Student start-up will use engineering to solve health problems

1 May 2017

A University of Sydney biomedical engineering student recently proved herself amongst the world’s brightest up-and-coming entrepreneurs by creating a start-up business in just one week.

Suri Susilo taking part in the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp.

Suri Susilo taking part in the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp.

Faculty of Engineering and IT first-year PhD student Suri Susilo recently took part in the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, an intensive week-long new ventures leadership program attracting young entrepreneurs across the globe.

Entrance to the program is highly-selective – of the more than 6,000 people who applied to take part this year, Suri was among the small group of just over 100 people who were chosen for this year’s competition.

By tapping into her passions for technology, engineering and medicine, Suri was able to thrive in the program and her business idea – a “smart” pillow system to optimise spine neutrality – was chosen as one of the top 25 ideas, securing her a coveted spot as ‘CEO’ in the program.

Why Suri was named 'CEO'

As CEO, Suri was required to be the leader of a group who would start a company, deliver on business objectives and ultimately pitch their business to angel investors and venture capitalists – all in just one week.  

I think I slept around 14 hours in total over the 10 days of the program – but it was an incredible and intense experience, and certainly unlike anything I’ve ever done in my life.
Suri Susilo

Suri initially came up with her idea for the pillow system while studying at the University of Sydney.

After briefly considering pursuing a career as a medical doctor, Suri decided instead to undertake undergraduate studies in biomedical engineering when she realised the degree would allow her to study the ever-changing interactions between the human body and technology.

How engineers improve human health

“It was fascinating to me that doctors – these very intelligent people who had been studying health and the human body for years and years – still looked to engineers for advice and direction,” she says. “I was inspired by the idea that engineers could help doctors improve the lives of others in innovative ways with new technology.”

Suri also developed the business acumen and leadership skills that helped her succeed in the MIT bootcamp during an industry placement with ResMed Limited, a company that builds products to treat sleep apnea and other chronic respiratory diseases.

“During my final honours year, I worked part time as a Product Development Systems Engineer, overseeing multi-disciplinary teams as a junior to develop the world's smallest CPAP machine, the AirMini – all this while juggling the demands of my final year of Engineering. Although overwhelming at first, the year taught me that I can do almost anything if I persevere,” she said.

With real-world experience and a new start-up company under her belt, Suri is now progressing her smart pillow concept through a PhD, also in biomedical engineering.

“There are so many applications – from treating sleep apnea and reducing chronic neck pain, to helping people have a more restful night sleep,” Suri says of her product, which she has been developing with clinical assistance from the Sydney Spine Institute.

“Undertaking the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp has really given me new confidence in my abilities, my product and my new company. I would recommend the program to anyone from any discipline – engineering, medicine, law, anything. All you need is a passion, an idea that taps into that passion, and the ability to express that idea.”