It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years since my fellowship with Health for America (now at MedStar Health). That summer was memorable not only because of the unique professional experience I gained, but also because of the intelligent and vivacious team I had the privilege to work with. As HFA’s pilot class, Abena, Glenn, and I were only together for two months, but we quickly became close friends and a great team. We gained valuable experience in human-centered design and lean startup methods as we learned about the challenges faced by patients with pediatric asthma and their caregivers in low-income communities throughout the United States.
After my time as a fellow, I transferred these skills to my time in Peace Corps Moldova, where I taught high school girls how to formulate business ideas and plans using lean startup methods in two international business/technology competitions (read more in my first Alumni Voices post here). Most recently, I have had the opportunity to work as a Program Analyst at the National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent federal agency that supports scientific and engineering fundamental research across the U.S.
As a Program Analyst in NSF’s Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships (IIP), I support Program Directors who fund scientific research and development (R&D) grants for U.S.-based universities or early-stage companies. Our programs include several academic programs, including Innovation Corps (I-Corps™). Much like the lean startup methods I put into practice as a Health for America fellow, I-Corps program participants go through an in-depth customer discovery process to test their scientific ideas outside of the lab in order to eventually bring said ideas into the market. I-Corps also feeds into the Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer program (SBIR/STTR), a two-phase program that awards grants to start-ups and small businesses to develop their highly technical R&D to the point where they can commercialize their game-changing product or service. Although a company’s research must be highly innovative to be awarded, the NSF SBIR/STTR program funds virtually any technology, ranging from semiconductors and advanced manufacturing to health innovation and educational applications.
In all of IIP’s programs, the goal of funding scientific R&D is to build successful entrepreneurs who will grow our national economy through job and welfare creation, as well as keep the U.S. competitive in the fields of science and technology. I am grateful to be part of a division and an organization with such an impactful mission, and it is my Health for America fellowship that spurred me in the direction that eventually led me to work at NSF. My current career path and the fact that I remain close friends with my co-fellows and former HFA leaders are a testament to the lasting value of the HFA fellowship.