Liz Williams and Kate Lomas
Dr Liz Williams and Dr Kate Lomas are entrepreneurs and Co-founders of a company called Hemideina. The company is developing a hearing device for deaf people. Kate is the Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) and Liz is The Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
Liz grew up in the United Kingdom and she studied Chemistry, Physics, Maths and French at upper secondary school. She loved Chemistry and knew she wanted to pursue it. She had a great Chemistry teacher when she was 15, so that inspired her to get excited about the subject.
I’ve always been fascinated by science, and how the world works. Chemistry to me is exciting, because we can make new molecules and products from smaller precursors…its like building, but on the molecular scale!
Liz says that Chemistry gives you a broad skill set so opens the door to different university courses or jobs.
Kate grew up in New Zealand. She studied Biology, Chemistry, Photography, Maths, Computer Studies and English.
When she was a child, all she ever wanted to be was a wild-life photographer.
I always wanted to be a wildlife photographer, once I pursued this career I realised I wanted to know more about the animals not just photograph them. So I went back to university to do a degree in Biological Sciences.
University and first job
At university in the UK, Liz studied Chemistry. She also chose to complete a year in industry, which really got me using my practical chemistry skills, while learning about the work place.
Liz always believed that she would work in industry and her first job after graduating was at a pharmeceuticals company.
After her PhD, Liz moved to Australia to join CSIRO as a postdoctoral fellow, studying sequence control in molecules called polymers.
I’ve since done more business development, and learned skills there, hence my move to Hemideina, where I use my knowledge of science, and my business skills to build the company financially.
When Kate finished school, she went to Art School and majored in Photography. She travelled to England and Canada to photograph animals and build up her portfolio. For a while, she lived in the Yukon, a very remote part of Canada. She learnt about the behaviour of bears in the area from the local Indians and became more interested in animal behaviour in general.
She decided to return to New Zealand to have her baby and then began studying Biological Sciences at university and eventually a PhD in Animal Behaviour.
During her study she was given the assignment to find out about the relationship between New Zealand’s bats and the insects they eat.
Liz and Kate’s advice to students
Talk to people who are in the career that you are interested in and try and to get some work experience. If you’re going to do a PhD in STEM, you have to know it’s for you – it’s hard, but very rewarding. Also, get an idea of which STEM subject leads to which career.
Always do something you enjoy – that makes it a lot easier. Science at school is different from science at work. Basic science skills can open doors for a lot of different career paths.
Kate and Liz say that the key personal attributes and skills that have contributed to her success are:
- not being afraid to take risks
- believing in yourself and your ideas
- good networking skills.
Get as many mentors as you can. My mentor inspired me to take risks, and not to worry about getting a permanent job. Other mentors have given me career advice and pushed me out of my comfort zone. Sometimes you need someone to point out your skills; you can’t always see them yourself. - Liz
Kate and Liz both moved to Australia. They were working as researchers in different departments at CSIRO, with Kate in medical research and Liz in the polymers group.
They met when they both undertook a CSIRO course on aimed at taking ideas from the laboratory and making them into a practical project. They worked together on a project to create a sustainable agriculture business in an aboriginal community. Through this project they realised that the worked well together.
Kate had previously taken inspiration from the hearing system of a New Zealand insect called a Wetta. She had an idea to develop an improved hearing system for profoundly deaf people. She left CSIRO to try out her idea. Liz decided to join her and start up their company, Hemideina.
The current treatment for deaf people consists of an external receiver placed on the side of the head and a device implanted into the cochlea. The external device restricts activities such as bathing, swimming, sleeping and playing sports with it in place because on the outside of the body.
Hemideina is developing an internalised device about the size of a pill, that fits into the ear canal. This means that the profoundly deaf can do all the activities that a person with normal hearing can do.
Kate and Liz’s current job
Kate is responsible for managing the scientific, technological, and research operations. Hemideina. She sets strategy and performance goals and keeps abreast of regulatory protocols.
Liz oversees the financial, legal and general running of the company. She raises its profile in the business and scientific spheres through networking and fund-raising. She still works at CSIRO as her ‘day job’.
The work with biophysicists, engineers and acoustic specialists to refine their ideas.
Together we solve the problems.
They say that one of the challenges is that there’s no playbook, and there’s no one telling you what to do – all the decisions are on them. They have to work everything out as they go but that, it is challenging but also incredibly fun and rewarding!
Kate and Liz chose to work in the biomedical sector because it is one that mixes business with helping people.
You’re building devices that enable people to lead improved lives, or are even potentially life-saving, whilst building a profitable and sustainable business. It’s a very vibrant and supportive community, especially in Melbourne.
STEM at work
STEM gives people such an important mix of skills, and that scientific understanding of how things work helps us to make informed decisions about the future. It’s so important, given how finite our resources are that we have informed and intelligent decision making. Young people are our future, and we can only make advances and protect our planet for the next generation with their skills – and STEM is a key skills to have.