Conversations with Adrian Ang

Adrian Ang is the cofounder and CEO of AEvice Health. Driven by a passion to create something that can help others, Adrian founded AEvice in 2016 and worked on wearable devices alongside Professor Ser Wee from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Together, they came up with AireSone Junior, a non-intrusive wearable device that helps children better manage respiratory diseases.

By Maegan Leong and Jin Jin

AEvice Health started in 2016 to solve an unmet need in the market. Very often, children and elderly who developed an asthma attack in the middle of the night are able to get it under control with the use of reliever inhaler (also commonly known as Ventolin). However, they may not present any obvious symptoms while visiting GPs the following day. Since patients have their own subjective interpretations of the severity of their symptoms and conditions, this can make the treatment of asthma extremely difficult for doctors. This is especially so for children below 8 years old as they find difficulties in articulating their conditions to their GPs.

In view of these issues we see in the market today, we decided to build a wearable device that could pick up the acoustic signals emanated from the chest of the patients continuously around the clock, and empower doctors with powerful insights through objective measurements.

No, I would have never expected myself to be doing what I am doing now.  Before I enrolled in university, I wanted to be a commercial pilot. However, I eventually entered Nanyang Technological University and studied electrical and electronics engineering. At that point, I simply wanted to get into an MNC one day and work my way up the corporate ladder.

Upon my graduation, I worked for a construction company for more than 2 years as a project engineer. 2016 was the turning point for me when my university professor invited me out to discuss his invention which forms part of AireSone Junior today. Growing up with childhood asthma, I could immediately relate the benefits of this technology for many asthma patients today. Hence, I decided to work on something more meaningful, which was to create a product that can benefit people one day. And this has also became the mission of our company today.

I was young, and I believe that I had less opportunity cost since I did not have much commitments then. I also accumulated personal savings when I was in university. It felt like the right thing to do then – to pursue what would eventually become AEvice Health.

However, if I were given the same choice today, I guess I may not have made the same decision. That is because opportunity cost is much greater now – you will be more concern with the ability to support your family in the long run – and will impair one’s risk appetite.

When the company first started, I had the opportunity to participate in a start-up accelerator programme in Dubai, United Arab Emirates for more than 4 months. Today, our company has grown significantly and is located at Ayer Rajah Launchpad. Our company believes in efficiency and effectiveness more than anything else. I try my best be in our office every morning unless I have meetings or conference calls to make. Therefore, I often find myself working in cafes between meetings to reduce my traveling time and stay productive. I also make a lot of calls in the middle of the night as my counterparts are in the United States and United Kingdom.

During my free time, I enjoy doing volunteer work to help low-income and vulnerable families. Since 2015, I have been doing volunteer work in Woodlands at least twice a week. On weekdays, it may occasionally end after midnight. Representing Woodlands Grassroots Organization and in collaboration with National Youth Council,  I am currently working on a project dubbed as The Grand Area @ Woodlands 2019 to promote arts and music among our youths. This is our second run this year, and will take place on 13th July at Kampung Admiralty this year.

When we first started AEvice Health, all that we had was an idea and a piece technology. Naturally, the next question that came to our mind was how to grow this into a plan? Like any start-ups, we first came up with a presentation and tried to go from door-to-door to get investors to invest in us. More crucially,  we wanted to get valuable feedback on how can we improvise our business plan. To be honest, we had no idea on how to do a business. And of course, we had received many rejections along the way. But this helped us better review on our commercial strategy and move forward. I can’t say we are perfect now and we are still learning, but I’m glad to get many helping hands till today.

The second part is this, the hardest thing that I felt was to get the right people for the right job. To run a tech start-up requires competent individual with the right technical skills. You need people who can understand and build hardware, software, and most importantly, algorithms. And these were the three roles that we needed to fill urgently. Eventually, I managed to convince a very good friend and ex-classmate of mine, Dr Rex Tan, to join as our Chief Technology Officer. Since then, he has helped to build a team of strong engineers to build our product today.

Hard work and perseverance are a given . But you will also need soft skills. People have to believe in your product and mission to be part of your team, your business partners and even be your investors and customers one day.

I believe youths who are below 26 years old today are in a very sweet spot but extremely competitive world at the same time. The paradigm of businesses and technology have been changing. Traditionally, organizations operated in where each individual belonging to a department serves a very distinctive function. But for organizations to remain highly successful today, we have to rely on cross functional collaboration to encourage a culture of continuous improvement. For instance if you are an engineer working on a product, you must also take into account of User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) in your product, which is how your customers are going to interact and engage with your products during your development stage.

And how does this change the way that the younger generation are today? You need to be exposed to areas outside of your own major. You need to understand and perhaps be interested in different functions of a business. If you are doing an engineering degree, try to also study electives on finance (or vice versa). If you are doing English/Literature, you must consider what is your value proposition and who might be your potential employers

A mistake that many make, including myself, would be focusing excessively on results. During my four years in university, I was equally guilty of being obsessed with my studies. But as an employer today, we place more emphasis on relevant skillsets and internship experiences than on grades alone. So embark on exchange programmes, take on internships and gain skillsets while you are still a student.

When I was student, I focused a lot on grades rather than activities which I regretted.

However, there are two things that made me feel very proud. Firstly, I did volunteer work in university outside of NTU. From there, I created an empathy and understood the difficulties that people faced. That shaped my mindset and made me not take things for granted. For example, I got to know a lot of healthcare and cost of living issues. And perhaps that explained why I am so determined to build AireSone Junior and improve patient’s quality of health.

Secondly, I am very fortunate to have spent 6 months in Sweden for my exchange programme.  I came to learn that Swedish people are very innovative and extremely outspoken in classes. This helps to breed innovation and creative thinking, something that I think we still lack in Singapore. It is also a norm for students to embark on gap year to pursue their interest or gain experience from internship instead of focusing on grades. Perhaps this is what makes Sweden successful today building big brands like IKEA, H&M and SAAB.

Start when you are in university., because that is when you have nothing much to lose. The first business that I had started in 2013 was an e-commerce for customized gifts named The Edged. I had to force myself to learn softwares such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and to do social media marketing on. Looking back, these hard skills that I had picked up earlier still play a very important role in my business today. So, start young!