Women-Led Wednesdays: Women-Led Venture Teams Shaping Better Futures for All of Us
by Lex Schroeder, Senior Writer
Every day, we are learning more and more about how to solve problems collectively. But what does this look like in our teams and communities? As we continue our interview series with women founders in the Harvard Innovation Labs ecosystem this Women’s History Month, we look toward the future and ask founders to tell us not only about their ventures, but what kind of collective leadership they think is needed now.
The founders you meet below represent a variety of industries, areas of expertise, and different lived experiences. For more ways to celebrate Women’s History Month, check out Harvard in Focus with features and profiles of Harvard women innovators. On March 8th, watch an International Womxn’s Week keynote address by artist and organizer Nitasha Dhillon, co-founder of MTL Collective (facilitators of Decolonize This Place). View a full calendar of events from the Office for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. For more on gender equity in entrepreneurship, discover Cases Featuring Women Protagonists as well as the Protagonists of Color Collection from The Harvard Business School Gender Initiative in partnership with Harvard Business Publishing.
We will continue to update this edition with new founder interviews in the coming weeks. Read more Women-Led Wednesday interviews here.
Vanessa Wacleche: Research Science Network
Vanessa Wacleche (Harvard Medical School, Class of 2023) is CEO and founder of Research Science Network, which provides scientists with short videos summarizing recent scientific studies to enable them to get informed quickly. For scientists who may struggle to keep up with current literature and/or new technologies, Wacleche and her team want to help them rapidly scan the scientific literature and get a solid overview of what the research article is all about. RSN currently offers videos mainly in two research fields: cellular biology and infectious diseases.
Participants in the i-lab’s Venture Program in Spring 2022, RSN will soon launch a new collection of videos under the category S-Labs (S stands for Spectacular). To build this collection, Wacleche and her team are currently interviewing renowned leaders in their respective fields that have published in notable journals like Nature, Cell and/or Science. As part of their efforts to increase inclusion and honor diversity, RSN is also working on a set of videos called the Minority Collection, Wacleche says, to amplify the voices of scientists from minority communities.
Jie Sun: basys.ai
Jie Sun (Harvard Chan School of Public Health, Class of 2022) is Co-Founder and COO of basys.ai, which tackles chronic conditions like diabetes using artificial intelligence. Their vision? Make living with diabetes like living without it. Working at the intersection of behavioral economics, precision nutrition, and AI, Sun and her Co-Founder Amber Nigam believe in the power of using small nudges to adjust individual behavior. Sun, originally from Singapore and China, and Nigam, originally from India, have a combined 17 years of work experience in tech entrepreneurship and healthcare. They believe basys.ai can help people who want to achieve a healthier lifestyle and/or for whom access to healthcare is minimal.
Participants in the i-lab’s Venture Program in Spring 2022, basys.ai released the beta version of their app in April 2022. The next step is to achieve product market fit and, as they say, try to create an ecosystem of service through their app. “If we can enable users to smartly record their data — without requiring a big effort from them by reducing the friction in this data recording process — this will be a big push for redefining personalized health records,” Sun says. “It will also change how personal health records are used to transform the digital health industry. We need to scale and reach out to everyone we can to reduce global inequity.” basys.ai is excited to have begun their seed round of fundraising in April.
Chrissy Glover: Imago Rehab
Chrissy Glover (Harvard Graduate School of Design, Class of 2019), is Co-Founder and CEO of Imago Rehab, a digital health company that is developing a robot-assisted virtual clinic for stroke recovery, starting with hand rehab. Imago Rehab offers two products/services: a) telerehab, which allows patients to get the care they need without having to drive to a clinic, and b) a textile-based robotic glove that moves the otherwise paralyzed hand to facilitate rehab activities. Currently in their beta phase, Imago Rehab is providing telerehab sessions to patients while they continue to develop their device.
Participants in the Launch Lab X GEO program at the i-lab, Imago is looking forward to scaling their offering to be able to reach more patients. “Unfortunately, many stroke survivors think that there is no hope for them to recover hand function,” Glover says, “but it can be possible if they receive the correct evidence-based, high-intensity rehab program. I don’t want people to give up hope.”
Alex Berkowitz: Coastal Protection Solutions
Alex Berkowitz (Harvard Graduate School of Design, Class of 2023) is Founder and CEO of Coastal Protection Solutions, Inc. which specializes in coastal flood mitigation through easily deployable systems. Coastal Protection Solutions has developed two systems: 1) “The Wavebreaker,” which works as a wave speed bump, decreasing wave velocity to the shore , and 2) an artificial floating marsh system that builds the coastline up and outward to protect the shores against sea-level rise. Participants in the i-lab’s Venture Program in Spring 2022, Coastal Protection Solutions’ systems can be adapted to different scales, from individual properties to small towns and major cities across the globe.
Originally from Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York, Berkowitz saw her community devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, so for her, this work is personal. Berkowitz remembers seeing street after street of homes — including the block she grew up on — totally demolished and thinking about how she could mitigate the damage that the waves caused. “Here was something I could do that would be useful,” Berkowitz says, “After seeing my community suffer from the storm surge and loss of life, I vowed to find solutions so that communities like mine would never have to experience the trauma and heartbreak of climate change.”
Anjie Liu: Kiwi Biosciences
Anjie Liu (Harvard College, Class of 2017) is Co-Founder and CEO of Kiwi Biosciences, a human-centered biotech company which develops novel patent-pending enzymes that break down common digestive triggers (starting with the FODMAP family of fermentable carbohydrates). Liu developed Kiwi Bio’s first product, FODZYME, to solve her own gut problems. By enabling individuals to comfortably eat garlic, onion, wheat, and more, Liu and her co-founder David Hachuel believe FODZYME can help the 15% of the population suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) enjoy a normal meal without running to the bathroom two hours later.
Participants in Launch Lab X GEO in 2021, Liu clearly differentiates Kiwi Bio from other supplement companies. “We hope to be amongst the leaders of a new and rising wave of direct-to-consumer health ventures rooted in biotech discovery and clinical efficacy,” Liu says. In addition to expanding their clinical evidence, Kiwi Bio is working on developing novel enzymes to address other digestive triggers. Kiwi Bio recently closed a $1.5M seed round following participation in Y Combinator.
Jigyasa Labroo: Slam Out Loud
Jigyasa Labroo (Harvard Graduate School of Education, Class of 2022) is CEO and Co-Founder of Slam Out Loud (SOL), which creates online and offline programs to help children develop creative confidence and life skills using the transformative power of the arts (i.e. theatre, storytelling, spoken word). Based in India, SOL’s in-person programs are deeper, longer interventions that have impacted 50,000 children across four states in India and their low-tech, art-learning resources have brought arts education to 4.7 million children across 23 Indian states and 19 countries (for one dollar per child per month, Jabroo says). A participant in the Harvard Innovation Labs Venture Program in Fall 2021 and Spring 2022, SOL also works with an intentional gender equity lens. Through its arts-and-SEL-based Gender Equity program alone, created with Girl Rising, SOL has reached 20,000 children across eight Indian states.
“When most people think about social-emotional learning and education through the arts, they think of such interventions as a ‘good-to-have’ rather than a ‘must-have’, says Labroo. “I wish more people knew that succeeding in the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world is hardly a function of academic knowledge, but rather attitudes and skills… Artistic opportunities allow children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to discover their voice and build skills they need to thrive.”