Student to Startup Founder: An Interview with, Amy Yu, CTO and Co-founder of Ventora Medical

Authors note:

I crossed pathways with Amy Yu in the beginning of 2020 at a @startup&angels networking event. As most networking events are, it’s like being thrown into the jungle; tigress CXO’s and dazzling VC’s, it’s easy to feel lost in wilderness. Myself, being a wide-eyed first year uni student (“a stereotypical jaffy”), I delightfully bumped into Amy Yu, CTO of Ventora Medical. She is a brilliant young founder and a pillar of inspiration. I’m honoured to be sharing with you her remarkable story — from biomedical engineering student to a venture-backed founder.

Can you share about your background and how Ventora Medical came about?

I completed my Master of Engineering (Biomedical with Business) at the University of Melbourne in 2018. As part of my final year, I undertook the Stanford-inspired BioDesign Innovation program which focuses on a needs-based innovation process. Our team, a mix of Master of Engineering and Master of Business Administration students, conducted clinical observations and interviews at several Neonatal Intensive Care Units across Melbourne and found a clear clinical need to improve non-invasive respiratory support for infants. This is how Ventora Medical was born.

Ventora Medical is developing a device that will provide minimally invasive real-time monitoring of the airway pressure for preterm infants on non-invasive respiratory support. The device will provide accurate clinical information to enable clinicians to be proactive in their treatment and provide evidence-based respiratory care, reducing the incidence and impact of further breathing complications.

CEO, Edward Buijs & CTO, Amy Yu

How was your journey transitioning from student to founder?

The journey transitioning from student to founder was an interesting challenge for me. I had just graduated from university and it was really exciting seeing the traction for our idea growing; however, at that point that is exactly all it was, an idea. We had a very rough business plan (most of which is no longer relevant), a macroscale proof of concept (it was about 10 times the size of our final device) and no funding; to commit to pursuing the commercialisation of our idea was scary to say the least. It was only when I started applying for jobs elsewhere and received offers for a couple of full-time jobs that I truly realised my passion was in what we were doing at Ventora. My team and I continue to be driven by our passion for solving an important clinical need in neonatal intensive care and improving the health outcomes of our most vulnerable patients.

Are there any particular organisations/accelerators in the startup ecosystem that helped you?

A challenge that any start-up will face is finding the right people who can provide the relevant expertise and advice to navigate the early stages of the start-up journey.

This is where accelerator programs have been a fantastic resource for us. We have completed both the MAP (Melbourne Accelerator Program) Velocity program and the MedTech Actuator Accelerator program. Both programs have helped us navigate the early stages of building a start-up and covered topics such as understanding your customer, product development, marketing and capital raising. They also connected us to their expansive networks of business experts and fellow start-up founders which has been absolutely fundamental to our success thus far.

How was your experience approaching investors?

Our first fundraising experience was definitely not what we expected, being in the midst of a global pandemic (mid 2020). We had plans to hold an in-person investor lunch event for our launch and travel around Australia to pitch to investors. Instead, we held online zoom information webinars and conducted all of our investor meetings virtually, which had its pros and cons. While it allowed us access to investors all over Australia and overseas, we definitely found it more challenging to convey our message over a screen and spent a lot of time refining our pitch to ensure our messaging was concise and clear.

When approaching investors, it is really important to know who to want to take money from. The value of the investor is not just in the financial investment but also in the investor’s skills, expertise and networks. Building relationships with investors early (ie. before you need investment) allows you to understand who your target investors are and gives you a head start when you launch an investment round.

What advice would you give a student founder/aspiring startup founder?

Don’t underestimate the power of networking and don’t be scared to ask for help! Network at every opportunity — even if a person can’t help you directly, you never know who that person is connected to. A warm introduction can be so valuable and they have helped us tremendously in overcoming a variety of hurdles.

Stay tuned for more stories from young inspirational founders! If you have any feedback or queries reach out to me on LinkedIn: my inbox is always open!

championing young founders, sustainability geek & politics aficionado