Amy Sheng is the co-founder of CellScope, a mobile health startup based in San Francisco that is focused on creating optical attachments for smartphones. CellScope spun out of a bioengineering lab at UC Berkeley during product development for mobile microscopes that could be utilized for disease diagnosis in developing countries. The company’s mission is to create the “world’s first smartphone-enabled digital first aid kit” by developing “easy-to-use, at-home tools that capture diagnostic-quality data for remote diagnosis.” I asked Amy about the company, its culture, and her day to day efforts as the head of product operations.
Tom Fowler, Medgadget: Why did you start CellScope?
Amy Sheng: My co-founder Erik Douglas and I decided to start CellScope in late 2010 because we were excited by the potential to improve healthcare access and convenience for very common medical issues. There was tremendous interest in our work in the Fletcher Lab at UC Berkeley and we decided to spin-out a company to begin commercializing products and services that enable “healthcare from the home.”
Medgadget: There are other companies out there that have been making medical device attachments for cell phones. What makes CellScope unique in this space?
Amy Sheng: CellScope is building a smartphone-enabled toolkit for families to use in the home to get a remote diagnosis for their most common healthcare concerns. We’re starting with the otoscope because ear infections are such a common pain point for millions of families. There are several differentiators about CellScope: We’re positioned at the exciting intersection of mobile, medical device-enabled services and data. CellScope is building products and services for families to get quick relief and peace of mind. Proper diagnosis of an ear infection requires a visual of the ear drum. Since otoscopes are not common household devices, CellScope is leading the way by creating modern versions of traditional medical devices previously only seen in doctors’ offices. With Oto HOME, we’re changing consumer behavior as we empower parents to take a diagnostic-quality video of their child’s ear and send it to a physician for a remote diagnosis. Families will be able to visually track their child’s ear health over time and have a better understanding of what’s really happening. By having access to more longitudinal data for both parents and clinicians, we can improve engagement and understanding and hopefully reduce unnecessary antibiotic use.
Medgadget: What is your company culture like? Is there more of a medical or engineering vibe?
Amy Sheng: Our company culture is open, collaborative and inquisitive. We hire people who inspire us, and are curious, creative and driven. We look for people who are good at something, excited to share their perspectives with us and open to hearing other viewpoints.
Medgadget: What is a mistake you have made as an entrepreneur that you would warn other budding enterprisers to watch out for?
Amy Sheng: Stay focused, especially early on when you haven’t yet demonstrated product-market fit. It’s easy to get distracted as an entrepreneur because there’s so much going on and a lot of opportunities come your way. But ultimately the only thing that really matters is if you’ve built something that people love.
Medgadget: If I gave you a $2 billion research grant, what would you work on developing?
Amy Sheng: So many people in the world don’t have access to good healthcare. I would use the grant to massively improve healthcare access and delivery worldwide. I would develop and deploy low-cost tools and systems that deliver care broadly to rural and low resource settings.
Medgadget: Lastly, what is your favorite quote of the day?
Amy Sheng: Startups are hard. Hardware startups add another layer of complexity. Medical device startups add yet another layer of complexity. Medical device-enabled services startups add even one more layer of complexity. This week we’re announcing that our first product, the Oto HOME, is available to consumers in California. It’s an amazing feeling to see all the hard work come together to make this happen. That is why this quote by Randy Pausch resonates with me: “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people!”
Flashbacks: CellScope, a “Mobile Phone Based Clinical Microscopy for Global Health Applications”; The Latest on Cellscope’s Smartphone-Based Microscope and Otoscope; CellScope for Rural Microscopy On The Go