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



(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


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.
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Women on Top in Tech – Dawn Dickson, Founder and CEO of PopCom, Inc. and Founder of Flat Out of Heels



(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.)

Dawn Dickson is the Founder and CEO of PopCom, Inc. (formerly Solutions Vending, Inc.), the company behind PopCom Kiosks and the PopCom API, which provides a software solution to make vending machines more intelligent. She created the company after her own struggles to find vending machines that could sell her roll-up flat products, Flat Out of Heels, at high-traffic areas like airports.  She was awarded First place in the PowerMoves NOLA Big Break pitch Competition and second place in the 2016 SBA Innovate Her Challenge.

What makes you do what you do? 
I love solving big problems and working with amazing people to get it done.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?
After working in the vending industry for three years selling Flat Out of Heels in vending machines in airports and nightclubs, I was frustrated with the lack of data I was able to collect from my hardware. I also wanted more engaging and interactive experiences for my customers and after speaking with several retailers they felt the same way. That is when I decided to focus on PopCom and developing a software solution to solve the data problem in self-service retail.

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)? 
The fact that I am not the usual, leadership demographic is the main reason why I was up for the challenge. The industry is in need of a change and I believe someone with a unique and different perspective and experience is needed. I look forward to collaborating with the industry leaders and veterans to build a product that everyone loves and finds value in.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work? How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
I am involved in several different industries and sectors – retail, self-service retail, hardware, software…so I have to learn a lot of information quickly.  There are several people that I look up to, follow their career, and seek advice from. I was fortunate to be able to participate in some of the country’s top accelerator and entrepreneurship development programs, including Techstars, Canopy Boulder, and the BIxel Exchange – the mentorship and network I gained from these programs has been invaluable and very instrumental in our progress.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent? 
I have learned that spotting talent takes time, it takes patience, and building relationships with people and networks to meet new people, most of my connections come from introductions. I focus on finding the right fit for the company culture, there is a lot of great talent out there, but the culture is different, I want us to be on the same wavelength. I am fortunate to have met some great people through the programs I was in that came on as mentors, advisors, and eventually full time team members. I take time to get to know my team individually and understand what their personal goals and ambitions are, ask them what their dream job looks like, understand their needs so they can be happy at work and be fulfilled. I believe in self-care and making mental health a priority, if a person is good within themselves they radiate positivity and are more productive.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I am a black woman so I am diversity. Naturally, we attract people we can relate to and have things in common, so I found that my team was heavily female and my diversity initiative was finding more men…when I thought about it I found it funny. Now I have a balanced team of men and women from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives which is exciting.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb? 
To be a great leader you have to be a team player, my rule is I never ask someone to do something that I would not do myself. I also have a rule to give the team the freedom and flexibility to work when and how they are most productive. That means some of us working different hours and being in the office different days, but happy team builds the dream!

Advice for others?
My advice is never give up if you believe in it. I started my company selling shoes in vending machines in 2011, it took me 7 years, a few failed hardware attempts, and many people telling me it would not work because the market was not ready. I was patient and what I believed would happen is happening. In May PopCom is bringing the PopShop to market, a next gen smart vending machine to sell and sample products. Our API will be ready in July and for the first time vending machine and kiosk owners can understand their conversion rates and have the level of data and analytics available that eCommerce stores have, but better. It has been a long journey and I feel it is just getting started, but I am only here because I never gave up.

If you’d like to get in touch with Dawn Dickson, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn:

To learn more about PopCom, please click here.

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Callum Connects

Elaine Zhou, Co-Founder of China Women Equipping Center



Elaine went on a journey of self discovery and once she knew her true self she could be successful in her own business.

What’s your story?
I am very proud of where I came from and I am grateful for where I am living and working today. Singapore is my adopted home and it is my aim to always contribute to and serve this country and its people.
Twelve years ago, I moved to Singapore for an internship opportunity. I was twenty one years old and I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t speak English, I didn’t understand the culture or the customs. Everything was new and strange to me. Everything was difficult, but my parents had tremendous faith in me.
My parents have worked diligently on the family farm to raise us and send us to college. My parents had a huge influence on me. The important things I learnt from them are to love, to never give up, to be a hard worker and to have a can-do attitude. These are the qualities that I embrace in my daily life.

