(Oliva Zhao & Michelle Addington)

Three Yale women were honored at the March 27 Women of Innovation awards ceremony by the Connecticut Technology Council. Michelle Addington, Hines Professor of Sustainable Architectural Design at Yale School of Architecture was nominated for Academic Innovation and Leadership for her work advancing smart materials and environmental technologies. Julie Dorsey, Professor of Computer Science at Yale and cofounder of the startup Mental Canvas was nominated for Research Innovation and Leadership for advancing image synthesis, modeling material appearance and interactive illustration. Paula Kavathas, Professor of Laboratory Medicine, of Genetics, of Immunobiology and of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at Yale was nominated for Academic Innovation and Leadership for advancing knowledge relevant to vaccine monitoring and immunotherapy.

Congratulations to all the honorees!

(Julie Dorsey and husband David Ackman)

(Paula Kavathas and husband Sukh Grewal)

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women in innovation

By Brita Belli

Three Yale women (and one Yale woman moderator) came together to discuss their startups and successes in a March 3 talk on Women in Innovation cohosted by YEI and InnovateHealth Yale. Georgie Levenson Keohane, a fellow of the Roosevelt Institute, author of the book Social Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century and Yale alum, moderated the discussion, saying at the outset: "I get to learn about the work of people who are changing the world." Those people included Barbara Bush, CEO and cofounder of Global Health Corps; Jennifer Staple-Clark, CEO and founder of Unite for Sight and Laura Niklason, founder and chief scientist of Humacyte and professor of anesthesiology and biomedical engineering at Yale.

Following Their Inspiration

Bush originally planned to major in architecture at Yale. But a course on AIDS and society changed her path. "I became obsessed with global health issues," Bush says, adding that she travelled to six countries in Africa to see the AIDS crisis first hand and returned with a new commitment to public health. Though she had no intention of becoming an entrepreneur, Bush says the model of what she wanted to join--essentially a Teach for America aimed at public health--didn't exist. The idea behind Global Health Corps is to create fellows that work for a year in countries of need and go on to assume leadership roles at Ministries of Health and other high-level government and nonprofit positions.

Staple-Clark began with a student group at Yale that worked to connect people with free resources to receive regular eye care in order to avoid glaucoma and blindness. That chapter drew interest at other schools nd Staple-Clark created a standardized model for schools to create their own Unite for Sight chapters. Meanwhile, a man in an Internet cafe in a refugee camp in Ghana discovered Unite for Sight online and emailed her about how her organization might help them. Soon, she had connected with an opthamalogist in Ghana and began working with clinics there that see 100-300 patients a day. 

Niklason, representing the only for-profit venture among the panelists, wanted to form a new device to help patients. "What struck me is that so many people who are sick are sick because their blood vessels are sick," Niklason said. She wanted to grow new arteries for patients out of human cells, because replacing arteries in surgergy with veins or plastic tubing is fraught with complications. In the mid-'90s, Niklason says, growing arteries was considered "the lunatic fringe." But 10 years ago, she had successful results growing arteries from animal and human cells and her startup, Humacyte, was born.

Measuring Success

Bush talked about the way the fellows accepted into Global Heatlh Corps help to shape their programs and the need to iterate constantly as a startup to stay relevant. And both she and Staple-Clark talked about the importance of collecting and analyzing data in order to understand the effectiveness of their programs.

"We're very focused on measuring outcomes," says Staple-Clark. "We don't measure how many surgeries, but the pre- and post-surgery data to make sure the surgeries were sight restoring."

To maintain the effectiveness of their programs, both panelists discussed the need to stay focused on their goals. "People want to fund something that seems audacious every single year," Bush says. "But most important is the quality of work that fellows do."

Niklason says the rules for success vary dramatically between the private sector and the academic lab. In academia, methodical science is prized. But, she adds, "At the end of three to four years of investigation you might find out your hypothesis is wrong." In the private sector, she says, the mantra is "fail early."

Working in both worlds, says Niklason, has made her smarter--better at managing teams and enunciating clear goals and timelines.

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On Feb. 28, students filled the tables in a workshop space at the Center for Engineering, Innovation and Design for a hands-on experience in designing and launching a company called Start Something. Taught by Alena Gribskov, program director of YEI and Kyle Jensen, an entrepreneur-in-residence at YEI, angel investor and scientist. the six-hour workshop was particularly geared toward students with an interest in commercializaing engineering-based innovations and was co-sponsored by the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science. Other Start Something workshops have focused on food businesses and sustainability concepts.

