Cool News: NASA’s Voyager Exits the Solar System

The New York Times has posted a new article about one of the greatest objects man has ever built: the Voyager 1.

Launched in 1977 with far less computing power than a modern iPhone, the NASA spacecraft has traveled billions of miles across space, showing us how immense the universe is and putting our small Earth into perspective. Recently, Voyager 1 has exited the solar system and entered into new, barely-understood interstellar space. Reading Carl Sagan’s book, The Pale Blue Dot, I’ve learned a lot about the trusted Voyager and am inspired by its impact on humanity.

The same month (August 2012) that happened, NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on the surface Mars, taking full-HD, color images of the planet’s craters, mountains, and other surroundings.

NASA inspires.

Northeastern Intramural Soccer Champions

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On Wednesday night our co-ed intramural soccer team won the finals of the competitive league at Northeastern. This team has been playing together since freshmen year 2009 and we’ve become an incredible group of friends. This was our second playoff championship in three seasons.

Joining IDEA: Northeastern’s Venture Accelerator

This summer I’ve joined IDEA, Northeastern’s venture accelerator. Serving as a coach, I will look after a portfolio of five early-stage start-ups and help develop their business model and share with them my technical expertise. Why did I choose to join IDEA? For a variety of reasons.

IDEA is a truly exciting organization at Northeastern. Founded and managed by students at the university, IDEA has helped over a hundred different ventures develop their business model and increase their likelihood of market success. These ventures, founded by students, alumni and faculty of Northeastern, also have the opportunity of receiving gap funding from IDEA. Last year alone, IDEA gave away $250,000 in gap funding to these young start-ups.

Several of IDEA’s ventures have made their way to the market and are enjoying great success. Northeastern University embodies the entrepreneurial spirit, and IDEA proves that fact. In fact, it is the nation’s only student run venture accelerator. It has even picked up the attention of Forbes Magazine, which featured it in a story here.

In the words of its CEO Max Kaye, IDEA helps “entrepreneurs in three ways—by coaching, connecting, and funding. Every venture receives a coach, who works with the entrepreneurs on the business plan, financials, and go-to-market strategy.”

For more, check out IDEA’s Facebook, their Twitter, and their website.

Joining the Broad Institute

The Broad Institute office

Where I’ll be working for the next six months

It’s been a relaxing and warm two weeks off from school that I’ve spent with my great friends from home. Tomorrow I start my final co-op at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, working alongside some of the world’s prominent genomic and metabolomic scientists. There I’ve been given the incredible opportunity to create software that can power their discoveries. Our ultimate goal is to reach the point in a few years where we can scan a person to see if they are in the very early stages of diseases like diabetes, as well as to pinpoint possible cures or remedies via cell metabolites.

I’ve always dreamed of working some place where my efforts can have an impact on another’s life. Here’s my chance. The terminology is all new to me, the technology is daunting, but motivated and inspired, the only feeling I have is excitement.

Honored as one of the Huntington 100

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This week I was honored to be chosen as one of the Huntington 100 Distinguished Juniors and Seniors. Each year, Northeastern University selects 100 graduating seniors to be given this award “acknowl­edging stu­dents who have excelled in various areas across the university—from research to ath­letics to expe­ri­en­tial learning”. As a recent Northeastern News article explained, “to be con­sid­ered for the Hunt­ington 100, stu­dents had to be nom­i­nated by fac­ulty, staff, coaches, employers, or their peers.” Typically reserved for seniors, this year seven juniors were included in the award, including myself.

I had the pleasure of celebrating this achievement with my colleagues at President Joseph E. Aoun’s house on Beacon Street.

Read more here.

Co-op Experience Published in Northeastern News

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On April 3, 2013, an article was published in the Northeastern News about my recent co-op experience at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The article covers the RVU Tracker application I developed there which measures doctor productivity and incentivizes efficient billing practices and helps tracks the types of shifts doctors work.

