Engineering alumni embrace the medical technology start-up pathway

The University of Melbourne’s Master of Engineering graduates are launching more than new careers. A growing number of graduates from the program’s BioDesign Innovation course are launching innovative medical technology start-ups and quickly drawing international attention.

Four of these young entrepreneurs shared their stories and lessons learned at the 2020 Endeavour Exhibition, urging graduates to ‘dream big’ and carve their own path forward.

Shing Yue Sheung, a 2017 Master of Engineering graduate, co-founded Navi Medical Technologies to develop the Neonav® device. This helps doctors insert central venous catheters into newborn babies in intensive care to deliver critical fluids, blood or medications.

Within two years of Navi’s launch, Shing was listed in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Awards for entrepreneurial innovation. He credits the BioDesign program as key to launching his company.

BioDesign Innovation, offered by the University’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology (FEIT), is unique in Australia. It exposes engineering students to real-world challenges, with a focus on unmet clinical needs. Students work in multidisciplinary teams and are equipped to design a solution in the form of a novel medical device.

“There is something quite beautiful about immersing yourself in the problem, in understanding it from the clinician’s and patient’s perspectives before attempting to design a medical device,” Shing says. “It was a lightbulb moment for me.”

Elise Sutherland is founder and CEO at Stelect, the company she launched after graduating in 2017 to improve cardiac stent selection and more precise placement.

She was named in the Forbes 30 under 30 list in the healthcare and science category in 2020 and Stelect was the grand prize winner of Med Tech’s Got Talent, a national medical technology start-up competition.

“Knowing early on who your customer is and what their requirements are is really useful and helps you develop better technology that is well adapted to meeting a need,” Elise says.

“It also means you know you have a market for your product. I think that is why there are all these successful spinouts and startups coming out of Biodesign Innovation. The ‘needs-focus’ translates into a market focus from day one.”

Edward Bujis, who graduated in 2018, is CEO and co-founder at Ventora Medical, also focused on the needs of newborns. The company is developing a monitoring device that solves the challenges associated with providing breathing support to premature babies, including those in intensive care.

Di Mao, who graduated in 2019, is co-founder of start-up Cari Medical, which uses digital modelling technology to customise the design and fit of masks that deliver oxygen to sleep apnoea patients. The company is currently enrolled in the Melbourne Accelerator Program at the University to build a prototype.

Di says the BioDesign program helped her learn to trust herself, as well as building technical capability. “It helps you to mature and grow as a person. I started out just focused on passing exams. But I learnt to access the many resources available to grow as a person, including how to build support networks.

“Now I’m brave enough to show people who I am, what my ideas are, what I am capable of and to share my passion for innovation. For me, that meant an enormous gain in self-confidence.”

Making an impact

Edward Bujis reiterated the need for students to “dare to dream big”, no matter what their career path is.

“Believe you have the power to make a difference, but don’t expect to do it alone. One of the key learnings provided by the University of Melbourne – on top of all the core engineering skills – is the power of collaboration.”

—Edward Bujis

“Having people from different backgrounds approach the same problem allows you to see it from an array of perspectives. That almost always means you come up with a better solution. Another crucial skill – one that I wish I had worked on earlier – is the power of networking.”

Edward is among the BioDesign graduates on a mission to save and transform lives through medical device development. He hopes their entrepreneurial example will inspire the next generation of engineers to change the face of their chosen fields.

Related topics

BioDesign Innovation Biomedical engineering study options Graduate stories Student industry experiences