After graduating from junior college or polytechnic, most students agonise over what to study in university.
For Maybelline, however, the decision was relatively easy.
“When I was in JC, I was part of the Red Cross Disaster Management Committee. I loved being with people and helping people. So I knew I definitely wanted to do something related to healthcare.”
There were two real options for her: Nursing or Engineering. She was accepted into both courses, but it was a visit to NUS Open House that sealed the deal. She found the Nursing seniors and lecturers to be open, supportive and welcoming, and the curriculum aligned with her interests and expectations.
After matriculating, she threw herself not just into her studies at the NUS Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies (NUS Nursing), but also into the University’s rich extracurricular life. Determined to make the most of her time at university, she gave everything that piqued her interest a try no matter how packed her schedule got.
“I loved showing up to events, playing sports, and meeting people.” The go-getter quips with a laugh, “If you are passionate about something, you will find time for it. Somehow, you’ll manage.”
During her five years at NUS, she pursued diverse interests, from joining NUS Chinese Dance, NUS Nihon Buyo, and NUS Dance Synergy to being the Publicity Committee Director and competitive TeamNUS member of the NUS Karate Martial Arts Club. At the latter, she attained an orange belt and represented the University at invitational tournaments, winning a bronze and multiple silver medals in the kata category for her efforts.
Maybelline, last row, second from left with NUS Karate team members.
Maybelline’s success in martial arts piqued her interest in other avenues of sports and combat techniques, and she tried recreational shooting with the NUS Air Weapons Club. As it turns out, air rifle and air pistol would quickly become her favourite extracurricular pursuits.
“I absolutely loved shooting. I always wanted to try it but never had a chance!” she enthused.
The highlight of Maybelline’s colourful university days was joining the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) programme, which brought her to Stockholm, Sweden – home to a thriving biomedical and health tech sector. There, she had the opportunity to attend entrepreneurship modules at KTH Royal Institute of Technology as part of her Minor in Technopreneurship, whilst interning at Swedish Care International (SCI), a healthcare start-up dedicated to dementia-related and elderly care.
The journey was not completely smooth sailing. In addition to having to adjust to sunsets at 2pm in winter, she found the Scandinavian culture quite reserved as compared to her own extroverted personality.
“In Sweden, they may take a bit of time to open up to you,” she observes. “But we became great friends eventually.”
Despite being an intern, she was given the freedom to be involved in different projects in a hands-on manner. True to start-up culture, she got a chance to manage projects with overseas collaborators and even try her hand at various roles, from backend management to content creation.
“Under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden, SCI events such as the Dementia Forum X would also be attended by the royal families from other countries as well as notable stakeholders, spearheading international engagement,” she recalls.
The biggest impression on Maybelline was SCI’s then-CEO, the late Dr Karin Lind-Mörnesten, who was a mentor and an inspiration not merely for her work on dementia care, but also because of her personal journey straddling both healthcare and entrepreneurship.
Maybelline, first row, first from right, with Her Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden, first row, center, and Dr Karin Lind-Mörnesten, first row, first from left (Photo credit: Swedish Care International)
Outside of work and true to form, Maybelline joined a variety of interest groups from yoga to dance, and even found herself holidaying in some of Sweden’s many archipelagos, living a rustic life with friends she had met in University.
“I think that’s how exchange should be, not just working or studying 24/7, but living life to the fullest.”
Maybelline, third from left, during a Contemporary Dance Practice session at Balettakademien Stockholm.
After returning from Sweden, Maybelline graduated from NUS and worked for four years at National University Hospital initially in a Cardiology General Ward, subsequently transitioning to the High-Dependency and Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Then in March 2021, she set aside her uniform to leap into two careers.
By day, she worked as a Research Assistant for Associate Professor Liaw Sok Ying at the NUS Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies. By night, she works to transform Associate Professor Liaw’s research on collaborative healthcare learning into a spin-off, with the support of the NUS Graduate Research Innovation Programme (NUS GRIP).
Together with her sister and fellow NUS Nursing alumna, Xuanny Ooi, and their other co-founder, Wong Zhi Kai, Maybelline founded VIRTUAI, an AI-assisted training platform for healthcare professionals. Instead of doing costly live simulations, VIRTUAI’s holistic scenario-based training can be done virtually on the computer.
“Our aim is to revolutionise health training with a platform that uses AI and data analytics to enhance learning. VIRTUAI also empowers trainers to develop and customise their own unique learning scenarios.”
The parallels seem obvious, but Maybelline, who has recently been honoured for her significant contributions in tech in Singapore Computer Society’s SG 100 Women In Tech, insists that it is not only her past start-up experience that enables her to thrive in this new environment. Instead, being a co-founder and CEO draws on everything she’s been through thus far.
Her nursing career has given her a good grasp of the gaps in healthcare training, while her diverse extracurricular activities have taught her how to communicate and negotiate with people from a wide range of backgrounds.
“Most soft skills are transferable. Whether it’s interpersonal skills, being able to see things from a different perspective, or being more innovative. It’s not just about technical know-how, but broadening your horizons.”
Even the ICU’s famously long hours came to be useful, she jokes.
“For me and my sister, working overnight comes very naturally, because we’re so used to night shifts on the ward. As for my other co-founder, he really struggles with staying up till late!” she says with a laugh.
Maybelline, center, with VIRTUAI co-founders, Xuanny and Zhi Kai.
The team’s grind has borne fruit since VIRTUAI’s conceptualisation in June 2021. In just 5 months, they had secured a provisional patent and an investment from NUS GRIP's Investment Panel, while making their mark as local finalists in start-up challenges such as the University Start-up World Cup and She Loves Tech Global Start-up Competition. But their journey has only just begun, and Maybelline will soon be shifting her focus onto VIRTUAI full-time.
The diversity and broad-based experience in NUS have served her well, and she hopes that a new generation of nursing students will embrace the many opportunities on offer, to discover what they’re passionate about.
“Go out and explore different pathways! You can’t say you’re truly interested in something until you’ve tried it out for yourself.”