Finding the balance between speed and safety in neurotech

21 Nov 2018

Laura Yecies. Image: SyncThink

What are the biggest challenges faced in the health-tech sector? SyncThink CEO Laura Yecies fills us in.

Laura Yecies is the CEO of SyncThink, a neurotechnology company with foundational IP in eye tracking.

A Silicon Valley veteran with a background in such prestigious universities as Harvard, Georgetown and Dartmouth, she has successfully led multiple start-ups and top brands. She was also a US Department of State TechWomen Mentor.

Yecies has been the recipient of many awards, such as the 2011 Gold Medal and 2012 Silver Medal for Female Exec of the Year at the Stevie Awards for Women in Business, as well as the Inc 500 Top Female CEO of 2012.

‘It became clear to me that there is a tremendous opportunity to use technology to improve both diagnostics and treatment in brain health’

Describe your role and what you do.

I am the CEO of SyncThink. I lead the company, focusing on our strategy and go-to-market efforts. I also have been working on partnerships, fundraising and hiring.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

That is one of the biggest challenges as an entrepreneur – the amount of work that needs to get done is just overwhelming. Inbound needs and emails can be very distracting. The key, I found, is to have and write down my current priorities, and look at them and the short-term actions at the beginning and end of every day.

It’s also important to be self-aware of when and how you individually are productive – what’s the best time of your day for thinking, writing, and when and how to do meetings and other work.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

I think one of the biggest challenges in the health technology field is balancing innovation and the desire to move quickly with the need for safety and patient protection. We are balancing providing objective, actionable data with integrating that data into a professional clinical workflow so that medical professionals can guide the athlete and patient.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

We are fortunate to stand on the shoulders of technology platform giants who are bringing AR technology (that includes eye-tracking) to the market, making our required technology platform better, cheaper and easier to use, which also allows us to focus our development and software on the analytics and innovation.

We are using that to bring our technology to a wider audience, allowing us to have a bigger healthcare impact. We are also improving the product based on the larger datasets and our data scientists to further improve the product and impact.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I have long worked in the software and technology field, and have enjoyed the challenge and pace of change and development. I grew up in a medical family and have always wanted to be able to apply my technology and business skills to improve healthcare.

As the technology and healthcare worlds have been converging, I have been working with emerging health technology companies, primarily in the neuro-health space. It became clear to me that there is a tremendous opportunity to use technology to improve both diagnostics and treatment in brain health, and I’m incredibly excited to have the opportunity to work in this field.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

The biggest challenge for start-ups is focus and prioritisation. A start-up with novel and important technology will inevitably have many opportunities to deploy that technology. It often seems possible to juggle multiple opportunities but that can be misleading and I’ve made this mistake in my start-up past.

How do you get the best out of your team?

The most important thing leaders can do to get the best out of teams is to have clear goals and objectives, and repeat that way more than you think is necessary.

The leader then needs to figure out what the individual employee needs to be successful – do they need more hands-on guidance or training, or a looser approach? It’s up to the manager to provide the needed management and leadership.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?

Unfortunately, there is a significant diversity problem in the tech world, and health technology is no exception. Implicit and unconscious bias is an insidious, difficult-to-solve problem. It exists throughout the stack, particularly on the capital investment side of the business.

I am encouraged by the rise of early-stage-oriented funds led by experienced women VCs as well as some exits of women-led companies. With more examples and publicity around the success of women entrepreneurs and investors, hopefully some of that unconscious bias may start to change.

Who is your role model and why?

I have several role models that I look to for inspiration. I had the good fortune to get to know Millie Dresselhaus, the brilliant scientist, musician, mother and grandmother. I admire all of those elements. I have several working mothers in my family – my mother, mother-in-law and aunts were able to have a positive professional and family impact.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I love books that touch on neuroscience, from Oliver Sacks, Dan Gilbert, Daniel Levitin and David Rock, plus I have gotten a lot out of Atul Gawande and Siddhartha Mukherjee’s books. Biographies – Walter Isaacson and John McCullough’s books are also favourites.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Given the intensity of my work, getting a mental and emotional break is important. Time with my family, exercise (especially outdoors), music (practising my violin and chamber group rehearsals) and long-form reading are important to me.

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