Student innovators recognized on Forbes list
Since posting our original story about the Yale affiliates on Forbes magazine’s 2021 “30 Under 30” list, we’ve learned that another current Yale student, David Dellal, a third-year doctoral student at the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and several other Yale alumni also made the list of top young innovators and entrepreneurs. We regret that we missed them in our first story, and have updated the original piece.
Four current Yale students and more than a dozen recent alumni were named to Forbes magazine’s annual “30 Under 30” list, which recognizes some 600 individuals under the age of 30 who are innovators and leaders in a range of fields.
Anna Zhang, a Yale College sophomore, Nyuol Lueth Tong, a doctoral candidate in comparative literature at the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, Max Jordan Nguemeni Tiako, a fourth-year student at the Yale School of Medicine, and David Dellal, a doctoral candidate in biomedical engineering at the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, were chosen from thousands of nominees for the honor.
“They are proof positive that ambition and innovation can’t be quarantined,” said Forbes of the leaders, scientists, artists, and entrepreneurs selected for this year’s list.
Each year Forbes selects up to 30 enterprising young people in 20 categories: entertainment; social media; media; education; finance; sports; venture capital; energy; art and style; enterprise technology; music; healthcare; manufacturing and industry; science; games; retail and commerce; food and drink; social impact; consumer technology; and marketing and advertising. They are considered by judges in a three-tier process that includes the nominees answering an in-depth questionnaire.
Zhang, 19, was chosen in the art and style category for her contributions as a photographer, designer, and creative director, and is among the youngest honorees (the youngest are 15). Tong was recognized in the media category for bringing the voices of immigrants and refugees to the world’s attention in a literary journal he co-founded. Tiako is among the individuals cited in the healthcare category for his research and writing on health disparities and for a podcast he devotes to that topic.
While their names may not yet be familiar to many, Forbes called the young innovators “top guns” whose work will “define the next decade.”
Tong launched the award-winning journal with two friends, David Owen and Ellen Namakaokealoha, and balances his work on the journal with his own studies at Yale, where he is a third-year Ph.D. student. He is also the editor of “There is a Country” (2013), the first-ever anthology of short fiction from South Sudan, and of a collection of stories by immigrant and refugee writers called “In Their Faces a Landmark: Stories of Movement and Displacement” (2018).
A refugee himself, Tong came to the United States at the age of 15 from Egypt; earlier, his family had fled to Egypt from South Sudan during that country’s civil war. He began writing in refugee camps, creating plays about biblical stories and other subjects. “Writing for me felt like a way of being, a way of seeing beyond the limits of what I was dealing with, and was also a way of discovery,” said Tong.
At the University of Cairo, during a writing workshop for refugee children, Tong met an American professor who eventually encouraged him to attend the Dunn School, a boarding school in California, on a scholarship. Tong went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at Duke University and an M.F.A. at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
In 2017, Tong was inspired to create The Bare Life Review in response to the Trump administration’s immigration policies, and his sense that immigrants and refugees were being “demonized” by those policies.
“It made people like me, and David and Ellen, want to do something to celebrate the brilliance of these communities,” Tong said. “Refugees and immigrants are not aliens; they are and always have been a part of the American story… This is what is beautiful about America.”
The Bare Review publishes works by established and award-winning writers and those new to the craft.
While studying at Yale, Tong is working on his own novel and has served as a fellow at The Yale Review.
Tong said he was humbled to appear on the Forbes list in “such an inspiring company of young people.” He added: “It is also encouraging, a vote of confidence that our project is worthwhile and others identify with its relevance and objectives.”
Max Jordan Nguemeni Tiako, who is completing his final year of medical school, studies and writes about health equity, marginalized populations, and racism in healthcare. He also hosts the podcast “Flip the Script,”which brings those same topics to the attention of thousands of listeners.
A native of Yaounde, Cameroon, he came to the U.S. when he was 16, and earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from Howard University and a master’s degree in bioengineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. While at Georgia Tech, he became interested in pursuing a medical career. In medical school, he started writing a column called “White Coat and a Hoodie” for “In Training,” a peer-reviewed publication for medical students. The name for his column, he said, came about because of his love for hooded sweatshirts and the “comfort they provide,” he said.
He credits his education at Howard for raising his awareness of racial and social inequalities, and Yale, particularly his adviser Marcella Nunez-Smith, for deepening his focus on health inequities among people and communities of color. (Nunez-Smith, an associate professor of internal medicine, public health, and management, was recently tapped to lead a White House task force dedicated to health equity.)
“In medical school, we are taught about health disparities but not always with the most context or nuance,” said Tiako. “That’s the gap I was hoping to fill with ‘Flip the Script.’ I felt like a lot of the mechanisms behind health disparities were not well explained or understood.”
Tiako records the podcast in a home studio; guests have included health professionals, historians, anthropologists, and community health care workers, among others. He has covered such topics as the relationship between Yale New Haven Hospital and the Hill neighborhood of New Haven where it is located, disparities in opioid treatment, and abusive medical experimentation on Black people, among many others.
“It gives me joy to use the podcast as a platform to amplify other scientists, scholars, and public health experts and to reach an audience I never thought I could reach.”
