It’s impossible to pigeonhole 23-year-old Jaffly Chen.
He’s just started working as a junior doctor in Orange, and when he’s not seeing patients he might be participating in an MIT Innovation & Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. Or, he might be consulting for behavioral health startup tech Perx. He was born and bred in Sydney, but he graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine from the University of Newcastle/University of New England Joint Medical Program.
During his undergraduate at UON, he studied in Gosford and Maitland, while regularly taking advantage of opportunities at the University’s Newcastle City campus. He also studied abroad in the States and Europe.
Jaffly is a prestigious Westpac Scholar, and he’s just been accepted for a dual Master’s degree in public health and health management at the University of New South Wales.
To call him a go-getter wouldn’t do him justice.
A variety of factors have led him to where he is. He has a supportive family, he’s always pursued his interests and he’s benefitted so much from the University of Newcastle’s Integrated Innovation Network (I2N).
He grew up in a Chinese family, and his parents were typical in that they traditionally pushed for the best in their kids.
“I was lucky because my parents supported me regardless, but I did attend a monoculture school where most of the students also had an Asian background. My interest in technology was definitely around building computers and understanding how they work. But, at least when I was in high school, I didn’t feel a lot of students were encouraged to study STEM or technology,” he says.
In his culture, a career in the medical industry was seen as a more sustainable option.
He believes he had a fairly sheltered upbringing, so once he entered the medicine world he couldn’t believe how many different perspectives there were. He couldn’t get enough. Not only was he keen to stay on top of technological advancements, but also he was excited to collaborate with different people and learn about new ideas.
Last year, along with being a student, he became involved with the I2N, beginning with a hackathon.
The I2N New Futures Hackathon is held annually at the University’s NeW Space city campus over two days (evening to evening), coinciding with the Hunter Innovation Festival. Over those two days, participants have the opportunity to learn from experts and technical mentors before embarking on the ten-hour “hack” to harness their ideas into a viable, technological solution.
“Hackathon’ can have a negative connotation because of the word ‘hack’ in it. To me, hacking is about enabling people to come together at an event to ideate and build solutions that are solving problems in the world today that they are passionate about. Usually they present to a panel of judges,” he says. “Our team was made up of five people and we only had one coder.”
Jaffly’s team was made up of hackathon first-timers whose solution earned the team the Rising Star Award.
The 2018 New Futures Hackathon challenge was around aged care. Industry experts presented the implications of the world’s ageing population, with health systems predicted to face an array of challenges to meet an increasing demand for aged care health services.
Jaffly found his world getting bigger after the New Futures Hackathon. He began chatting more with the supportive and friendly I2N staff and attending monthly networking events like Join the Dots (last Wednesday of every month at I2N Hub Hunter Street).
Eventually, Jaffly decided to put some of his ideas to the test and enrolled in the I2N’s entry-level program for people curious about startups. Entrepreneurship101 is a five-week course that focuses on the development of an entrepreneurial mindset and startup fundamentals.
“That was really useful in learning the basics of entrepreneurship and design thinking,” he says. “The course was professional, but not formal.”
Being online meant that Jaffly could dip in and out of the course in his own time during the week. Building on his new skills, Jaffly found himself at the University’s Enterprise+Innovation Week Business Pitch Competition. This is where people typically pitch a business idea, but Jaffly pitched two. Both were accepted! One pitch was to create something similar to an Airbnb but for temporary doctors which would help lower transaction costs and increase trust between professionals. The other idea was rewarding people for their healthy habits.
It was at this time that Jaffly came across Perx.
“The only reason I made that connection with Perx was that one of the judges was involved with them. If that connection hadn’t been made, then maybe I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now,” he says.
These are only a few examples of his career trajectory, and he’s got big plans and a stack of work on the horizon. He’s so passionate about so many things that it’s hard for him to narrow down his future.
He hypothesises an ideal situation down the road.
“I want to be somewhere in rural Australia working on bridging the unjust health gap with a focus on how technology and innovation in Asia can help us. I want to continue being an avid collaborator and one day mentor those who have been my position to give back to everyone who has been so instrumental in encouraging and supporting me as I grow as a leader in this space," he says.