We’re excited to kick off a new series on the blog today called Meet the Team. While our team is still small (and growing!), it’s made up of extremely talented and passionate people with one thing in common: we’re all dedicated to change the way healthcare is delivered. Over the next few months we’ll be introducing new and old team members alike, giving you an exclusive sneak peek into the life of a Scoper (our affectionate name for CellScope employees)!
For our first segment, we sat down with Co-Founder Amy Sheng for an in-depth interview. Amy leads our product operations at CellScope and among other notable accolades was named by Inc. Magazine as one of the 10 Women to Watch in Tech in 2013.
CellScope (CS): Tell us a bit about your background before CellScope.
Amy Sheng (AS): I studied mechanical engineering and human biology in undergrad. Some of my favorite classes involved designing and building things in the machine shop. One of my favorite projects was designing tire levers (a tool used to change flat tires on bikes) in the shape of corn cobs (at the time I was training for a bike ride across Iowa where there’s a lot of corn), using the 3-axis CNC machines to make both halves of the tooling and then seeing everything culminate on the injection molding machine. It was amazing watching the first corn cob tire lever come out of the tool! After school, I moved to Boston and worked in the medical device industry. I worked on medical devices for cardiovascular and hematology applications. I learned how much work is involved in releasing medical products and the variety of challenges involved.
CS: How did you make the decision to leave the lab and enter the startup world by founding CellScope?
AS: We were really excited by the potential of our original work in the lab and recognized that there were many different applications and markets we could go after. We got a lot of interest and external validation for our early work in the lab and we wanted to turn that into real, commercial products. That’s when the founding team came together and decided to form a company. And it’s been a wild ride ever since!
CS: How long have you known your co-founder, Erik?
AS: I’ve known Erik for 5 years. We met in the Fletcher lab at UC Berkeley where we worked on mobile microscopy for diagnosing diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria. After five years of working together, through exciting and frustrating times, we have a very strong co-founder relationship, and we bring different strengths to CellScope. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from Erik and consider myself lucky to have him as my partner in tackling all the challenges of running a venture-backed startup. Also, his sense of humor, skill in delivering ear puns and midwestern charm keep things interesting and make work fun!
CS: What inspires you to come to work everyday?
AS: The team. I love working with the people at CellScope and every day, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to work with smart, competent and fun people. I’m constantly learning and being challenged by my colleagues, and I leave work feeling invigorated. I love that we’re all working towards CellScope’s vision of building a smartphone-enabled toolkit for the home to give families peace of mind.
CS: What makes you most excited about CellScope’s future?
AS: I get most excited hearing feedback from the field, whether it’s from our clinician Pioneers or our consumer home users. When I hear about how our first product, the CellScope Oto, has improved people’s lives, whether that’s from a clinician who can calm a nervous first-time parent by showing her a video of her child’s ear and convincing her that antibiotics aren’t needed or a home user who can save a visit to the doctor’s office and get peace of mind, I feel incredibly excited about CellScope’s future. I know that we’re working on something important that aligns well with the overall direction that healthcare is heading.
CS: What do you wish you’d had known five years ago that you know now?
AS: There’s nothing better than coming to work and seeing a team of people collaborating and working hard towards a shared goal. Early on, when it was just the founders building clunky prototypes in our homes and getting rejections from investors, it was hard to imagine how we’d get CellScope up and running. There’s a lot of uncertainty and risk with startups but I wished I’d known the importance of believing in and selling a big vision – not only to investors but also to prospective employees. When I look around CellScope now and see so many smart, talented people working hard towards our vision, I occasionally have to pinch myself and remind myself that this is real!
CS: What do you enjoy most about working at CellScope?
AS: I have an awesome cofounder and a great team. I love the community and culture that we’ve built at CellScope. I also love the traditions that we’ve created such as “TTT” (Teach the Team) on Friday afternoons where someone teaches the team about a hobby or interest of theirs and our celebratory gong that we bang for big and small wins.
CS: You’re a parent with two small kids at home. Has your experiences as a parent played a role in your vision for CellScope?
AS: I’ve experienced the pain point that all parents have experienced at some point: my child is sick, how urgent is this and what should I do? Often this happens at the most inconvenient time (evenings, weekends, or during vacation when the pediatrician’s office is closed). Currently there aren’t great options for parents beyond taking time off of work to squeeze in a trip to the doctor’s office or taking your child to urgent care or the ER. At CellScope, we envision a world where many of the most common medical concerns will be addressed from the comfort of home, saving time and money and making busy parents’ lives easier. Some day people will say, “You used to have to do all that for an ear infection?!”
CS: What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
AS: I love to spend time with my family and take adventures around San Francisco, such as riding the train at the zoo, going to a local farmer’s market or watching the sunset at the beach. My husband is from Santa Cruz and we love occasionally taking a break from the city and relaxing in Santa Cruz. If I had a day to myself, I’d be reading a book, going for a swim and getting a massage!
CS: You’ve shared some of your travels with the team before. What’s been your most memorable experience so far and where have you always wanted to go?
AS: It’s very tough to pick one but a favorite was Morocco. I loved it because culturally it felt so different, like I had stepped back in time. The old medina in Marrakesh comes alive at night and the smells, sights and sounds are overwhelming. Plus I love Moorish architecture and design, wandering around the souks (marketplaces) and trying delicious Moroccan food. In one country, we discovered ancient cities, slept under the stars in the Sahara desert, relaxed by the beach on the North African coast and spoke French with the locals.
I love experiencing places that have the mixing of cultures, and one of the places I’ve always wanted to visit is Andalusia in southern Spain.