What excites you most about your industry?
We offer more than just training. Our business is a resource to be leveraged for transformation, improved teamwork, leadership behaviours, communication skills, relationship skills, coaching skills and increased job satisfaction and productivity.
Our passion and purpose is to help people grow as leaders and to create tremendous results by serving others well. We take people to daring destinations, beyond their imagination.
My greatest joy is to see people grow, change and transform and live a purposeful life; this is what motivates me to do more and do it well.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born in China and I have spent all my adult and professional life in Singapore.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore and China.
Singapore is a very sophisticated and systematic country. It is a structured and highly efficient business environment and people are generally nice and honest. Also, the convenience and diverse culture is a great advantage for people who want to settle down there, no matter if they are from the East or West. You always feel at home in Singapore.
I also like China because of its fast growth. The population and the market is here. However, it takes time to settle in because of the language barrier and the very different traditional culture. But you will also find it is very interesting and you’ll want to learn more about China. The people are nice if you know them well. It is always about relationship first and business second, and when you are in a business meeting, you really have to master the skill of “reading the air.” It is a skill to let people know and understand you; your values, your background, why you think in that way or why you do or do not do certain things. Doing business in China is like swimming in the ocean; it is an abundant ocean and it is full of risks. Always know your values and stay true to yourself and make decisions close to your heart. It will help you see things more clearly and get things done in a way that doesn’t violate your values.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Be yourself, Elaine.” That is the best advice I have ever received. It was a big ‘aha’ moment for me. It was also the moment I truly and honestly looked within myself. I realized that when I am being my true self, and not trying to be someone else, I am able to connect with people instantly in a genuine and authentic way. It is a great feeling.

Who inspires you?
There are so many people who encourage me, lift me up and challenge me everyday. My mentor, John Maxwell who helped me discover my purpose in life; Michael Griffin, for his passion for Christ which is contagious and Wayne Dyer, my spiritual mentor who passed away in 2016. Also, people who are living with a purpose and striving everyday for their dream, they really inspire me. My clients, mentees and students. When I see that joy and peace in them, that inspires me to do more and do well. My team inspire me, especially when they said, “Elaine, I joined the business because of you.” They inspire me to make it work for the team and the business because it is beyond my own self interest. I am grateful for having so many people in my life who inspire me.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
China is a big country, we all know that, and it is also an internet giant. Recently on a team meeting, one of the directors who manages a successful beauty business, shared with us, that everybody is on the internet, especially on WeChat. People are obsessed with online communities – for ordering food, getting taxis, forging relationships, connections and friends. Almost anything and everything can get done online. But right now, there is a new trend; more and more people want the “offline” experience. It usually takes one to two hours from one place to another in Beijing, but people want to make the effort to have a real connection with other people, to attend networks, seminars, workshops and business meetings.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I started my first business when I was 24 years old, it failed. One year later, I started my second business and after a year and a half, I closed down the operation. After several painful experiences and two failed businesses, I started to look within myself, and seriously and intentionally invested in my personal growth at the age of 28. If I could turn back time, I wish I could have grown a lot earlier. I strongly believe that the level of our success is determined by the level of our self growth and we are always learning, everyday. But I also understand it is not the only way to live. I also consciously and intentionally try to live in the now. It is a beautiful and great way to live. In fact, I am grateful for what I have gone through; the pains, setbacks and challenges in my earlier life.

How do you unwind?
I like to stay connected with nature. For example, taking a walk barefoot on the grass and smelling the roses on the street. Having a beer or coffee along the riverside with friends; reading a good book; hunting for nice restaurants; swimming or running.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Thailand – nice beaches, food and people.
Bali – fantastic beaches and food, great people.
Malaysia – Nice food and people, particularly Langkawi, Penang and KK.
Of course Singapore, it is always a place dear to my heart. It’s my home.
There are a lot of other interesting places in China which I am still exploring.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Law of Success by Napoleon Hill
The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace Wattles
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Tao Te Ching: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life by Wayne Dyer
Developing the Leaders Within You by John C.Maxwell
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
These are some of the books that truly transformed my thinking and shaped my values.
I used to read a lot of different types of books, from sales, marketing, branding and management to different business models. I found it is really hard to master all of it and I was not optimizing my own strengths.
Entrepreneurship is a skill to be learnt. But it is really important to recognize what we are good at and what we are not so good at. We can not be everything.
Entrepreneurship is a journey of self-discovery and soul searching. It is all about learning and striving. We should try and always remember why we started our business in the first place.

Shameless plug for your business:
The China Women Equipping Center, is something both my team are I are very proud. We have put our hearts and souls into it, to help women in China grow and transform. As a developing country and with the rise of China, people are not lacking in money, everywhere is full of opportunity, but the challenge is the civilizations, values and faith. In fact the Chinese government puts a lot of effort into improving and shaping the international image to ensure it is making progress. But people are still facing a lot of pressure, especially women.
One of our business partners who is runs traditional Chinese medicine retail stores, shared that 80% of his patients are female, and the reason they are coming to see him are anxiety and depression.
Our China Women Equipping Center creates a safe and comfortable environment for women to help build their values and characters. My local team and I are very passionate about our mission and purpose. Beijing is our headquarters in China. We are planning to take three to six months to establish our business in Beijing and grow and expand to other major cities in China after that.

How can people connect with you?

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:
Download free copies of his books here:

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