2019 Best & Brightest MBAs: Joanna Nathan, Rice University (Jones)

Joanna Nathan

Jones Graduate School of Business, Rice University

“Passionate innovator, community organizer, you-CAN-have-it-all mom and wife.”

Hometown: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Fun fact about yourself: I once came face to face with a rogue bull elephant — animals that are usually evicted from the herd for being unpredictable or violent — and survived to tell the tale. When I was 12, I was visiting my cousins in Zimbabwe and we were driving around a national park in an open top jeep. When we encountered the elephant, he came over to my side of the jeep, sniffed the top of my head with his trunk, shook the dust off his back, and thankfully, walked away. Thus began my tenure of staying calm and composed in high-risk situations!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Rice University – B.S. in Bioengineering (2011), Master’s in Bioengineering (2012)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Saranas, a cardiology medical device startup – Director of Product Development

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Mercury Fund, an early stage venture capital fund targeting tech innovation in the U.S. midcontinent – Venture Fellow

Where will you be working after graduation? Johnson & Johnson, Center for Device Innovation – Manager, New Ventures

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Jones Student Association President. I was elected by my classmates to represent them before the administration, faculty, and staff. The purpose of the Jones Student Association (JSA) is to maximize student access and opportunities, optimize learning, and ultimately, increase the value of the Rice MBA. I got to participate in this by leading a board that worked on initiatives that ranged from developing a Technology Concentration to launching formal mentorship programs between class years, to creating opportunities for alumni-to-student engagement.

Lead Communications Fellow. I worked with the Director of Communications, Professor Janet Moore, and my co-lead fellow Zach Anderson, to coordinate and train a group of Communications Fellows, who provided feedback and coaching to new students.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Through my role as student body president, I developed a new initiative called Launch Leaders to engage second years in the welcoming and orientation of new students. Close to a third of my class chose to give their time to this effort and attended or organized various mentoring and networking events during orientation week.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? When I was fresh out of my master’s program and was struggling to find the path to medical entrepreneurship, I realized others in the community would benefit from more guidance as well. So some entrepreneurial friends and I got together to form the non-profit Enventure, focused on empowering the next generation of medical entrepreneurs. We have grown from a small group of graduate students to gain over 1,500 members, launch six startups, and train dozens of new entrepreneurs.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My core finance professor, Alan Crane. Professor Crane had a way of keeping the class engaged and excited about finance even during the most complex topics. He was able to distill complicated concepts down to memorable moments in class such as the “covariance dance.” His class is what inspired me to pursue a concentration in finance, a topic I did not anticipate would fascinate me.

What was your favorite MBA Course? Healthcare Innovation & Entrepreneurship. This was a multi-disciplinary course that included Rice MBAs, Rice engineers, and Baylor College of Medicine physicians. Through this course, I founded a startup focused on improving the speculum used in fertility treatments and gynecologic oncology procedures. Our device aims to make the OB/GYN visit a more comfortable experience.

Why did you choose this business school? The Rice MBA combines academic rigor and small class size with an incredibly diverse and collaborative community. Having gone to Rice undergrad, I knew that Rice business would provide a unique, tailored experience without sacrificing access to opportunities.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Don’t be afraid to be a nerd. We love nerds.

What is the biggest myth about your school? That Rice Business is exclusively focused on energy. While there are definitely many energy opportunities, I found the course offerings and opportunities in entrepreneurship, healthcare, and technology to rival those of many of the other top programs I visited.

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? I wish I had known how much the business school experience is about the people in your class. I had, of course, heard that the network is a large part of the value of the degree, but what I didn’t realize is that I would find lifelong friends who will continue to be my sounding board long after graduation.

Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you?  First, I not only studied the theory of leadership but, through my extracurricular activities, have been able to put it into practice as a peer mentor, coach, and leader.

Second, as my son went from infant to toddler during business school, I had to truly learn the work/life balancing act.

Finally, through my organizational behavior classes, I’ve learned what it takes to be a good people manager. I’ve already been able to put this into practice by changing hiring and performance review processes at my internships.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Taher Lokhandwala is unrivaled in his pursuit of excellence. Both in the classroom and in his role as curriculum chair to the Jones Student Association, he strives to meet a higher and higher bar. Taher has worked closely with the administration and faculty to revamp our curriculum to offer more technology courses, reflecting our student body’s rising focus on the technology industry. He constantly encourages those around him to consider the other’s perspective, making Rice Business a more inclusive and better place.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I hadn’t always planned to pursue a business degree. It wasn’t until I entered the workforce as a young woman that I realized a business degree could help me level the playing field in a male-dominated industry. So essentially, the workforce itself helped me make my decision.

What is your favorite movie about business? 12 Angry Men– Influence and persuasion is everything.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? BATNA- Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…starting a med device company.”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? Thanks to the generous scholarships available through Rice, I paid very little out of pocket, so the ROI is almost infinite.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

1. Spend 2-3 months exploring Madagascar – the land of my favorite animal, the lemur

2. Meet Beyoncé

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you?

That I work to make sure no one gets left behind — whether in healthcare, in my community or otherwise.

Hobbies? Travel, hosting (love to cook up big meals with my husband), and music (making or attending)

What made Joanna such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

“A career in academia is one of the surest ways to stay hopeful about the future. Year-after-year, especially at highly selective schools, we get the opportunity to know truly remarkable students. Even by our high standards, some prove to be just the ones you expect to one day have an outsized impact on the world. It’s not always easy or straightforward to identify the most capable leaders, but every few years the ‘aha’ moment is clear and undeniable. Last year, the first time I met Joanna Nathan, was one of those ‘aha’ moments.

Joanna fits Rice’s academic culture as if she was sent directly from central casting. She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in bioengineering from Rice, earned two patents while an undergraduate, and has engaged in an impressive set of research experiences with renowned scientists and institutions. But, for some high achievers, a full plate is never quite full enough.

Somewhere in the midst of all the study, research and activity Joanna caught the entrepreneurship bug and began on a path that lead her to an MBA at Rice and, eventually, onto whatever wonderful path is next. Joanna started an entrepreneurship non-profit, Enventure, straight out of university and operated it while working at Nanolinea, a cardiology medical device startup that used nanofibers to prevent arrhythmia. She next took on the grittier tasks of growth at Saranas, another cardiology medical device startup where she was director of business development and director of product development.

At Rice, Joanna dived in with such enthusiasm you’d have thought there were two of her. Early on in a few meetings, she showed great leadership skills and was keen to make real change. Joanna is momentum personified, a trait which has made her a remarkably impactful president of our business school’s student association. Beyond that, I don’t think Joanna has ever said no to an opportunity to speak up for or raise the profile of the school. She’s an institution builder of the first order and full-time mom too. Joanna’s future looks as promising as ever. She’s spent a half year as a fellow with an early stage venture capital firm targeting tech innovation in the U.S. mid-continent and another half year, so far, a business development intern at the Johnson and Johnson Center for Device Innovation. Rarely do I see the pieces of a bright future come together so nicely as they are for Joanna, but it makes perfect sense that they would for someone so driven, balanced and capable.

Thank you for the opportunity to recommend Joanna Nathan as a nominee for the 100 Best and Brightest MBAs and for recognizing students like her at top MBA programs everywhere. Joanna has been a terrific contributor all around Rice and has contributed mightily to the quality of our full-time MBA program. We are delighted to see Joanna flourish as she charts the course she so ambitiously undertook when she first entered Rice just over a decade ago.”

Peter Rodriguez


Jones Graduate School of Business, Rice University



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