MIN JUNG & SANAYA RAU
Andrea is a biologist, design strategist, and public health practitioner with an extensive career designing human-centered products and services in the healthcare sector. She graduated with an MPH from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at UofT. Andrea is the CEO and founder of Luna Design and Innovation, a Toronto-based startup that helps biotech companies plan missions to space. Luna’s goal is to advance health for humanity so people can lead full, healthy, and purposeful lives in space and on Earth. Luna is a channel partner for Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital reusable vehicle, focusing on global biotech and Canadian payload opportunities.
- You are a design strategist, scientist and public health practitioner. How do these three roles intersect to create meaningful change?
Having a blend of skills and experiences across creative design and the sciences has helped me navigate and address complex problems. The sciences taught me rigorous evidence-based approaches to problem-solving, public health taught me how to create systems level impact on people’s lives, and design taught me to empathically co-create with and for people. Of course, that’s just a snapshot of what I’ve learned, but I love that I’ve gained different perspectives and ways of thinking from each of these worlds. It’s this tension that has helped me become a better designer and entrepreneur. Whatever I’m creating, I’m reminded to design at different scales: from the user to the business and to broader society. I’ve used journey mapping as a tool to help me understand and re-design mental health services at a Canadian university. My frontline experience as a health promoter has also been invaluable in informing the way I’ve designed instructional materials for healthcare professionals within the pharma industry. I’m grateful that my experience through these roles has enabled me to be a more holistic and reflexive practitioner.
2. How has your design approach to creating human-centered experiences for advancing public health changed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic? Do you think that the public health design landscape will be fundamentally changed post-pandemic?
COVID-19 has been a humbling reminder of what it means to put people at the center of the design process. The pandemic has disrupted all aspects of people’s financial, social, political, economic, emotional, mental, and physical lives. It will have far-reaching consequences well beyond my lifetime. The past year has forced me to re-examine whose voices do and do not get privileged in the design process – whether that’s the design of policies, social systems, products, etc. It has reminded me to be mindful and intentional about who gets to participate in the design of our pandemic and post-pandemic lives. It has also served as a stark reminder of the importance of empathy in our public health response. Empathizing with those who are directly affected by COVID-19 can help us understand why and how we have a shared responsibility to protect each other from the virus.
I hope that more creative collaborations across industries and institutions emerge from the pandemic in order to accelerate new products, services, and strategies that advance human health and wellbeing. I also hope that this experience demonstrates the essential role an evidence-based, coordinated and robust public health system plays in our everyday lives and especially during a pandemic.
3. Tell us about Phase AI, and why you felt a passion and responsibility to create this platform.
Phase AI is a community for data professionals to connect, learn and advance their careers. I started Phase with my co-founder, Wojciech Gryc, in September 2020. As researchers and scientists at heart, we noticed that many people were reaching out to us during the pandemic to get help upskilling and finding data science jobs. Data science as a profession is still emerging and fluid, making it a challenging field to find the right jobs and opportunities to grow. The response we received for Phase AI was overwhelmingly positive and validated the fact that we were filling a real gap in the industry. Within a couple of months, the community grew to over 1,500 members and we’ve helped job seekers land roles. Our content is free and we offer a data job board that is updated daily and webinars from data leaders across North America from companies like Microsoft and Betterment. We are growing the community in 2021 and welcome new members to join us on phaseai.com.
4. Luna Design and Innovation Inc. helps biotechnology companies plan research missions to space. Why is it important for biotech and pharma companies to be involved in space exploration, and what are the implications for healthy living on Earth?
At Luna we see space as a research platform that can be leveraged to solve healthcare problems here on Earth. As space research becomes more affordable and accessible, there is a growing opportunity for companies to leverage microgravity as a unique environment for biotech and pharma research. Microgravity or weightlessness is a unique attribute of space-based environments that enables scientists to observe phenomena that are not possible on Earth. While weightless, there is no stress or strain from externally applied contact forces that resist the acceleration of gravity. The observations we make in space-based environments can disrupt and challenge how we understand disease areas, therapeutics, and biological systems here on the ground. For instance, novel gene pathways are activated in organisms in microgravity, leading to new opportunities for improving our understanding of epigenetics and underlying cell mechanisms. Moreover, the process of designing a space experiment – from a lab bench on Earth to a compact payload in space – in itself encourages scientists to consider their research from a new perspective, optimizing for safety, sustainability, and cost-efficiencies. In the next decade, the companies that will displace the existing major biotech and pharma players are the ones who are making big bets on space. We believe that space should and will become a key part of every biotech company’s innovation strategy, and that these companies need to start building their capability for space-based research today in order to be competitive at it 10 years from now.
5. Many of our readers are university students. What is your advice to young people who, like yourself, are passionate about intersecting areas of health, but are unsure about how to fit the puzzle pieces together?
It was up to me to fit the puzzle pieces together. There was no perfect job or role that would tie my interests and skills together for me, so I had to create these opportunities for myself. When I decided to enter aerospace, the advice I consistently received was to go back to school to become an aerospace engineer, become a US citizen (for regulatory reasons), or try again in a few years once my skill set would become more “relevant”. However, I found my own hack into the industry by leveraging my design skills: I created a journey map illustrating the experience of the commercial astronaut and shared this with major aerospace companies who were preparing to send everyday customers to space and enter new markets, and I got their attention. I closed contracts with launch providers and built out my company, Luna. Creating my own path forward was challenging yet incredibly fulfilling. It accelerated my growth and maturity as a leader and enabled me to work on what I cared most about. I’d encourage folks to find their own way to “hack” the system and create their own opportunities.