of 2022. We are building a truly global brand.

Space Ventures is interested in any businesses that require capital or management and financial guidance or any or all of the above. We have, to date, invested in on-line training, food and beverages, peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring as well as other tech and fintech start-ups. We are always interested in hearing about potential deals.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

Twitter handle?
@Spaceexecutive

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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