Published on 15 May 2023

Taking AI into healthcare and motherhood

Teo Peiru (MAE/2007) grew KeyReply from an AI start-up to a virtual assistant leader in the healthcare sector. As well as keeping up with AI developments for her work endeavours, the young mother relies on it to search for ideas to nurture her child.

By Nur Isyana Isaman

The use of conversational artificial intelligence (AI) to power virtual assistants is becoming increasingly popular among consumers, and one Singapore-based company, KeyReply, is at the forefront of delivering this trend for enterprises in the healthcare and insurance industries.

Behind KeyReply is its CEO, Teo Peiru (MAE/2007), who has grown the company since 2017 from a small start-up. Today, besides being accredited by the Singapore Ministry of Health and serving more than half of public hospitals across the country, KeyReply also has clients across the region.

Teo Peiru ColleaguesPeiru (second from left) with some of her colleagues from KeyReply at the 3rd Annual ASEAN Healthcare Transformation Summit in Kuala Lumpur.

While building her career, Peiru also became a first-time mother and celebrated her fourth Mother’s Day this month.

“Some people refer to their child as their start-up and vice versa because they have many similarities. Both need to be nurtured to grow the right way, but they might not turn out the way you want despite doing all the so-called right things. For both roles, it is about long-term success, which requires self-awareness, persistence, and empathy,” she shared.

As a busy working mum, AI has helped Peiru to tackle motherhood and save time on dreaming up kid-friendly activities.

“Our company has incorporated ChatGPT into our customer engagement platform. Personally, I use it all the time. A few days ago, when my son was throwing a tantrum, I asked ChatGPT how to respond with gentle parenting. For evergreen topics that I used to search on Google, I now ask ChatGPT, because it is faster. I’m not asking for facts because, being in the AI space, I am aware of its limitations and strengths. ChatGPT is excellent for brainstorming, such as ideas for activities I can do with my child to build resilience,” explained the 38-year-old, who met her husband, Alan Soh (NBS/2004), who is also an NTU alumnus and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Accountancy, during her first job.

Coming full circle in tech

Peiru did not start her career in the tech industry. She studied in the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) with a design specialisation. It was unconventional, but she had always been interested in the softer aspects and human factors of engineering.

“During my freshman year, I joined the Cultural Activities Club and became the organising chairwoman for the national cheerleading competition. It was my first leadership role, and I led a committee of 80 people. The role really made an impact on me and built my confidence and leadership traits, which are the foundation to run any company,” recounted Peiru, who continues to be an active alumna. She was a panellist during the School of MAE dialogue on innovation held last June.  

Peiru also participated in a global immersion programme. Her first stop was Shanghai, where she did a six-month industrial attachment and studied at a university there. This was followed by a trip to the United States for a student exchange programme.

Teo Peiru NTU Immersion ProgrammePeiru (first row, third from left) during the NTU student immersion programme in Shanghai.

After graduating from NTU with a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering with Double Minors in Entrepreneurship & Business, she joined Citibank as a management associate. However, the economic instability brought about by the 2008 global financial crisis inspired her to take charge of her own fate.

She left the banking sector and ventured into business by taking over an insolvent wedding services company. There, she used her engineering problem-solving skills and incorporated new approaches, including automation, augmented reality, and digitisation to turn around the company. She has since successfully sold the business.

In 2016, Peiru challenged herself by participating in a deep tech accelerator programme organised by the UK-based start-up enabler, Entrepreneur First.

During the programme, she met the Chief Technology Officer of KeyReply while doing market research and offered to work for free over three months to prove herself in the role.

Working at KeyReply resonates with Peiru’s family – her father runs a software development business while her sister is a computer engineering graduate from NTU. “I didn’t pursue tech back then because my father discouraged us due to the constant changes and high stress environment of the industry. However, I know that AI is a powerful enabler to help people with automation, so that they can do what they truly enjoy. This has always been the core focus of my work despite switching industries,” she shared.

The evolution of job roles

Despite its rapid technological advances, AI does not lessen the importance of a mother. Peiru makes it a point to be present for her son and never misses out on his milestone events.

Teo Peiru FamilyTeo Peiru with her husband, Alan Soh (NBS/2004) and their son.

Will AI replace humans in the workplace one day? Peiru said there needs to be a mindset shift towards embracing AI and machine learning.

“As technology advances, certain jobs will inevitably be made redundant. However, it is not about job displacement, but manpower reallocation. Everyone needs to take responsibility for their future.

“AI is no longer for software engineers only; it is now easy for laymen to learn and use. Those who know how to use AI will displace those who don’t know how to use it. I firmly believe that automation and the smart use of technology are essential for any business,” she elaborated.

Peiru may not exactly know what the future holds. However, one piece of advice she will give her son when he is older is to focus on critical thinking, asking the right questions, and honing his EQ and communication skills. There will be new jobs and industries created, and many tasks today can be left to machines and robotics.

With the generative AI industry booming and its applications expanding, Peiru plans to take KeyReply to more countries in its next stage of growth and expand its suite of tech offerings.

Related Topics