Teenyco: the birth of 3D printed ultrasounds

By Tessa Shaw

Revolutionise: to radically or significantly change. Teenyco is setting out to do just that for the experience of mums and dads-to be at the 20-week ultrasound scan.

Bindi Raja, Master of Entrepreneurship student, has made a bold claim with her start-up, Teenyco. She wants to revolutionise the experience of the 20-week ultrasound through 3D printing. Her team are on track to changing the way parents and healthcare practitioners care for unborn and newborn babies.

Why? Being able to spot abnormalities early is crucial in determining the health of the baby, and the options parents have in ensuring that their newborn will receive the best possible care, so it seems only sensible that sonographers would appreciate what could potentially be a safety net when scanning. Not every risk is picked up. The 2017 edition of Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies cites a European study of over 200,000 women where 39% of malformed fetuses were not detected by routine ultrasound.

You have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. Radiology practices, radiologists and parents are all relying on your capacity to ensure that you do the best possible scan and pick up any abnormalities that might be present at the time. The result can lead to varying outcomes for the patient that can be life changing. Bindi Raja

“Sonography is an art combining pattern recognition and knowledge. Like any other occupation, the longer you have been conducting the scans, the better you get but currently sonographers have no tools to assist them, unless they ask another colleague for their opinion." The idea behind the machine learning software is to give sonographers a tool to assist them during their ultrasound scans and give them a probability of possible abnormalities that might be present.

Breaking convention

At the recent Master of Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition, Teenyco took out the $10,000 CMB Capital ‘Best Startup Pitch’ Award with their bold vision for transforming all current conventions around pre-birth by introducing one more sense to this experience: touch. Recognising that the raw, fragmented data collected during a gestational scan is enough to produce 3D and even 4D ultrasound photographs and moving images, Raja put together a team with David Barrell and Michael Thorpe to explore the potential of converting this data into a format suitable for 3D printing.

Together, the Teenyco team hope they will be able to better equip sonographers by providing them with a scanning function that is more accurate in identifying abnormalities on the screen.“There is a lot of responsibility being a sonographer. Experience and practice is what makes a sonographer great at their job, but no matter how long you have been scanning, you always have the niggling fear that you will miss something along the way’. she stressed. “Nothing closes that gap except scanning more patients. The idea behind the algorithm is that we can give sonographers a tool to better confirm their diagnosis.”

Teenyco Team
Teenyco at the Master of Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition. (L-R) Michael Thorpe, Bindi Raja, David Barrell

Having now successfully created the algorithm that has capability to transform the fragmented images from traditional ultrasound wave technology into a 3D printable code, talks are now underway with one of Australia’s largest radiology networks to pilot Teenyco in their clinics, and Raja is hopeful that parents will have access to 3D models of their babies in as little as 6 months. 

“Right now, the printer lives in Michael’s bedroom,” Raja revealed with a laugh. “And at the moment, we are able to produce models within a two or three-day turnaround, but the aim, and we are on track for this, is to be able to print in the clinics and have parents holding a model of their baby within an hour of their scan.”

In the meantime, Teenyco will focus their efforts on the 3D-printed models of babies. Raja has a two-wave plan for Teenyco. “Once we have enough revenue, and Teenyco is up and running, we can further research and develop the refined scanning tool. I’m really, really excited about this!”

The birth of Teenyco

Before taking an inspiring and "rejuvenating" journey with her Master of Entreprenurship, Raja was a sonographer. She embarked on this former career path for two reasons: landing a job that was in demand and therefore offering job security, and to find a job that paid well.

However, she soon realised that her day job simply wasn’t enough. “Having a steady income with yearly increases just wasn’t doing it for me. I hit a point where I thought - I need something more!” Raja told me. She added, laughing, “I remember thinking, I'm only 26 and I am already bored of life. That is really tragic!”

A chance conversation with a colleague led her to explore the Master of Entrepreneurship. Raja is candidly honest about this decision, confessing she was excited by the prospects, but unsure if it was the right choice. Her decision to take on a new opportunity, coupled with the subtle coercion from her colleague, motivated her to tackling things she had once thought were impossible. “I wasn’t sure. I was comparing myself to others, thinking they could do it – they’re better, they’re smarter,” she said. “I have the imposter syndrome big time. I was petrified just thinking about leading my own team, let alone the idea of starting a business, to dare to follow my passion.”

From Year 12 (onwards), I’ve always had a 2-year-plan and achieved my goals within a given timeframe. My life was pretty mediocre and predictable. But ever since I’ve started the Masters of Entrepreneurship, I can’t even predict what is going to happen in the next 24 hours let alone the next 6 months. Anything can change, anything can happen – but I’ve never felt more alive. Because finally I am following my dreams and giving myself a chance irrespective of the outcome. Bindi Raja

Reflecting on her past year, Raja is astounded at her progress and said, “I would never have envisioned myself sitting here today, talking about Teenyco. It was only last semester that I was reading up on 3D-printed organs, and wondering, would we be able to 3D-print babies? I confided in a classmate, who was convinced it would work and has since been encouraging me to keep going. Without the Master of Entrepreneurship, I wouldn’t have had the know-how to set up a business, pitch for funding, meet my current team members through networking, or have taken things this far. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of my lecturers and my classmates.”

Bindi with Jamie Olsen – Founder and Managing Director, CMB Capital
Bindi Raja, pictured here with Master of Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition Judge, Jamie Olsen, Founder and Managing Director of CMB Capital 

For more information on Teenyco, contact the team at team@teenyco.com

The Master of Entrepreneurship is a University of Melbourne degree taught at the Wade Institute. The degree is also now offered as a part-time option for domestic students. Read on for information on the program, student experiences, and available scholarships.

Applications for February 2017 intake close 30 November 2016. Apply now.