Start Something offers students a primer in the lean startup method which emphasizes early customer validation for a concept and iterative product releases that reflect customer feedback and input. Lean startup allows entrepreneurs to reduce market risk by determining cutomer need and willingness to buy before large investments come into play. A few scenes from the workshop are below. Want more? Check out our Flickr page!

alena start something

kyle start something

groups at start something yei

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The Yale Entrepreneurial Institute is offering office hours with entrepreneurial experts who are part of the YEI network. Book one-on-one time with an experienced YEI mentor or associate who can give you the insider advice and strategic insight you need to fine tune your startup idea and business plan.

kyle jensenKyle Jensen: Kyle is volunteer mentor at YEI, and co-teaches YEI’s lean startup workshop Start Something with YEI Program Director Alena Gribskov. He is also an angel investor, scientist and entrepreneur. Kyle has cofounded three ventures: Pit Rho, motorsport analytics; PriorSmart, patent litigation analytics (acquired by RPX Corp, Nasdaq:RPXC); and Agrivida, renewable fuels and chemicals. He has a Ph.D. from MIT. YEI Office Hours: Fridays, noon-2 p.m.

patrick struebiPatrick Struebi: A business and social entrepreneur, Patrick founded Fairtrasa, a company that lifts small-scale farmers out of poverty by providing them with technical know-how and linking them to local and international markets. Fairtrasa pioneered the first fair trade avocados in Mexico and then replicated its sustainable business model in Peru, Argentina, Chile and Brazil. Today, Fairtrasa represents over 5,000 farmers and has grown to become the largest fair trade and organic fruit exporter from Latin America with a vertically integrated business structure. Patrick is an Ashoka Fellow, a former Yale World Fellow, an Endeavor Entrepreneur, and was named “Social Entrepreneur of the Year” in Mexico in 2009 (Visionaris), and two times in 2012 by the abc* foundation and Univision. YEI Office Hours: Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Tom Jasinski: Tom is a senior executive with expertise in both startups and global brands. His strategic strength lies in developing deep customer insight from a wide range of branded product and communications assignments, ranging from software, to grocery, to entertainment and retail services. He has operational experience in both startup and global brand organizations, with a focus on building teams that blend creative excellence with strategic rigor to deliver profitable growth. YEI Office Hours: Wednesdays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.

Sign up for YEI Office Hours here!

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By Brita Belli

anne macdonald YEI Mentor Anne MacDonald has worked in marketing for the past 33 years, leading Fortune 100 companies through significant shifts in strategy and positioning. The experience she gained as Chief Marketing Officer for Citigroup she brought to Macy’s, where MacDonald says that as President and Chief Marketing Officer she “led the team to created a true national brand,” after Macy’s increased their footprint from 250 stores to 850 stores across the country. She also helped grow Macdonald next took on the challenge of building out a direct-to-consumer business for Travelers Insurance companies as their Chief Marketing Officer.

Her path to YEI started with a chance encounter at her rowing club. She began talking with fellow member Rob Bettigole, managing partner at Elm Street Ventures and member of the YEI Operating Board, about some of the student businesses in development at YEI. “He taught me a lot about venture capital and small companies,” MacDonald says. She’d always worked in large corporations and was interested in going to the opposite side and learning about and working with entrepreneurial startups.

Soon she was brought into the YEI mentor fold and has helped teams navigate difficulties and to focus on critical questions of building not only a great product—but a solid communications plan.

“It’s more challenging in a digital world, because the audience is fragmented,” MacDonald says. It’s a struggle to create awareness and trial of your brand, she adds, noting that “forced tweets” are not going to win over supporters.

Rather, MacDonald stresses the importance of building a tribe. “Initial users may not come back,” she says, “the tribe stays. They want to be a member of something worthwhile, that meets a need or fills a desire, something that makes a difference. What has never changed is the importance of the quality of the product or service you put out there.”

She notes that most of the teams she’s met with spend the majority of their time on building their technology and preparing to pitch to investors. “I encourage them to spend even more time on whether they’ve perfected what they’ve gone into business to do.”

MacDonald adds that her ability to help teams is directly related to teams’ showing initiative and reaching out to her for advice and connections. She mentioned one team that discovered she was on the board of a media company who asked her to present their idea before a particular executive on that board with extensive experience in data gathering and analysis.

“I was not formally assigned to that team. That was bold and ambitious,” she says. And it worked. The media executive was intrigued and is arranging to meet the students in New York. 

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