Wong Auditorium was packed on the first Friday of June as attendees of MIT Sloan Reunion 2023 settled in for three Ideas Made to Matter talks from Fernando Goldsztein, SF ’03, Aagya Mathur, MBA ’18, and Jean Su, SF ’03. Sree Koka, EMBA ’13, emeritus chair of the MIT Sloan Alumni Board, introduced all three speakers with the perfect mixture of sincerity and humor.
The first of the talks came from Goldsztein, founder of the Medulloblastoma Initiative. He spoke briefly of his own cancer diagnosis in 2004 and subsequent recovery, before moving on to discuss how his son was diagnosed with an even more rare and dangerous cancer, medulloblastoma, in 2015 and, despite treatment, relapsed in 2019.
While Goldsztein was navigating his son’s diagnosis, he learned that 35% of kids treated for medulloblastoma relapsed and no procedure was available to them at that point. Due to a lack of research, there was nothing else his son’s care team could offer his family. It was then that Goldsztein began to speak with pediatric neurologist Roger Packer, whom he described as his “strongest ally” regarding what he could do to boost research on medulloblastoma, and after their conversation, he decided to make his own donation.
“Not if, but when we find the cure for this disease, I’m going to dedicate myself to the next one and the next one. So, for pediatric brain cancer, that’s going to be the goal of my life. And I’d like to leave a message here that, although we are in the business school, life is not all about accumulating assets. We all have to do good ... We all have to do something to help other people.”
Su, co-founder of Broadvision Pictures, admitted she was not initially certain why she had been invited to speak on the Ideas Made to Matter stage, but eventually realized that “MIT Sloan is always at the forefront of innovation, entrepreneurship, and reinvention, and that includes reinventing oneself.”
Indeed, Su has had an unconventional career. A simple project with her partner to remodel their unfinished basement led to them starting a company to import German awnings into North America. Despite the financial crisis of 2008, they were determined to make the company work, and after shifting their approach, they were granted exclusive rights for North America and the Caribbean before deciding to sell the company and semi-retire to Napa Valley.
Napa Valley didn’t hold them for long. They submitted and won two entries to the pitch contest at the Napa Valley Film Festival. This, too, snowballed, and they eventually moved to Los Angeles and co-founded Broadvision Pictures. There have been numerous successes and setbacks, yet Su has stayed resolute on her path, no matter how unconventional.
“What kept me going in this crazy industry is that every time I felt lost, something positive happened. When we didn’t have hope, seeds we sowed earlier sprouted. When there’s hope there is a way forward. As our stories are about humanity, as long as humans are around, stories like ours will be told,” said Su. “Even though we have limited time, we have unlimited imaginations, especially if we continue taking the roads less traveled.”
Mathur, co-founder and CEO of Aavia, a daily ovarian hormone health app, opened her talk by telling everyone in the audience that, for her entire life, people withheld information from her.
Specifically, she was never informed about the fact that, in addition to their 24-hour daily circadian rhythm, people with ovarian hormones also have a 25-to-35-day cycle that impacts their quality of sleep, quality of muscle toning, energy level, sex drive, skin, mental health, and mood. Once she learned this, Mathur found herself wondering what she would have done differently during the first two decades of her life if she had known.
Mathur and her co-founders are using Aavia to build a world in which people are fully informed about their health and their ovarian cycles in the ways they wish they could have been. Even once people learn that their ovarian hormones impact them, they do not have the tools to act on that knowledge—only questions they do not know how to answer. Aavia can track health indicators and provide suggestions to users, and is creating a community of “members and medical experts who are sharing stories together and laughing together.”
“Some of them are also crying together,” said Mathur, “but most of all, they’re supporting one another through their journeys.”
Mathur emphasized that, “With education, with community, and with technology, we’re really helping our members reduce their stress levels and maximize their confidence with their health journey.”