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Women-Led Wednesdays: Women-Led Venture Teams Shaping Better Futures for All of Us

By Lex Schroeder, Senior Writer

Women-Led Wednesdays: Women-Led Venture Teams Shaping Better Futures for All of Us

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 8, watch an International Womxn’s Week keynote address by artist and organizer Nitasha Dhillon, co-founder of MTL Collective (facilitators of Decolonize This Place). On March 24, join Katherine Gibson for a talk on feminist approaches to climate change. On March 31, join the Harvard Kennedy School Women and Public Policy program for a panel, “Moving past the Binary: The Importance of Transgender and Nonbinary Inclusion in Gender Equity Research.” 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.

What are your recent wins?

“We recently received a Spark Grant. And for the first time, we also recently collaborated with Harvard DASH, a central, open-access repository of research by members of the Harvard community. We encourage Harvard students, post-docs, and faculty members to submit their manuscripts into DASH and in return, we will produce a video of their research.”

What problems can we solve when we work across silos, disciplines, and areas of expertise?

“When we work together across disciplines, we have the chance to solve common problems and more global problems. What is remarkable to me is that we can be inspired by a solution another discipline is adopting to solve problems in our own field. A new finding in immunology can benefit neuroscience. At Research Science Network, we’re trying to build a network to help scientists (and different disciplines) easily communicate with each other and collaborate. We want to be a bridge.”

What collective experiments do we run now?

“Communication and collaboration are key. Common issues can rally people, fields, and disciplines to coordinate their actions toward stable and efficient solutions. Curing diseases such as cancer or HIV require a massive effort from universities, pharmaceutical companies, and government agencies. Although definitive strategies for certain cures are still underway, international agreements allow access to medications in regions where resources are limited. One example is the COVID-19 vaccine. The U.S., for example, needs to continue to create access to the vaccine for countries like Afghanistan and Zambia that have difficulty accessing vaccines.

At RSN, we want to make sure people have the knowledge they need to run the right experiments. In the future, we want to cover more topics so that more people become aware of what other fields are thinking and their approaches. With more collaboration, I believe we will have more understanding and get that much closer to curing diseases.”


Jie Sun:

Jie Sun (Harvard Chan School of Public Health, Class of 2022) is Co-Founder and COO of, 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 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, 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.” is excited to have begun their seed round of fundraising in April.

What are your recent wins?

“At Harvard, we are the Semi-Finalists in the President’s Innovation Challenge and a Spark Grants recipient. We were grateful to receive a grant from the MIT Sandbox and our founders were a part of the winning team of the recent MIT 100k Entrepreneurship Competition Accelerate program. We want to use the momentum of these recent wins to keep growing.”

What problems can we solve when we work across silos, disciplines, and areas of expertise?

“I am constantly amazed by the brilliant and enabling ecosystem at Harvard. The support we’ve received over the last few months is even more amazing. We now have team members from Harvard Graduate School of Design and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and we are receiving advice from such varied domains as healthcare and medicine, behavioral economics, data science, and AI. Some of these key opinion leaders have become our mentors. Helping people manage chronic conditions like diabetes takes a village. And here we are, gathering people across the board, doing whatever it takes to create a dent, and hopefully a massive one at that.”

What collective experiments do we run now?

“Our work at necessitates working together. For example, we are partnering with hospitals and pharmaceutical companies to refine and co-develop our offering. We are partnering with doctors at Joslin Diabetes Centre to develop AI algorithms to detect diabetic retinopathy. To introduce diversity to the data, we are also partnering with hospitals in India. Finally, we have filed an AI patent that uses multi-modal data to predict the diabetic progression and recommend management advice.”

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.”

What are your recent wins?

“We recently received an award from AFFOA (the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America Institute) that is helping to fund the work required to transition our robotic glove to manufacturing. We’re now beginning to work with our apparel manufacturing partner, and it’s exciting to transition away from the prototype stage and into manufacturing. Otherwise, seeing more patients reach meaningful hand recovery milestones (e.g., opening doors, slicing bread, gardening) is always a win and is what fuels our work.”