The experience I gained working at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, working alongside the Hospitalist Service administrator, Kimberely Reynolds and Dr. Anuj Dalal, MD, has been tremendously valuable. It was the first time I had designed, written, and released my own software application. The tool is in use today to measure the performance and patient interactions of over 100 doctors and is having a significant impact on the fiscal budget of the Hospitalist group. All this responsibility granted to an intern goes a long way to vouch for Northeastern’s unique and world-renowned co-op program. If it were not for the great team at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital that I worked with, this also would not have been possible.

For more on the RVU Tracker, check out my projects page and to read the article by Northeastern News, check out their post.

Business Model Factors for Social Venture Growth

This post is the fifth and final in a series I will be contributing for my Business Model Designs for Social Impact course at Northeastern University. This is the course’s first time being offered and it is taught by Professor Gordon K. Admodza. In this series, I will be publishing my findings on different social innovators and the business models that are allowing their inventions to reach the people most in need. As a class, we define social innovations as sustainable, pro-poor solutions. You can read the other articles in this series here.

The “hockey stick” model for social venture revenue and impact.

As our Business Model Design for Social Impact course comes to an end, we’ve closed off the semester looking into the different ways that a social venture can scale its enterprise and expand its impact to new peoples and places. Scaling (aka expanding) should be seen as the ultimate goal of any social entrepreneur or enterprise that wants to have a meaningful impact on a particular issue. If the product is innovative enough, the company strong enough, or the impact profound enough, a venture is naturally deemed fit to scale. The business model of the venture then must have the necessary components to allow for scaling to happen.

Factors designed in a business plan, such as the structure of the organization, impact measurement procedures, and sources of funding all enable a venture to scale. In the business model canvas pictured and discussed in an earlier blog, these particular factors are covered by the building blocks of the left-hand side: key activities, key partners, and key resources. Impact measurement, for example, is a key activity in the non-profit sector as wealthy donors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation require time and money to be invested in monitoring the efficacy of the programs they support. Similarly, a venture’s organizational structure acts both as a key activity and a key resource. To be a pure and world-renowned non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization, a group must file specific tax forms and provide internal reports to be audited on third-party sites such as Charity Navigator. Besides these key activities that are required of a particular organizational structure, it also acts as a key resource. Possessing a 501(c)(3) legal structure, for example, eliminates taxes and opens the doors to various forms of funding.

Hence, a business model depends on factors like these. Impact investors, a growing segment within the traditional investment markets, actively search for and select organizations to fund that have the potential to scale their enterprise to new locations and greater ambitions. However, the right side of the business model canvas also yields important factors for scaling. For example, factors for adoption of a product (discussed in the first half of the course), which include price, accessibility, and customization, are features of the customer relationships, channels, and revenue streams blocks. In a venture’s business model, steps must be taken to ensure that an offering has these factors of adoption in order to reach the poorest of the poor in the most rural of places.

Launch of Social Enterprise Review Website

Demo of the homepage of the new NU Social Enterprise Review website.

Demo of the homepage of the new NU Social Enterprise Review website.

Today I am proud to announce the launch of the new Northeastern University Social Enterprise Review (SER) website. Managed and written by the smart and globally-conscious students of the Social Enterprise Institute, the SER is a collection of op-ed articles concerning social entrepreneurship (which is most of what I’ve been talking about so far on this blog).

Regularly, new articles written by students at Northeastern will be posted to the website covering important developments in topics such as impact measurement, agriculture and health care advancements in the developing world, microfinance, social-minded business model designs, and governance issues. As of today’s launch, over 40 op-eds are already featured on the website, written by more than 20 different students of varying backgrounds and perspectives.

Working together with the Social Enterprise Institute’s Assistant Director of Programs Esther Chou and Project Manager Caitlin Ferguson, along with graphic designer and Northeastern student Taryn Sadauskas, we put together this website over the past few months. Couldn’t have asked for a better team.

