Zera Ong graduated in law from Oxford just two years ago and her C.V. already runs to two full pages, but to paraphrase, she has founded one digital healthcare start-up, exploring neurodegenerative diseases, Zelta Technologies; is commercial and legal associate at another, Evox Therapeutics; and has just joined the board of Multiple Sclerosis digital support network Shift.ms.
Your background is in law, how did you pivot into science?
I’ve always been interested in the commercial aspects of running a science business, and so I had to make a hard choice between studying law or biology at university. Eventually, I ended up going for law as founding a start-up has always been an aspiration, and having basic legal knowledge seemed to provide a good foundation for that. Whilst studying law, I took a keen interest in financial valuation and strategy driving large-scale mergers and acquisitions, so I went into banking, but my focus as an analyst was on pharmaceutical investment banking, so that was how I segued back into science.
What made you want to become a trustee in your twenties?
My first trusteeship, which I have recently stepped down from, was at the Westbourne Park Family Centre, an education and family life charity. It made me realise that being a trustee is a meaningful extra-curricular activity that allows you to help shape the strategy of an organisation, alongside your main work.
With Shift.ms, I was really attracted by what they were offering, because I am very interested in neurodegenerative diseases. For instance, I am also a research lecturer at Parkinsons’ UK, where I interface mainly with the elderly, talking about the kinds of research that Parkinsons’ UK is funding and that those living with the condition may wish to partake in.
As someone in my twenties, recognising that most people who develop MS are diagnosed in their twenties or thirties, I thought there was an interesting opportunity with Shift.ms for me to connect with people in this age group who are affected. I am grateful to Shift.ms for the opportunity to join their team on this journey.
I am definitely encouraging my friends to apply for board roles – age should not be a barrier as long as one is able to contribute to the organisation. So I hope more of my peers will just apply and go for it should a suitable opportunity arise.
Do you feel it’s important that more young people join boards?
Boards benefit from having younger people on them, because, although experience is very valuable, it could also shape one’s thinking in a certain way. Sometimes, you need a fresh pair of eyes that asks questions in a way that hasn’t been done before.
How did you find out about Nurole and how did you find the Nurole process?
I was referred to Nurole. Upon registration, I selected the filters that alerted me to roles in education and healthcare and the trustee role at Shift.ms came up. What stood out to me about this role was that Shift.ms had just celebrated its tenth anniversary and that they’d been on an exponential growth trajectory. At present, Shift.ms is focusing on expanding their online membership network and forging digital collaborations with the NHS and pharma companies, both of which are areas that I have an interest in and to which I may be able to contribute. The process of applying via Nurole was very smooth overall.
And now some quickfire questions...
What is your favourite book?
Chris Voss's Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It.
What’s your favourite quote?
“Ownership is not limited to material things. It can also apply to points of view. Once we take ownership of an idea — whether it’s about politics or sports — what do we do? We love it perhaps more than we should. We prize it more than it is worth. And most frequently, we have trouble letting go of it because we can’t stand the idea of its loss. What are we left with then? An ideology — rigid and unyielding.” Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational
I went to Japan for a holiday with my partner a few months ago, and we had a great time there. There were so many new experiences – climbing to the top of Nara (the ancient capital of Japan), dressing up in kimonos, experiencing a tea ceremony and creating sushi art. The nature is breathtaking and the culture is fascinating.
What do you do to have fun?
Travelling, whipping up a meal with friends, and salsa dancing.
What’s your favourite app?
When does your alarm go off and how much sleep do you need?
My alarm goes off at 7.30am, and I get about seven hours of sleep a night.
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