Two years at the Yale School of Management (Yale Full-Time MBA Profile) have flown by. As a member of the Class of 2010, I graduated with the realization that I had already started living the aspirations I outlined in my admissions essay. I had written about my desire to attain an MBA from Yale so that I could help lead efforts to improve pediatric health-care access. Before completing my second year at Yale, I launched a company dedicated to doing just that.
A sense of confidence accompanied my completion of fall-semester classes. Corporate finance, managerial controls, and macroeconomics were all relevant to starting a new venture. My class in entrepreneurial business planning with Maureen Burke, an SOM graduate and lecturer in entrepreneurship, took my team and me through the practical steps of writing a winning business plan and presenting ideas to potential investors. Burke's insistence on clear, easy-to-read plans left many of us struggling with FleschâKincaid readability scores and understanding that visual presentations are meant to encourage listening, not reading.
With the last exam completed, I turned the page on the fall semester on Dec. 19. Six days were left until Christmas, and I had done no shopping for my children, but I did not leave the university that weekend until I had drafted a one-page business idea in the SOM Hall of Mirrors. Two days later, on Dec. 21, 2009, I officially launched my company, Alea Diagnostics.
Rising Prevalence of Autism
Alea Diagnostics is a company dedicated to the development of technology that detects the initial onset of autism spectrum disorders in very young children. My dedication to this need in pediatric health care is not arbitrary; my first grandson was diagnosed with autism half way through my program at Yale in the summer of 2009. Genetically complex, the disorder has now affected two generations of children in my family.
My idea to start a private company dedicated to screening came on the heels of the latest figures about autism prevalence released by the CDC in December. Autism now affects 1 percent of all children born in the U.S., and prevalence has increased 600 percent over the past two decades. The Autism Speaks "odds-of" campaign paints a grim picture: One in every 110 children will be affected. What may not be quite as well known is that boys are affected four times more often than girls. What that means in real numbers is that one of every 315 girls and a staggering one of every 70 boys will be diagnosed with the disorder and that a child is born with autism every 12 minutes.
In mid-March, Yale School of Management Dean Sharon Oster announced that four awards for venture seed financing (two for the Class of 2010 and two for the Class of 2011) would be available from the Henry F. McCance Entrepreneurial Fund; this wonderful fund promotes entrepreneurial activity in the Yale SOM community. The fund donor, Henry F. McCance (Yale '64) is chairman emeritus of Greylock Partners and co-founder of the Cure Alzheimer's Fund (CAF) in Boston. CAF has taken a venture capital approach to fund research for Alzheimer's, a disease that is also genetically complex and is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.
The call for proposals for the McCance award had a three-week deadline. I had a framework in place, but I spent every spare moment on my proposal over the next three weeks, turning it in to the dean's office with just an hour to spare. Less than a week later, I received two e-mails back to back from Oster, one congratulating me personally on my winning one of the awards and another announcing the results to the Yale SOM Community. In addition to my own proposal for Alea Diagnostics, winners included Labpack Online (Chris Karas) and oSnapplications (Ellis Reid) from the Yale SOM Class of 2010, and Gluten-Free Granola (Flavia Ravski and Sarah Ham) from the Class of 2011.
It was exhilarating to start this venture while in business school. Many of the classes in the spring semester helped me think through how I wanted to shape the business. I discussed the questions I had with my professors, who helped me think them through and consider avenues to address them that I may not have realized.
I was particularly grateful to Professor Richard N. Foster, managing partner of the Millbrook Management Group and a former director and senior partner at McKinsey & Co., who taught my spring health-care IT class. Foster worked with me personally to think about how to tap into various sources of health-care technology funding for the business, and I am preparing to write for government grants. Heather E. Tookes, whom I enjoyed as a corporate finance professor in the fall of 2009, offered to review the way I was structuring the business and building my financial model. Professor Elisa F. Long, who taught health-care operations, not only helped me frame the value of my business product using Precision Tree analysis but also helped me get the word out when I conducted some early market research on pricing. The incomparable Connie Bagley, JD, my business law professor, helped me think through issues as varied as ethics, securities, patents, and IP and in the process became a trusted and admired friend.
Banking to Battlefields
My last six weeks at Yale SOM seemed focused on the leadership perspective. I took a great class with Professor Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld that was co-taught with a visiting professor from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Colonel Thomas Kolditz. "Crisis and Courage: Leading Through Adversity" examined the nature of adversity and how great leaders triumph (or fail) in its presence. We studied crisis communication, decision making, and reputation management as Goldman Sach's CEOs were in the hot seat during Congressional hearings. We watched video from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan as young military officers made life and death decisions, and we had the benefit of a question and answer session with four of West Point's finest students, who were members of the elite Academy at West Point parachute team. They showed poise and command of leadership principles that belied their youth and left all of us proud to have met them.
In a seminal moment on the last day of class, we learned firsthand about corporate ethics, personal values, and visionary leadership when James Dunne, senior managing principal at Sandler O'Neill & Partners, walked us through the hours and moments of Sept. 11 with a searing recollection of the day as well as the days and months that followed. Heart wrenching, Dunne provided stunning proof that leadership is not a soft theoretical construct; leadership is quantifiable and is the very heart and soul of a great business.
Navigating business school in this day and age is not for the faint of heart. By entering the arena, your ideas and your ideals will be challenged by some of the greatest minds in academia and by the people whom you learn with on the other side of the lectern. How you come out the other side is up to you. Finding the right place that embraces you as a student should be anyone's goal when making the decision. Yale is a remarkable place. I'm only glad that the classroom experience is over, because I'm so excited to put to use all I have learned.
On a beautiful weekend in late May that began with former President Bill Clinton encouraging the graduates of Yale to live with confidence in the face of change, I graduated. With my parents, my brother, and my children cheering me on, I walked across the stage. Oster handed me a beautiful parchment and words of encouragement about my new venture. My final moments at Yale could not have been more perfect.