A Young Scientist Learns the Benefits of Soft Skills: A conversation with Shing Yue Sheung, COO, Navi Medical Technologies

I learned about Shing Yue Sheung from faculty at Melbourne University when they told me about their programs to help scientists lead outside the lab. Midway through my conversation with Shing, I found myself saying “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you’d already read Championing Science, but our book won’t be published until January 18th.” For Shing, developing communication and emotional intelligence skills is already paying off. Here’s his story…

“I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to meet Meghan Markel and Prince Harry and share Navi’s vision for a device that makes a vital difference for infant care with the Royals.”              Shing Yue Sheung, COO, Navi Medical Technologies

Among his many accomplishments, Shing was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2018 and selected to participate in a four-month Texas Medical Center Medical Device Accelerator Program the prior year. He arrived in Houston just days after earning his Master’s in Bio Medical Engineering in parallel with a degree in Commerce from Melbourne Uni (as everyone in Australia calls it).

In July of 2017, Shing co-founded Navi Medical Technologies with five of his university classmates. Attracted by the gravitational pull of respect, diverse expertise and camaraderie, the group teamed-up during a course that teaches students about the medical device commercialization pathway.  They developed an accessory that enables more accurate placement of an umbilical cord catheter for delivering nutrients and drugs to critically-ill babies.

As Navi’s chief operating officer, Shing has primary responsibility for product development, managing consultants and suppliers and for fundraising, so he needs to get his ideas across to many different kinds of decision makers.

Listening Provides Invaluable Insights

As is often the case, one course can change the course of a student’s academic career.  For Shing, it was Bio Design Innovation, modeled after a three-stage process developed at Stanford University. “It starts with determining the problem you’re going to solve. Then you invent the technology. And then you develop a plan and build the business case to implement it.” This methodology gave Shing an appreciation for the power of listening.

Through interviews with doctors and an examination of clinical procedures, Shing’s team identified the catheter placement problem. They saw a market gap impacting newborns. “It was an overlooked problem. Listening carefully, we learned that physicians didn’t want to alter the catheter itself because they have their favorite catheters, so our team invented an accessory that enables more accurate placement of any catheter used in the umbilical cord today.”

Honing his ability to read non-verbal cues helped Shing see how people reacted to his ideas. “I work with a lot of brilliant team members and I watch their facial expressions. It was a trial and error process for me to refine the way I communicate with my team.” I told him that Roger and I encourage scientists to test and refine their message based on feedback.  We see trial and error as the root of becoming more self-aware and self-correcting – an essential capability we advise science champions to develop.

Fact and Emotion Motivate Action

Experiencing what works underscored for Shing the importance of being an empathetic communicator focused on what matters to the listener. “When we talk to a physician, we talk about eliminating their frustration and reducing the time of the procedure and getting better outcomes. When we’re talking to potential investors, I use only one slide about the technology in our initial pitch. Everything else is focused on the business revenue projections, the market need and what it is going to take to scale. If investors are interested in progressing discussions beyond our initial pitch, then we would look to share additional information on our technology.” The graphic below is an example of what Shing uses in conversations with potential investors to succinctly explain the value of Navi’s device.

This is an image with text that highlights the reason that physicians need to Neonav device and the benefits of using it

Shing wisely recognizes that spending too much time being enamored with your technology or explaining your path to discovery isn’t what a funder wants to hear first.  First, they have to see that you have a viable business and a way to solve a pressing problem. (Nancy Floyd, from Nth Power technology provides some excellent advice to venture capital seekers in our interview with her and throughout Championing Science.)

Emotional Intelligence is Key to Influence and Teamwork

Shing has learned that motivating a doctor or potential investor or partner to act requires two elements. “A good pitch has its share of facts and logic but there is also an emotional side. It’s about how you make people feel. John Bates has a great talk. He says it’s not logical it’s biological. Decisions get made from people’s gut instinct and paleo brain. Emotional intelligence helps you realize that and capitalize on it.”

Shing also knows you can’t go it alone. “I rely a lot on my team and emotional intelligence skills help keep the team together.”  His experience reinforces the importance of identifying the right team members.  “Sometimes courses bring people together by using Myers-Briggs or other personality types to assemble a diverse team.  Our team was built organically. Everyone got along well, and we made each other laugh. It’s rare to have a company with six cofounders but we all stuck together and it’s working really well.”

The Navi Leadership Team Top row (from left to right) Thai Nguyen Le (Product Development Analyst) and Co-founders: Shing Yue Sheung , Mubin Yousuf , Wei Sue. Bottom row (from left to right) Dr. Christiane Theda, Brad Bergmann, and Alex Newton

The Navi Leadership Team Top row (from left to right) Thai Nguyen Le (Product Development Analyst) and Co-founders: Shing Yue Sheung , Mubin Yousuf , Wei Sue. Bottom row (from left to right) Dr. Christiane Theda, Brad Bergmann, and Alex Newton

Collaboration and observation during the Bio Design Innovation course helped strengthen Shing’s teamwork skills. “Four of the six team members have MBAs and they think in two by twos and graphs. They love using whiteboards. I learned a lot from watching them. I am the youngest on the team. All of us have advanced degrees. The team had to be patient with me and guide me through learning leadership and soft skills. I was lucky to have very good mentors.”

Tailoring His Message Results in a Royal Invitation  

Making the Forbes list definitely got Shing and Navi some noteworthy attention, including a recent invitation to meet with the Victorian governor, Linda Dessau. She is the Queen’s representative who plays a number of important roles in the Victoria parliamentary system in Australia. It was a closed door conversation with just five minutes allotted.

To prepare, Shing did his homework. “I read about her background and learned she was a judge in a family court with many medical malpractice cases and that she approves clinical research as a member of the Royal Children’s Hospital Human Research Ethics Committee. Shing thoughtfully tailored his message to reflect the governor’s interests and experience. “I spoke about why there is a need for our device. I told the story of our founders, and how we decided to develop this product. After five minutes she was so interested in knowing more that our team was invited to the government house to talk about our work. And that’s where we met the Royals.”

Shing Yue Sheung’s story drives home our take on the traditional elevator pitch.  For science champions, the elevator pitch isn’t a fact-packed spiel about what you do, it is a well thought out attention-getting opening to pique the interest of a decision maker. Your goal is to get invited back to continue the conversation.  That’s the first step in getting decision makers to support your work, so like Shing, you can make your impact.