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“Wheeze kids” on start-ups

What do a math student and a Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2018 honouree have in common? Quite a few things, as Peter Yeo finds out when co-founder of AEvice Health Adrian Ang, an NTU alumnus, and his junior, Alice Liew, chat over coffee

PHOTOS: AMIN SHAH

Alice Liew Alice Liew
Adrian Ang Adrian Ang

Alice Liew: Hi Adrian, congratulations on your entry into the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list of disruptors and innovators shaking up the world. I’m a fourth-year mathematics undergrad at NTU, specialising in statistics. Numbers aside, I am also passionate about entrepreneurship.

Adrian Ang: Nice to meet you. Do you have any plans to start your own business?

Alice: I have a few business ideas. Selling products out of vending machines is one. Imagine you’re playing tennis at a sports hall and you lose your ball. If there was a vending machine dispensing sports gear nearby, you could get a replacement quickly. Another product that can be sold in vending machines is costumes. I just had a theme party for my 21st birthday. It was an Alice in Wonderland theme. I bought my costume and realised there’s a demand...

Adrian: For Alice in Wonderland costumes?

Alice: For costumes in general. For theme parties as well as for Halloween parties, especially with expatriate communities.

Adrian: I think this might work. If you have a Pikachu costume, let me know. I’ll get it and surprise my wife!

Alice: I will. Do tell me more about your business.

Adrian: I run a start-up called AEvice Health. We build medical devices that use artificial intelligence and collective data to detect asthma attacks.

Alice: That’s interesting. I had asthma attacks as a child but rarely get them now.

Adrian: In Singapore, asthma attacks are quite well controlled and regulated. But we’ve learnt that asthma attacks in other parts of the world can be deadly. In some countries, fatal attacks occur every other day. Did you know a thunderstorm could also trigger an attack?

Alice: That’s shocking.

Adrian: I had childhood asthma too. My last incident was when I was eight years old. I was playing with sparklers and I could feel an asthma attack coming on but I didn’t tell anyone. It got pretty bad in the middle of the night and my parents had to rush me to the emergency department.

Alice: My last attack was also at around the same age. I think it’s one of those illnesses that goes away when your immunity builds up.

Adrian: Outside of Singapore, we’ve seen children succumbing to asthma attacks. How? When their asthma is triggered, their parents or guardians aren’t able to control it. It’s sad. That’s why I want to help parents detect and manage asthma symptoms in their children.

Alice: Do you have more empathy for children suffering from asthma because of your own experience?

Adrian: I actually sympathise more with the parents or guardians. I remember my parents’ anxiety when they had to take care of me. While my father struggled with his new construction business in 1997, my mother – who helped him manage the finances for the company – had to take leave from work, or bring work home, just to take care of me. This made me determined to build a device that can manage childhood asthma better, or at least raise an alert before an attack, so parents have the peace of mind to go about their daily lives. So tell me, what drove you towards entrepreneurialism?

Alice: I did an internship with a start-up in Shanghai that helps other start-ups get on their feet. I learnt about working with different cultures as well as in a foreign company. Part of what I did was to help foreign businesses adapt and assimilate in China. It was an advantage that I speak both English and Mandarin. My tenure was made even more special because the company was pivoting between business models when I was there.

Adrian: They changed business tack?

Alice: The company started as a co-working space to facilitate start-ups but the profits weren’t coming in. They realised the money is with corporations so they adapted to help foreign companies fit in with the Chinese industries. Now operating somewhat like a think tank, they provide a co-working space for new businesses, link them with mentors, run networking sessions, and even provide links to investors and funding.

Adrian: China could be a key market for AEvice Health. However, it’s a whole different kettle of fish. If we were to break into the market, I’d need to find a strong local partner. We cannot run a business there the same way we run it here. So are you going to start a business after graduation?

Alice: I’ve accepted a full-time position at DBS as I feel they have a strong culture of enterprise. If I can’t be an entrepreneur yet, at least I can be an intrapreneur and help the company innovate from within.

Adrian: That’s very smart. If you have the desire to innovate and you have people to help you along the way, you will achieve a lot of things at DBS or wherever you go.

Alice: What’s your advice for an aspiring entrepreneur like me?

Adrian: If you have $1 million to spend in a year, don’t try to make it last for three. You may stabilise the company for three years but eventually it collapses. I don’t think it’s worth it. Spend the $1 million now in the one year you’ve plotted for. Take calculated risks and go for it.

Alice: I hear you. So how did you get into the Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list?

Adrian: I don’t usually believe in luck, but I am fortunate to have a very good team. And it’s not just the founding members but everyone in the company. We are all united because we share a common, crystal-clear goal. The teams make sure they meet all the goals before they go home – despite our best efforts to encourage them to leave by 6pm every day. On top of that, we are also fortunate to have good investors and mentors who have supported us financially and helped us get through very difficult times with the regulatory bodies. They also introduced us to the right manufacturers, which shaved our production time.

Alice: I hope I’ll get to enjoy success like that someday.

Adrian: You will. Good luck!

NTU alumni in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list

Now in its third year, the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list features some of the brightest millennials who are making waves in their respective industries. Aside from AEvice founder Adrian Ang, six other NTU alumni are also part of the exclusive roll call. They are Jackie Tan of fundMyLife, a digital financial planning platform; Josephine Chow of ShopBack, who channelled her zest for shopping into e-commerce; Esther Wang of Joytingle, who was singled out for her work in healthcare education; and payment platform FOMO Pay, founded by Louis Liu, Zack Yang and Zhu Chenyang.