Innovating Health: An Interview with Dr. Martin Klein


Dr. Martin Klein—who graduated from the Yale School of Public Health in ’86—is committed to making social impact using the principles of entrepreneurship. Last week, I sat down with Dr. Martin Klein to learn more about his most recent venture, InnovateHealth Yale, a program that aims to promote health and prevent disease.  During our interview, Dr. Klein emphasized the importance of following the fires that burn within each of us saying, “If it is something that speaks to you, that you are passionate about, that you are driven to achieve, then you should pursue it.”

What made you decide to create InnovateHealth Yale? And how would you describe it?

One of my roles is development for the Yale School of Public Health; I raise funds from individuals, corporations, and foundations. In the course of my travels, I met a fair number of Yale College alumni who had been successful business people, but as a second act, had decided to create ventures that were focused on social impact and social entrepreneurship. I recognized that this was a really important and powerful tool for promoting health and achieving equity. I thought it was something we should have here with a focus on health. Last year, I created InnovateHealth Yale to serve as a platform and a home for students who are interested in improving and expanding health using the means of entrepreneurship.

InnovateHealth Yale really consists of four pieces: we sponsor workshops and speakers focused on areas related to social entrepreneurship and health; we support summer internships for Yale College students and students at the School of Public Health; we are working with the School of Management to develop a course on innovation and health and are external partner is going to be the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation; and the fourth piece is the Thorne Prize—a $25,000 award that serves as seed capital for the best project or product or device that focuses on improving health in either underserved communities in the US, or resource-poor countries around the world. We do what we do by working closely with a number of partners here at Yale who are involved in entrepreneurship including: the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, the Center for Business and Environment at Yale, the Center of Engineering and Design, the Entrepreneurship Program at School of Management. The real reason behind our success is because we have had such willing partners and collaborators at Yale.

How do you think health and disease prevention, entrepreneurship, and innovation are connected?

I think that no one sector of the groups that are focused on health can achieve results that we should consider comprehensive in and of themselves. So you have the government sector—you have nine government organizations—and you have the business environment and business companies, but none have all the tools or the resources they need. But if you combine them, working with them to develop methods of improving health that utilize their various strengths and capacities, you can achieve something greater and more important than each of them working individually. Entrepreneurship can take the best of each of their individual efforts, combine them, and achieve and improve results.

Why is social entrepreneurship and innovation critical to the advancement of healthcare, and health in general?

Innovation is critical in every segment whether it is business, health, or the environment. We need to think of new and different ways to achieve the results that we want to achieve. That is not to say that the things that we are doing are not important, but we need to innovate in all sectors, and health is no different in that sense than any other sector that we want to make changes in. Innovation is critical to want we want to do and as an educational institution we have a special obligation to make sure that we train our students not only in the skills that they will need to be successful, but also to think in different ways about how to utilize those skills.

How do students play a role in InnovateHealth Yale?

Everything that we do is focused on students. There really isn’t a research component or other traditional academic component; everything we do is designed to serve students. Internships, speakers, the prize, courses, it is all student-centric. I am very careful in terms of any commitments or partnerships that I make, such that the end result is going to provide students with a better experience and more resources around social entrepreneurship and health.

Can you tell me more about the Thorne Prize for Social Innovation? And what would you advise students who are interested in starting their own venture but don’t know where to begin?

The Thorne prize is a $25,000 award designed to serve as seed capital for projects. Either to get a project going and off the ground, or, if there is something already exists, to help it achieve the next level. Last year, we had a general introductory session and a website with application material. Reading the application material gives a very good sense of what you need in order to be successful. However, this year we are going to have a mixer with students who are interested in the prize. Those students who have ideas can connect with students who are looking for ideas, and students who are curious can be part of it. We are also going to have at least one session where we facilitate students meeting and identifying projects they want to work on. We are also going to put information on the website and hold a session on the seven steps that students need to take in order to develop a successful proposal. This will provide students with a social entrepreneurship “checklist” in order to have a competitive Thorne prize application.

Lastly, do you think there is a strong social entrepreneurship scene at Yale?

Yale has a long tradition of being engaged in the community and thinking about social issues. It also has a strong tradition of entrepreneurship. By combining the two, Yale students’ commitment to social change and entrepreneurship on campus will result in social entrepreneurship expanding. We know now that the Yale Entrepreneurship Institute has a social entrepreneur in residence. The Yale School of Management has a long-standing program in social enterprises. There is also a new program in Entrepreneurship in the School of Management, and as part of that they are going to be launching programs and courses in social impact. We have a lot happening on campus, and we are grateful to play a part in the overall environment of social entrepreneurship growth. We want to have our role focused on health and social entrepreneurship and we are thrilled that there is a growing momentum and interest in entrepreneurship and in social entrepreneurship. A rising tide lifts all boats and we are happy to be one of those boats.

Ammar Alkhouli

Ammar Alkhouli is a freshman in Davenport majoring in Chemical Engineering. Outside of Yale Entrepreneur, he is on the board of the Arab Student Association and a consultant for the Yale Undergraduate Consulting Group. He is also a huge foodie, a scuba diver, and a part-time bathroom singer

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