Harvard University, Molecular & Cell Biology/Economics, 2010
McKinsey & Co.; Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine; STEMCELL Technologies; Bok Players
VP of Content, Healthcare Conference; CMO, Asia Business Club
One might think that an HBS student with a recent victory in the Deans' Health and Life Sciences Challenge would be eager to represent her life as a success story. Instead, Hann Yew, MBA 2015, sees it as a cautionary tale that began for her in the fourth grade.
"I had read this book, The Hot Zone, about incurable viruses like Ebola," says Hann. “I was fascinated by the CDC scientists – they seemed like swashbuckling figures." From that point on, she not only dreamed of biological research; she created and followed an ambitious plan that would transform her into one of her heroes. "In high school," she says, "I was known as 'the Bio Girl.' It became my identity; my self-esteem was wrapped around being a successful biologist."
Identity crisis and renewal
As an undergraduate at Harvard, Hann ran the Harvard Undergraduate Biological Sciences Society, organizing events, like Darwin's 200th birthday celebration, intended to connect aspiring scientists. In response to Larry Summers' controversial comments about women in science, she wrote skits and participated in improv workshops intended to "raise awareness of tacit biases in academia and the sciences."
By her junior year, Hann had come to two realizations. "Science wasn't as glorious as I had imagined it to be," she says. "Your success is not always commensurate with the effort you put into it." On the other hand, her newfound talents in communications suggested a different path. "I was enjoying the opportunity to create shorter-term impact using my science background."
While her new realizations were exciting, they were also challenging. "I was in a limbo zone," says Hann. "Because I had invested so much of myself in this identity as a biologist, I felt like I was changing my core by pursuing a different path. If I hadn't committed so much emotionally to this identity, I wouldn't have had so much anguish. I wish I had recognized earlier that life takes you to unexpected places—and that's good!"
One such new "place" was the HBS 2+2 deferred admissions plan, which allowed her to apply for the MBA while still at Harvard. The MBA, Hann reasoned, would open up a way for her to "leverage organizations" for greater impact. "What frustrated me most about the lab path is, no matter what you do, it takes ten to fifteen years to commercialize a drug. Anything I could do to help correct that would be a life well lived."
In her first year at HBS, Hann met like-minded Harvard colleagues at the i-lab: David Raiser, a PhD candidate at Harvard Medical School, and Iain Macleod, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health. Together, they've formed Aldatu Biosciences, a start-up that provides low-cost diagnostics for drug-resistant viruses like HIV. The Deans' Health and Life Sciences Challenge award not only provided $40,000 in funding support, it offered, says Hann, "a process of due diligence and collecting feedback that helped us think out what we are trying to do. Using the HBS network was foundational for coming up with an appropriate business strategy for entering the market."
While Hann is no longer "Bio Girl," her newfound business acumen allows her to integrate her science skills into a larger vision for positive change. "All the elements are there to transform health care through technology, which I am very excited about."