Home Region

Washington, D.C.

Undergrad Education

Duke University, Computer Science/Mathematics, 2015

Previous Experience

Department of Defense

HBS Activities

Admissions Rep, Entrepreneurship Club, Venture Capital & Private Equity Club, Women's Student Association, Women in Investing, Running & Triathlon Club

“I went to an MBA program because I was kicked off a reality TV show!”

After demonstrating exceptional math and computer science talent at Duke University, and more than three years of service as an applied research mathematician in the Department of Defense, Mollie Breen took the next, not-so-obvious step: as a reality television contestant on Girl Starter, a women's-only start-up competition that ran on TLC and Discovery Channel in spring 2017.

"I always had business ideas," says Mollie. "I would write them down on the train ride home from work." When she came across Girl Starter, Mollie leapt at the chance.

"I loved my job as a mathematician," she says. "But the days I was most energized were not the ones I spent entirely on research. Instead, my favorite days were the ones in which I worked with others – I became interested in exploring interdisciplinary approaches to solving problems."

Mollie did not win the contest. But Girl Starter did get Mollie started in the interdisciplinary world of business. "In the show, every episode ended with a pitch," Mollie explains. "I focused mine on data and algorithms. Then I realized I didn't fully understand how a business person thinks. I was talking about 'return on technology' when they need to hear about 'return on investment.' I learned a big lesson: tech won't sell itself. You need a business plan and a strategy – how will this make money?"

Finding support in entrepreneurship, and supporting others too

Mollie jokes that, "I went to an MBA program because I was kicked off a reality TV show!" but her entrepreneurial experiment did inspire her to explore. On the HBS MBA website, an ad for Harvard's joint MS/MBA program (Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering & Applied Sciences and Harvard Business School) caught her eye. She followed the link, "and everything just clicked," says Mollie. "I felt very understood. There would be other people who, like me, wanted to pursue business without losing sight of technology."

Today, Mollie is in the first cohort of 29 students in the joint MS/MBA program. Given her government experience, "I held strong beliefs that only the government did meaningful public work. But at HBS, I'm amazed to hear about how much impact people in business can and do have – it's so much more that spreadsheets and balance sheets."

Her HBS coursework has already helped shape Mollie's business ideas. "The curriculum inspires brainstorming," she says, and helps develop practical skills and approaches. "I've learned, for example, about the value of working with a cofounder who is different from me in background, who has different experiences and skill sets; each partner can be a complement to the other."

After completing the two-year joint degree program, Mollie plans on launching "my own tech venture, applying my background in cybersecurity and AI." In the meantime, she helps encourage others with technology backgrounds to consider business applications, serving as an admissions representative for her section. "I want to set an expectation that this is a school for everyone," Mollie says, "we are a very diverse student body."