Who are you?
My name is Sheana Yu. I’m a design engineer, passionate about social impact and making a difference to people’s lives. I founded Aergo with the mission to empower people to live to their fullest potential through inclusive technology. Our first product, Aergo PS, is a postural support seating system designed for wheelchair users.
What inspired you to create Aergo?
I was working with a special needs school where the majority of students have neuromuscular conditions and require wheelchairs to maintain mobility and independence. The students spend at least eight hours a day in a seated position, with some requiring clinicians to correct their posture every 15 minutes as they do not have the muscle tone to sit back up independently. Some students told us they felt embarrassed to be handled so frequently, but posture is essential for maintaining healthy digestion and respiration. Human bodies are dynamic regardless of their abilities and disabilities and seeing how existing solutions are static and can’t adjust as the user moves made me want to create a smarter solution to address this. Furthermore, I’ve grown up with scoliosis, a condition that causes spinal curvature. So, I can empathise with wheelchair users’ struggles with seating systems. This is why I was determined to set up Aergo and deliver our air powered technology to manage posture effectively.
How does it work?
Aergo’s core technology is a network of patent-pending modular pressure sensitive air cells that collect and analyse pressure data to map a user’s seated position. As the user slumps, the system will adjust inflation levels to push the user’s spine into a healthy alignment. When over pressure is detected, Aergo cycles air between each air cell to redistribute pressure for better comfort. The system is controlled via an app that enables users to customise support levels independently. Clinicians are able to remotely adjust the postural seating support levels through Aergo’s web portal and prescribe best settings to manage each user’s sitting needs. This feature is particularly helpful for wheelchair users who are at high risk for COVID-19 and still require clinical support to managing underlying health conditions. In the next version release, machine learning will be implanted for Aergo to learn users’ habitual movements and provide tailored support settings independently.
What makes working at Aergo so worthwhile?
Knowing that we’re making a tangible difference to wheelchair users’ lives. For example, we hear feedback from the parents of disabled children on how Aergo is able to support the child’s posture comfortably which facilitates upper motor function and improves independence. Additionally, clinicians tell us that our technology will have a profound impact on the quality of life of millions of wheelchair users.
Conversely, what is the most challenging thing about working at Aergo and how have you managed to overcome this?
Our first product is designed for a niche market and a very small but specific user group. This has made fundraising challenging over the last few years. We’ve overcame this challenge by raising funds from impact Angels and expanded the application of our air cell technology to support office workers, bed bound patients, and truck drivers.
What does the future hold?
We aim to become the go-to smart postural support surface that tailors seamlessly to ergonomics. Aergo will be working with seating manufacturers to integrate our air cell technology into their products to expand and scale our health impact.
What advice you would give to a budding engineering entrepreneur?
There is no such thing as the perfect product that will solve all stakeholders’ needs. It is best to focus on one group of users and build the product they love before trying to please other stakeholders. We’ve had to update our product specifications a few times, which disrupted our R&D timeline because users and clinicians have different needs and expectations for the product. Since we became more focused, we have been able to build a true minimum viable product that is market ready.
What impact has the Enterprise Fellowships Programme had on your business?
The mentorship and seminars have been really useful for me as a technical founder, to build a foundation in business development. I’ve learnt how to budget and forecast financials for the business, which helped our business strategy and fundraising activities. I’ve really enjoyed being mentored by Academy Fellow Professor Sir Saeed Zahedi OBE, who is extremely knowledgeable on the R&D process and the regulatory requirements to build a medical device. His mentorship helped us to plan better - foreseeing product risks and plan mitigations early. It’s also so valuable to learn from other Hub Members and be part of this supportive network. Having the Enterprise Hub’s backing enabled Aergo to attract investment and talented staff to support the growth of the business.
Have any advice for potential applicants to the Enterprise Hub?
Apply now! Once successful, do participate in the workshops, presentation trainings, and set up regular meetings with your mentor. The Enterprise Hub are very nurturing, and the team always do their best to support Hub Members across different stages of the entrepreneurship journey. My confidence increased through the programme because I was learning from top tier mentors and colleagues.
Who is your role model? My friends! Most of them are founders and their resilience and approach to overcoming challenges are so inspiring.
What is your secret talent? I make funky illustrations! (you can find them on Aergo’s Instagram :)
What’s your guilty pleasure? Espresso martini, I love anything with coffee.
I don’t understand why… people can stand cucumbers, they stink!
When I’m not working at Aergo, I am… Cafe hunting, gallery hopping or at live gigs with friends (pre-Covid that is!)
What makes you happiest in business? When our users tell us what a difference our product has made and when my team is proud of their work and achievement!
Do you have any business regrets? Not raise enough funding early on because I wasn’t confident enough to ask for more.
If you could switch places with any famous entrepreneur, who would it be? Maybe Bill Gates but as every entrepreneurial journey is so uniquely specific to the person, I don't think I will enjoy Bill’s journey over mine!
The tech that I could not live without is… so sad to say it’s my iPhone!
Ever told a white lie to get what you wanted in business? No, I am such a terrible liar I sweat and make awkward faces if I lie.
If you had to choose another sector to work in, what would it be? Ed-tech
And finally, if you could invent a new piece of tech, what would it be and what problem would it solve?
For those that have watched Doraemon (Japanese cartoon), he has a door that teleports you anywhere, you open the door and the next thing you know you are on Mars. This would make international travel more efficient and reduce CO2 emissions! I guess I just want to be able to see my parents more often, and without taking a 16 hour flight.