Tales of Persistence: Succeeding with Technology Innovation at Yale

April 10, 2017

By Veena McCoole

On Tuesday morning at the first Yale Women Innovators Breakfast Series after Spring Break, three inspiring women spoke on a panel at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute: “Succeeding with Technology Innovation at Yale.” Panelists included Amy Arnsten, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at Yale; Erin Duffy Ph.D, Chief Scientific Officer of Melinta Therapeutics; and Erika Smith, Director of the Blavatnik Fund for Innovation at Yale. They discussed the challenges and opportunities women face in advancing technology innovations at Yale, sharing personal stories, statistics from the field and brainstorming steps we can take to encourage more women to innovate.

Smith spoke to the audience about breaking the conventional mold and expectation for what makes an “innovator” something the media still represents as typically male. An interesting field for this is patents: In 1977, 3% of women owned patents, and in 2010, 19% of women had a share in patents. Despite this, only 8% of women are listed as a primary inventor on these patents. At the rate of current progress, it will take until 2092 to achieve patent gender parity. Technology-based patents with mixed-gender teams have been shown to be the most successful, illustrating a tangible economic impact of diversity on teams.

There is also vast inequality in the world of venture capital: only 3% of venture capital is going to women-owned business, and 76% of venture capitalists use patents in their investments.

Amy Arnsten authored a patent that was later commercialized–a treatment for higher cognitive disorders. She attributed her high goal-setting and motivation to the guidance of her high school science teachers, who were trained in a NASA program and inspired her to “shoot for the moon.” Her student volunteer work at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital exposed her to the immense need for mental health research and appropriate treatment: hundreds of patients were being served by only two doctors. Arnsten told the audience that they needed persistence to see their ideas through to fruition, and to develop self-reliance as there would be times when others will doubt your vision.

During her undergraduate years, Arnsten created the Neuroscience major at Brown University. She then worked at Yale Medical School in Patricia Goldman-Rakic’s lab, pursuing research related to the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is the site of dysfunction in illnesses such as ADHD, autism, stress, aging, depression and bipolar disorder. Some of Arnsten’s published research has made its way into education programs used by inner-city Chicago teenagers and police in learning how to de-escalate potentially violent situations.

“Healing children rather than punishing them has been such a meaningful strategy,” she said of children suffering from years of neglect and abuse.

Arnsten is now developing ways to teach this research in STEM classrooms.

Erin M. Duffy spoke about her New Haven company, Melinta Therapeutics, which is based on Yale discoveries and embodies the same qualities of long-term persistence and belief that Arnsten highlighted in her research. Duffy said that 80% of the research team remains from the original research team that began more than 17 years ago. She told the audience of her company’s story of adapting discovery and development of new antibiotics in an evolving regulatory landscape. With $400 million in private equity and venture capital, Melinta Therapeutics is close to realizing its dream of putting a new class of antibiotics on the market – an effort that would’ve been impossible without the passion, determination and persistence of a team.

The Yale Women Innovators Breakfast Series is held at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (254 Elm St., 3rd Floor) on Tuesday mornings. It is open to Yale women students, alumni, faculty and staff interested in entrepreneurship and innovation at any level.