What problems can we solve when we work across silos, disciplines, and areas of expertise?

“At Imago, we need the perspectives of patients, clinicians, engineers, and designers in order to develop a solution that meets the necessary clinical, functional, and usability needs. Solving most problems involves multiple stakeholders, so we always benefit from incorporating perspectives from different areas of expertise. When we work cross-functionally, each member is able to bring a unique viewpoint to the table.”

What collective experiments do we run now?

“There are a lot of ways that startups can share their learnings back into the entrepreneurial community. At the end of the day, every startup team operates by their own playbook based on the unique challenges they need to solve, often having to write the playbook as they go. If company A experiments with a marketing tactic where they employ penguins to deliver mail directly to customers’ doors, for example, company B can learn from that experiment and decide if they want to use a similar tactic.

There is so much to be gained from looking at the cumulative knowledge generated by so many different startups’ mini experiments. Over time, each one of our startups will make mistakes, experience some successes, and then the next batch of startups will be able to learn from these collective successes and failures. This is what really excites me about being part of the entrepreneurial community.”

Listen to Chrissy speak about her venture on Instagram and Twitter.


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.”

What are your recent wins?

“It’s an exciting time for us! Being accepted into the Venture Program at the i-lab has been tremendously helpful and supportive, and we’re officially incorporated! Coastal Protection Solutions also just won the i-lab’s Ingenuity Award.

Right now with The Wavebreaker, we’re in the testing phase of iterating the design and materials in physical and 3-D models; we’re working to find the sweet spot between form, function, and toughness for the demands of the ocean. We’re incrementally scaling up the testing of The Wavebreaker and looking forward to having a 100 foot prototype deployed off the coast of Massachusetts in Fall 2022.”

What problems can we solve when we work across silos, disciplines, and areas of expertise?

“I do a lot of reaching out to experts across the Harvard and MIT communities, along with the private sector, to bounce ideas off of people and get feedback on our innovations. People want to help and be involved, and we’re blessed to be surrounded by passionate experts. If we are going to solve the issues of climate change that are quite literally threatening our species, we must work in a global, but targeted manner. It is imperative that we be agile and work across disciplines. We need scientists, engineers, designers, architects, the business sector, and researchers in the humanities to work closely together and have a space for a free exchange of ideas. This ‘all hands on deck’ structure is the development model we are using at Coastal Protection Solutions.”

What collective experiments do we run now?

“Climate change is an emergency. It’s the biggest threat to our existence and every report that comes out keeps getting worse. We should be gathering the brightest minds to co-develop solutions on initiatives for climate change.

You can only go so far developing major solutions to climate change in a vacuum of your own discipline. The time for rapid, international concept and development is now, and collaboration is key. I envision that this kind of collective problem solving can be broken down into more manageable pieces and addressed through smaller, targeted manners to allow different groups of experts to focus on specific issues. This level of international, interdisciplinary collaboration can help us make incredible strides in solving future issues for continued human survival on Earth. This collective problem-solving process doesn’t have to be elegant, but it must be effective.”

Listen to Alex speak about her venture on Instagram and Twitter.


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.

What are your recent wins?

“Our research for FODZYME has been accepted for poster presentation this spring at Digestive Disease Week (DDW), the premier gastroenterology conference in the U.S.! We validated the efficacy of our product through a high-fidelity model of the complete human gut, demonstrating over 90% degradation of problem carbohydrates within 30 minutes in the stomach and resulting reduction in fermentation and gas production. This will be a fantastic opportunity to present our research to a clinical audience and show physicians that there is a targeted approach to FODMAPs that doesn’t involve absurdly restrictive diets.”

What problems can we solve when we work across silos, disciplines, and areas of expertise?

