Karen Wu

Co-Founder & President

Lucerna

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, EA Creative shifted our Women's History Month post for this week.  We reached out to our colleague and collaborator Karen Wu, Co-Founder & President of Lucerna. She has a PhD in Pharmacology and runs her own lab developing tools to fight diseases.

EA Creative: Where do you work and what is your current role there?


Karen Wu: I am the co-founder and President of Lucerna, Inc. Lucerna is an early-stage biotech company devoted to developing new research and drug discovery tools to help scientists study and cure RNA-based diseases. RNA is one of the three major biomolecules in our bodies (along with DNA and protein) and dysfunction in RNA can cause major diseases such as cancer, brain degeneration, and viral infection. For example: Ebola, hepatitis C, influenza, and COVID-19 are all RNA viruses.


EA Creative: You work in one of the industries which the world is leaning on right now with the pandemic. Does this impact the day to day of your company?


Karen Wu: Unfortunately, we are not one of the companies that can immediately contribute since we are not in diagnostics. But this pandemic does shed light to where the unmet medical needs are. Lucerna will now more aggressively pursue the several active research projects we had on developing new high-throughput screening platforms that can accelerate new antiviral drug development. So, when another viral pandemic comes around, we will either already have a drug against it or we can develop cures much faster.


EA Creative: How are women critical to solving this pandemic?


Karen Wu: I don’t want to generalize but I read somewhere that most of the healthcare professionals on the front lines are female nurses and care providers. They really are the wall between us and an uncontrollable national crisis. But, in addition to them, innovative science requires nonstop creativity. Women can provide different perspectives that can help fuel creativity and accelerate medical breakthroughs.

EA Creative: Tell us a defining moment in your career which led to your role.


Karen Wu: Near the end of my postdoctoral training, I saw a poster for a startup pitch competition sponsored by Columbia Business School. At the time I was exploring alternative careers in science so, on a whim, I put together a business plan and entered the competition to pitch the idea of an iPhone-based universal language translation app. To my surprise, I made it all the way to the finalist round! This experience taught me that my training as a scientist is quite suitable for the planning and starting of a new business. So, when I was ready, I started Lucerna with my thesis advisor on a topic that I studied my whole career, RNA.

EA Creative: When was a time in your career where it was clear that being a woman made your job more difficult? Are there any times it was easier?


Karen Wu: In the world of biotech, especially in a leadership position, I often find myself as one of the few women in the room. I always feel the pressure to represent my gender well - be confident, do not make mistakes, know how to lead, know how to innovate – so that I can keep the door open for the next woman. This is especially hard since I don’t have a business background and RNA is still an emerging scientific field.


On the other hand, being one of the few women in the room also means that people remember you. This made growing my network easier…once I got into the room. There were a lot of mentoring initiatives and business incentives which I was able to take advantage of, and many people (men and women) who were interested in promoting women leaders. So I guess I would say the knife cuts both ways.

EA Creative: Who is an historic or living woman which has inspired you?


Karen Wu: Marie Curie of course! To achieve what she did in the late 1800s, and to have such a lasting impact, her legacy speaks for itself. As for a living woman, I would say Dr. Lorraine Gudas. She is the Dean of Pharmacology at Weill Cornell University, where I completed my PhD. Lorraine was the first woman I met who runs her own lab, a large graduate program, and later a biotech spin-off. I remember saying to myself upon meeting her when I just started graduate school, if she can do it so can I. Belying her accomplishments, Lorraine is so down to earth and encouraging. She is a true role model in every sense.


EA Creative: Is there something you would say to your younger self?


Karen Wu: Stop worrying about the future so much. Things happen for a reason and it will be okay. I should remember to tell my current self this as well.


EA Creative: What haven’t we asked you that we should and what would your answer be?


Karen Wu: As the chief executive of Lucerna, how do I know how to lead my company to get it to where it needs to be? I don’t ever know for sure. I agonize over this a lot. But I have learned to just do my best, have a thick skin, be transparent, and hope for the best.


To learn more about Karen and keep up with Lucerna, follow the links below.

www.linkedin.com/in/karen-wu-0043275/

lucernatechnologies.com





Fiz Olajide

Managing Director

Lonelyleap

EA Creative collaborated with a member of Chief, Sandhya Jain-Patel, for a round of questions with women in leadership positions who are making history today.

Sandhya Jain-Patel: What was a defining moment in your career that has led to your current role?