Taiko was just published for the first time in the Journal of the American Medical Association, detailing his research about the prevalence and geographic distribution of obstetrician-gynecologists who treat Medicaid patients and are trained to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder.
Long-term, he aspires to teach, do research, and treat patients. “I hope to contribute to identifying ways to improve health services provision so we can deliver care that gets us closer to a more equitable system,” he said.
Appearing on the Forbes list has been “overwhelming in a good way,” said Tiako, who is currently interviewing for his residency and writing his thesis on the opioid epidemic as it relates to maternal-child health and disparities in care. “I’m just a regular guy trying to get through the last months of medical school.”
Anna Zhang was asked to answer some questions as a nominee for the Forbes list, and sent off her responses feeling pretty certain that would be the last she’d hear from the magazine. So she was startled to see her name on the “30 Under 30” list.
“To see the attributes Forbes cited — photographer, designer, and creative director — well, I feel like I am still learning so much about all these roles,” she said. “I’m not there just yet, but it is really exciting to think about stepping into them.”
Zhang is majoring in computing and the arts (an interdepartmental major) at Yale. She began taking pictures (mostly of flowers and landscapes) while in middle school and posting them on Instagram. Now focused more on portraits, her photographs have been featured in top-brand advertisements and national publications.
Just before high school, she founded the nonprofit publication Pulse Spikes, which introduces “young visionaries” — including artists, entrepreneurs, and activists — to the world. “The ‘Pulse Spikes’ title is meant to convey getting our hearts racing by following our passions,” said Zhang, who directs photographic shoots and helps manage editorial content. “I created it as a platform to highlight the incredible work young people are doing, from destigmatizing mental health to fighting climate change.” The magazine, which to date has 16 issues, has reached more than 200,000 readers globally.
Last year, Zhang designed the mobile game Brightlove as part of Google Play’s Change the Game Design Challenge, in which she won first place. “In a lot of games, players are rewarded for killing enemies,” she said. “I created a game that rewards players for standing up for people and for kindness, with the goal of spreading positivity.”
At Yale, she is interested in exploring ways that art and technology can intersect, and hopes to further expand her knowledge in the areas of human-computer interaction and web accessibility.
“One of the things I love about Yale is that I can explore so many different realms,” said Zhang. “The exciting part is that I have no idea what I’m actually going to do in the future. I feel I have so much to learn.”
David Dellal was selected in the magazine’s Energy category for founding a company called Floe, which is developing a smart, cost-effective, and environmentally-friendly solution to prevent ice buildup on rooftops and other structures.
Floe grew out of a class project Dellal worked on just over four years ago as part of a team of undergraduates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). One of the team members, who was from Michigan, had told Dellal and his other teammates that ice buildup was a constant problem for his family during winters there.
Dellal has always been especially interested in biomedical engineering, which he is currently studying at Yale’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. But he said he couldn’t ignore the opportunity to take the system he and his MIT classmates designed further into the startup realm.
“I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he said. “I’ve always been fascinated by the physical world and how you can manipulate it to create new technologies. I think that technology has really driven a lot of human civilization and I want to be part of the next wave of that.”
But Dellal also wants to develop technological solutions that help people; while taking the Floe system to the next level he learned just how much his product has the potential to do so.
“When we started doing market research [customer interviews], it struck me how large a problem ice dams are for people,” he said. “We can send a Tesla into space, but we can’t stop a roof from leaking! People spend thousands of dollars of their hard-earned money — something they expected to use for retirement or for a child’s college education — to fix roof leaks. It’s such a mundane issue that shouldn’t be such a big problem, yet it is.”
While continuing to improve his invention while at Yale, Dellal has received support for his environmentally friendly solution from the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale and is the first winner in Yale history of all three major environmental prizes offered by the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, including the Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize. The Floe team also includes Hector Castillo, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering at Yale, and their former MIT classmate Mitchell Guillaume.
Floe is now launching a 50-building pilot this winter at major universities, municipalities, ski resorts, property management firms, and other sites in more than 10 states nationwide. Dellal believes the experience he’s gained will help him in his next venture, which he expects to be in biomedical engineering.
“I believe I have a responsibility to apply my engineering skills to help improve people’s lives,” he said. “Now that I have scaled Floe from concept to sales, I’m far better prepared for the much-longer process that is entailed in bringing new medical technologies to market.”
The Yale alumni featured in Forbes’ “30 Under 30,” and the categories in which they are cited, include Andrew Burnap ’16 M.F.A. (Hollywood & Entertainment), Dominick Chambers ’19 M.F.A. (Art & Style), Chiffon Thomas ’20 M.F.A. (Art & Style), Ben Christensen ’20 M.E.M. (Social Impact), Marisa Repka ’20 M.E.M., James Kim ’13 (Finance), Jared Middleman ’13 (Finance), Mitchell Jones ’16 (Finance), Mary D’Onofrio ’18 M.B.A. (Venture Capital), Nnamdi Iregbulem ’13 (Venture Capital), Aashna Mehra ’19 M.B.A. (Energy), Deanna Zhang ’15 (Energy), Aviva Musicus ’13 (Healthcare), Larry Milstein ’17 (Marketing & Advertising) and Sibjeet Mahapatra ’13 (Retail & E-commerce).