“Rarely as entrepreneurs do we tackle problems where solutions are constrained to a narrow field. Our mission at Kiwi Bio is to eradicate gut symptoms, starting with the puzzling interactions of certain fermentable carbohydrates in food with individuals who have considerable, disproportionate trouble with those molecules. Getting to a full (and ever-adapting) solution started with enzymology and microbiology, but it relies on so much more— we take insights from physiology, food science and plant genomics, and social and behavioral dimensions. Our work is not at all confined to a lab. We started as our own guinea pigs and continue to refine our understanding of how humans use FODZYME in real life. To work across disciplines and silos is like being able to maneuver in a hyperspace; more routes open up to help you actualize your mission because you have more dimensions and junctions to navigate across.

Also, my undergraduate degree at Harvard was in physics and comparative literature, so a multi- or interdisciplinary aspiration was very much a part of me before Kiwi Bio. It was similar for my co-founder David who studied mathematics, computer science, and public health. Working across disciplines is something we value deeply. Kiwi Bio’s R&D meetings are not just reserved for the scientific side of the team, but an open floor for non-biologists to contribute and learn. Often, seemingly naive questions provide a spark for creative or counterintuitive solutions.”

What collective experiments do we run now?

“As entrepreneurs, we can learn how to promote more thoughtful and critical attention. In the consumer space, the trend now is for brands to ceaselessly tailor and trim their messaging to an ever-diminishing attention span, and I know there’s only so far that can go. Brands are almost playing for flickers of consciousness. One can find tons of tutorials and case studies on A/B testing, often to learn trivial tweaks for more efficient clicks or conversions. These experiments can be useful, but I want to see us work together to go another direction, one that optimizes for deeper, more meaningful engagement with our stories, our research, and missions.

For instance, at Kiwi Bio, we learn a lot from our customers, many of whom are passionate about gut health. They share their experiences with us in detail in addition to thought-provoking published research. We want to create more of these types of thoughtful interactions. As mission-driven entrepreneurs in the B2C space (and beyond), we should be experimenting together to expand meaningful dialogues (increasing attention spans!) rather than incessantly feeding the tendency toward automatic modes of existence.”

Listen to Anjie speak about her venture on Instagram and Twitter.

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.”

What are your recent wins?

“Slam Out Loud was recently selected to be part of HundrED’s Global Innovation Collection 2022, celebrating pioneers in education for the third time and was highlighted as one of the top nine innovators in Holistic Education in the South and Southeast Asia region in HundrED’s Spotlight Report. In early 2021, our COVID-related initiative ‘Arts for All’ was awarded the iF Social Impact Prize by the Germany-based iF International Forum Design and was one of 10 winners in the Future Learning category of the Falling Walls Science Breakthroughs of 2021. We also successfully piloted a virtual, hybrid version of our in-person fellowship program over Zoom, reaching 500 children in three schools in Pune, India.”

What problems can we solve when we work across silos, disciplines, and areas of expertise?

“Even with problems in business and science, we see how wholes are greater than the sums of their parts. Due to the complexity of wicked problems, we need all actors in society coming together to solve them. If we are to solve issues of inequity, climate change, education, and more, organizations and people across sectors need to collaborate as they hold various pieces of the same problem.”

What collective experiments do we run now?

“At Slam Out Loud, we’re attempting to leverage art and low-tech platforms like WhatsApp, Radio, and Interactive Voice Response Systems (IVRS) to deliver activities focused on mental well-being and SEL support to vulnerable children at scale. With regular human support by way of volunteers; feedback from children, parents, and educators; and a continual survey of engagement levels, our team is working to improve upon the existing model of dissemination and content customization.

Any experiment we run, as a collective of entrepreneurs at the i-lab or as a society, needs to leverage both the social and technical aspects of innovation as neither alone will help us solve the issues we face at the scale we need to solve them. That’s where our experiments should lie: at the intersection of the two. For example, through our online programming we’ve realized that human touch is vital. Any policy prescription, ecosystem re-design, or individual organization revamp that involves a technological solution must consider the human element.”

Listen to Jigyasa speak about her venture on Instagram and Twitter.

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