MBA for Executives: A Gateway to Yale’s Entrepreneurial Community

December 15, 2017
By: Sandra Saldana ’17

Entrepreneurship and the possibility of starting a business have intrigued me for many years. A wise person once told me, “The best way to learn how to start a business is simply to start a business.” While I agree with this statement wholeheartedly, there is a lot to be said about the benefits of starting a business within the structured environment of a business school’s entrepreneurship program, and particularly while enrolled in the Yale School of Management’s MBA for Executives program.

The Yale School of Management prides itself on being the most connected to its parent university among the elite MBA programs, and it is precisely this strong tie to Yale that has contributed tremendously to my journey as an entrepreneur. Upon learning about my acceptance into the Yale EMBA program, I connected with Yale’s Office of Cooperative Research, which is charged with the mission of managing an impressive portfolio of Yale-developed technologies, and translating inventions out of the laboratory into commercially viable entities. During my first year in the EMBA program, I had the opportunity to evaluate the commercial potential of a couple of these Yale-developed technologies. This resulted in eventually connecting with two professors from the Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Kevin Sheth and Dr. Hitten Zaveri, who, along with Dr. Ronald Coifman, coinvented a technology for the early identification of stroke symptoms using machine learning algorithms. From our initial collaboration, which started as an interesting extracurricular activity, we founded Alva Health, a startup leveraging the professors’ invention to develop a medical device for the early identification of stroke symptoms. The device has the potential to impact the lives of up to 1.3 million people in the U.S. who are affected by stroke and transient ischemic attacks every year by detecting stroke in time to deliver life-saving medication. To this end, we have assembled a team with exceptional clinical and technical expertise, and most important, passion to drive the technology forward.

The Yale EMBA program gave me the foundation of business knowledge that is necessary to understand the various market and non-market forces affecting a startup, but also tactical knowledge in leadership, influence, marketing, operations, and a deeper understanding of the U.S. healthcare system. The diverse backgrounds of my EMBA classmates and our conversations, particularly in the healthcare track, shaped my perception of the many stakeholders in the U.S. healthcare system and gave me a better understanding of my role as an entrepreneur within the system.

Being a member of the Yale EMBA program opened the door to a wealth of entrepreneurial resources across Yale University. Alva Health has received extraordinary support from the Yale ecosystem, and we have been connected to advisors with a wealth of expertise in early stage startups, medical devices, regulatory approvals, legal matters, and fundraising, to name a few areas. Early on, Alva Health participated in the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute’s Venture Creation Program, which pairs startup teams with student consultants to help evaluate the commercial viability of startup ideas. We competed in various contests such as Startup Yale and the Yale Innovation Summit, in which we earned first place in the tech pitch competition. During the summer of 2017, we were one of 10 teams selected for Tsai CITY’s summer fellowship (formerly known as the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute summer fellowship). The fellowship gave us access to lean startup training and connected us with additional mentors who helped us refine our business model and device prototype. We have also received mentoring in medical device development from Yale’s Center for Biomedical Innovation and Technology, and this fall we were awarded Connecticut Innovations’ $30,000 Bio Pipeline CT grant. As an alumna of the EMBA program, SOM’s Program on Entrepreneurship has remained intricately involved in my personal development, by extending access to the Honest Tea Entrepreneurial Suite and providing some financial support through a two-year entrepreneurial fellowship.

Yale’s entrepreneurial resources have been essential to de-risking both our technology and business, which has been an important step as we continue our conversations with investors and prepare to raise a pre-seed/angel round in 2018. Nothing beats hard work and persistence in entrepreneurship, but Yale’s EMBA and extensive entrepreneurial support system have been an important factor in our progress and will continue to play a key role in our journey to improve the lives of patients.

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