Shizuka Aoki: Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneur

Shizuka Aoki is the founder and lead medical artist at Anatomize Medical Media, a scientific graphics production studio that services hospitals, journals, pharma and biotech companies, as well as major publications like National Geographic and Scientific American…



1. Describe what you do in less than 140 characters. Go.
I’m the founder and lead medical artist at Anatomize Medical Media. We combine scientific knowledge and artistic expertise to distill complex ideas into accurate, educational and inspiring visuals.

2. What was the inspiration for your career route?
While art was my biggest passion growing up, I was always enamoured by the inner workings of the human body. While studying science in high school, I realized just how powerful a single illustration could be in clarifying a really complex body of text. I also quickly learned that some things were just impossible to capture using any technological means (like the molecular interactions of a transmembrane protein cascade). 

Of the complex processes we can capture in real-time, it still needs to be translated in an appreciable way for a broader audience. Imagine training to be a surgeon with only photos of a bloody surgical wound, or teaching a patient to be treatment compliant when they don’t even understand their illness in the first place. That’s where the role of medical illustrators are vital.

In grade nine, I designed myself a 10-year plan with a goal to graduate from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine medical illustration program – and the rest is history!

3. What is the most memorable milestone in your career so far?
The most memorable milestone has definitely been working at National Geographic Magazine’s headquarters in Washington, DC. I was exposed, fresh out of school, to some of the most talented art directors, illustrators, photographers, writers, editors and designers in the world. I learned so much about the process of critical thinking and real-world collaboration that I now use in my practice every day. They also became my first client after establishing my company in Toronto in 2010 and we continue working together on some of my most fascinating projects.

4. Where do you see yourself in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years?
Within five years I’d like to continue involvement with medical education, research and advancing health literacy, while leveraging newer graphics technologies and teaching modalities like VR and hologram. No matter what my businesses entail, I’d like to always be at the intersection of aesthetics, design, technology, and science.

5. Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
Two things:

1. Don’t get caught up in only trying to appear successful – I think this is a major pitfall of our generation, especially with the false sense of accomplishment that quickly going ‘viral’ can give you. Keep your feet to the ground, maintain integrity in your work, make rational decisions, and have some patience – nature tends to weed out those who get lazy or selfish.

2. Learn to give/take objective criticism and don’t fall too in love with an idea or project. This gets much easier with experience but a good artist/scientist/entrepreneur knows when to start fresh.

6. Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is it (or they) important to you?
Having emigrated from Japan, my family has a strong connection to the city of Oakville, one of the only towns whose Mayor welcomed us with open arms 28 years ago. We set up a partnership and annual fundraising dinner with the Oakville Hospital Foundation, which I’ve given the name “Feast for Good.” I’m proud to say we’ve raised over $160,000 toward new hospital equipment to date!

7. What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
One of my biggest challenges has been balancing being an artist and an entrepreneur. As an artist you can’t ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ because the proof is literally in the product.

On the other hand, building a successful brand requires a level of confidence that I’m finally starting to appreciate.  There’s a fine line between over-selling yourself and presenting enough confidence to build trust with employees and clients.

8. What does the word notable mean to you?
Notable means someone/something that is unique, inspires others, and is of potential benefit to society.



1. Where is your favourite place to wine / dine in your city and why?
To be honest, home! I grew up as a chef’s daughter and my partner is a wine aficionado – dinner parties are pretty customary at our place. I suggest a 60+ day aged ribeye from Cumbrae’s butchers and a good 2009 Bordeaux and you’re set.

2. What’s the most visited website on your Internet browser? The most played song on your phone?
Jungle – Busy Earnin’.

3. Who’s one person you think everyone should be following on social media?
Richard Dawkins.

4. What’s your favourite country to visit and why? And what’s the next one you plan on travelling to?
Japan – it’s where I was born, and what I feel is a second home. Tokyo is literally everything I love in life – technology, arts, science, history, food and fashion. Except on steroids. 

5. What gives you the greatest FOMO?
When I’m working late and I miss out on epic meals with friends/family!

6. What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Eating foods that you know aren’t necessarily ethically farmed but just so delicious. Foie gras, for example.

7.  What’s something you wish you didn’t spend so much money on? What’s something you wish you spent more on?

Uber rides.
Keeping up with trends; traveling with family and friends.

8. And finally, what does success look like to you? Work, play, or otherwise…
Success is achieving your goals with both mastery and integrity, without needing the approval of society. I think Sarah Lewis (curator and historian at Yale) said it best: “success is like hitting that 10-ring, but mastery is knowing it means nothing if you can’t hit it again and again.”