Fiz Olajide: Starting off as a film producer, I would regularly work on video campaigns where racially insensitive creative decisions were being made and the casting of talent didn’t feel reflective of the real world. There was a moment when working on a video project for a cruise line, the client wanted us to cast couples with diverse backgrounds, I suggested a dark skinned couple and I remember people around the room said the ‘look’ wasn’t right and they ended up choosing a much lighter skinned couple. It was intimidating to speak up as a junior member of the team, so I knew then the only way to change this narrative was to be a decision maker. I knew I had to focus on getting to the top where I would be heard and be in a position to challenge people in examining their implicit biases.

Sandhya: When was a time in your career where it was clear that being a woman made your job more difficult?


Fiz: Clients are used to seeing males as lead creatives and directors while the females are oftentimes account managers or project managers. In our New York office, all of our creatives are actually female. Our work portfolio is strong, but we know as soon as we step into the room, we have to work at 200% to get the full buy in that yes, who you see in the room is the creative team behind the work they love, and yes we have the talent to execute to a very high standard.

Sandhya: Have you had a mentor who has helped you in your career? How have you been able to do the same for others?


Fiz: I am blessed to have two badass female mentors who advise me as I progress in my career, encourage me to step out of my comfort, and hold me accountable. One longtime mentor is Stella Onuorah who has been in the advertising industry for many years. We worked together at MTV in London over 10 years ago and currently she heads up a group at British broadcaster Channel 4. I am always inspired by her personal and professional journey, there are not many black women in London doing what she does at a high level with so much vibrancy, creativity, and knowledge of the industry.

I know how important it is to give back and ladder down, so I am honored to be a part of Soho House’s Soho Impact initiative for 2020, where I currently mentor a young female who is incredibly talented and finding her way as a photographer and cinematographer. I get so much out of being able to support the next generation of talent.

Sandhya: Who is a historic woman that has inspired you?


Fiz: I am inspired by Bozoma Saint John who is a black female marketing executive. I love that she is unapologetically herself, an African woman who is fearless, bold and speaks in her authentic voice.


Sandhya: Is there something you would say to your younger self?


Fiz: I would say to my younger self that all my instincts are 100% right. It’s not ok that I’m not a part of the conversation, it’s not cool that gender biases exist, but it will change. Keep pushing, keep being hungry, and don’t be afraid to speak up because In 20 years the wheels will start to turn.

To learn more about Fiz and keep up with Lonelyleap, follow the links below.

www.linkedin.com/in/fiz-olajide/

lonelyleap.com/





Michelle Ferguson

Founding Member of Chief

Throughout the month of March EA Creative is collaborating with a member of Chief, Sandhya Jain-Patel, for a round of questions with women in leadership positions who are making history today.

Sandhya Jain-Patel: What was a defining moment in your career which led to your current industry and role?


Michelle Ferguson: In March 2003, I was at a male colleague's retirement party speaking with two women and realized we were the only women in the room of at least 100 people … other than his wife. I decided that I needed to do something to ensure there were more women in senior leadership positions.

Sandhya: When was a time in your career where it was clear that being a woman made your job more difficult?  Are there any times it was easier?


Michelle: It was certainly hard being a working mom with sole responsibility for my sons.  There were times I had to bring them into the office to work on weekends or holidays.  The only time it was easier was when I founded the women's organization at McGraw Hill (WINS) in January 2004, and launched the mentoring programming in July of the same year. Both initiatives allowed me to connect closely with other women at all levels. I called it my "work/work balance," as my time with those women gave me a break from stressful work days.

Sandhya: Have you had a mentor or sponsor who has helped you in your career, and how did they do that? How have you been able to do the same for someone else?


Michelle: I've never had a mentor, but plenty of people (mostly men) helped me along the way.  I am a serial mentor with many formal and informal mentees; I've benefitted from those relationships.  It's a great way to learn about other industries, cultures and functions.  I'm the co-founder of a successful mentoring program at S&P Global which has had thousands of participants globally.

Sandhya: Who is a historic or living woman that has inspired you?


Michelle: Gloria Steinem. She's the trailblazer for the advancement/protection of women.  I had the honor to sit on a panel with her in March 2012 and hear her speak; she's smart, compassionate, funny and energetic.

Sandhya: Is there something you would say to your younger self?


Michelle: Take care of yourself once in a while.


Sandhya: What are you proudest of?


Michelle: Raising my sons on my own. They are wonderful men; fabulous husbands and fathers with successful careers in Financial Services.


To learn more about Michelle and keep up with Chief, follow the links below.

linkedin.com/michelleferguson1

Chief