Please check the website out and let us know if you have any feedback regarding the content itself or the website experience! Stay tuned for copies of future printed editions of the SER as well.

Human Centered Design

This post is the fourth in a series I will be contributing for my Business Model Designs for Social Impact course at Northeastern University. This is the course’s first time being offered and it is taught by Professor Gordon K. Admodza. In this series, I will be publishing my findings on different social innovators and the business models that are allowing their inventions to reach the people most in need. As a class, we define social innovations as sustainable, pro-poor solutions. You can read the other articles in this series here.

The Human Centered Design (HCD) toolkit, developed by IDEO and funded by the International Development Enterprise (IDE) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helps give direction to aspiring social entrepreneurs. Readers are taught different strategies and best practices to effectively hear, create and deliver their social innovations.

In my Business Model Designs for Social Impact course at Northeastern University, we are using the HCD toolkit and the hear-create-deliver process to guide us in our consulting project for the semester: aiding a clean water filtration and sanitation project based in Western Africa. The organization is in need of a short-term cash infusion to help expand their production facilities and subsidize the cost of the life-saving water filters they sell to local villagers.

As a team, particular points of the HCD toolkit have been particularly helpful. Step 2 of the Hear section tells us to “recognize existing knowledge” or to think back to our individual experiences to help brainstorm possible solutions. With Project Plus One (PP1), we try to raise funds to support a health clinic in Timor-Leste, and do so by applying for specific grants or seeking partnerships with existing NGOs. Just thinking about the existing knowledge I had in this sector by working with PP1 helped come up with two different “customer segments” to raise money for the water project: grants/foundations and NGO partnerships.

Within the Create phase of the HCD process, we are learning how to use analysis frameworks to design solutions. With our project, we’ve identified five different customer segments for fund-raising (government agencies, NGO partnerships, foundations and grants, individuals and families, and corporate sponsors) and now must decide which of these is the best option for the clean water organization to pursue for funding. So many qualitative and quantitative factors come into consideration here. Here we use the HCD’s two-by-two matrix framework to help consider all points. We can plot our five customer segments across two different axis: the potential revenue available within the segment and the expected costs in order to tap into this segment (as even fundraising costs money). When the data is gathered and this two-by-two framework is complete, we can visualize how the different segments compare against each other and go move forward including qualitative factors into our decision.

Similarities Between Social Enterprises and For-Profits

This post is the third in a series I will be contributing for my Business Model Designs for Social Impact course at Northeastern University. This is the course’s first time being offered and it is taught by Professor Gordon K. Admodza. In this series, I will be publishing my findings on different social innovators and the business models that are allowing their inventions to reach the people most in need. As a class, we define social innovations as sustainable, pro-poor solutions. You can read the other articles in this series here.

The Business Model Canvas, designed by Alexander Osterwalder, helps businesses and even social enterprises frame their business models. Click the image to zoom in.

Social enterprises are quickly definable as businesses with social good in mind. However, unlike most 501(c)3 not-for-profit companies, social enterprises operate with a business mindset. The Aravind Eye Care System and the Grameen Bank (I touched upon them in an earlier post), are examples of such enterprises — they work to support the poor but also do so while generating incredible revenues and profits. 

In order to become a highly effective social enterprise, the company as a whole must adopt a business mindset. Social enterprises, like any typical for-profit business, regularly and thoroughly study their cost structures and revenue streams (pictured above in the bottom portion of Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas). Breaking even is, after all, what keeps a business financially sustainable and for both for-profits and social enterprises, effective strategy in these segments is what will make or break you.

For-profits and social enterprises both also work extensively on their key partner relationships. Good partners can provide investment capital and valuable business-to-business services. In the social enterprise space, it is especially important to have the right partners. Oftentimes, you are attempting to penetrate undeveloped markets in foreign countries, and like any corporation, you need to have the right partners to support your understanding of the area so you can design and market your value proposition effectively.