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How Ashley Woo Went From Construction To Producing PCR Test Kits

The co-founder of BioAcumen Global wants to draw more women into the STEM field.

How Ashley Woo Went From Construction To Producing PCR Test Kits
Ashley Woo, co-founder of BioAcumen Global

After graduation, I worked with my father at his construction company. Naturally, as a business major, I would constantly think of new ideas and after seven years in the family business, my husband and I started something on our own, inspired by the entrepreneurial spirits of both our parents.

My husband has a life sciences background, specifically in polymerase chain reaction, or PCR as most of us know it. Before the pandemic, PCR was an unfamiliar acronym to the public, and we wanted to be one of the few home-grown biotech companies creating and manufacturing affordable and easy-to-use PCR test kits. 

Over the past four years, BioAcumen Global has grown beyond just making PCR test kits. Today, we have contract manufacturing, veterinary testing and education outreach programmes. I’m also proud that we are the first in the Asia-Pacific region to provide kitting and contract manufacturing services, coupled with lyophilisation capabilities, in a proper facility. In layperson’s terms, that means we help biotech start-ups turn their concepts into commercial products.

Many of these young companies face difficulties getting lab space and expensive equipment — our facility helps them conquer these challenges. Our aim is to nurture interesting ideas that benefit Singapore’s scientific community.

Education is also something I’m interested in. We create short, interactive courses with hands-on experiments in PCR and molecular biology education, aimed at students and the public. I want to cultivate their love for science while building meaningful experiences. To make it more accessible, these programmes are mobile and can travel to different schools to be integrated into their curriculums.

While we have achieved some measure of success, our entrepreneurship journey has not been without challenges. My husband and I have often stayed past midnight in the lab to work on our research. We also faced a lot of difficulties during our expansion phase as it coincided with the country’s circuit-breaker period. Many contractors had no workers available, and I was blessed that my father spared us some labour to complete the renovations.

Something I would like to share about our company is that women comprise 80 per cent of the team, and I believe this trend is here to stay. I am delighted to see so many women in leadership roles who don’t have to choose between their family and careers. It’s unlike the past when often, we would see our mothers and grandmothers work so hard to bring up the family and battle to stay equal in the workforce. My grandmother has also been a particular source of inspiration to me. She is a superwoman, having worked at plantations in pre-independence Singapore while bringing up six children almost on her own.

Still, the fight is not over, and I believe support from men is crucial. We cannot clap with one hand. Our fathers are the first men in our lives. They play an important role in encouraging their daughters and instilling in them the belief that they can be who they want to be while also being a pillar to lean on at the same time. Then, as we grow older, an encouraging spouse is also vital to our success so that we can focus on our goals and work together to keep the family close. I am thankful to have both in my life.

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