Alumni Profile: Jessica Bell van der Wal, MBA, BSPH
BSPH 2006, Health Policy & Management
MBA 2011, Harvard Business School
Founder, Partner and Owner, VDB Consulting LLC
Describe your current position. What is your research/focus area?
My husband and I recently started our own consulting business in North Carolina. We advise and consult growth-stage digital health and health technology companies, accelerators and incubation firms across the U.S. We assist in early phases even when different concepts or ideas are under discussion or in later stages as companies evolve and need further support as they build out functions and product lines. Our combined expertise spans critical functional areas, such as product development, engineering, strategy, operations and marketing, as well as company types and timelines in health care and technology. We love helping companies and individuals “organize the chaos.”
I am also on various educational and nonprofit boards (2020 Women on Boards, Harvard Business School Women’s Student Association to name a couple), and I have a passion for supporting women through these endeavors and beyond.
List your career highlights. Please include links to news articles or press releases, if any.
I welcome and embrace change, personally and professionally. Professionally, I have built, evolved and reorganized teams across almost every function in a business. I also enjoy being where the energy and the problems are. For instance, I founded a business operations team, during an initial public offering (IPO), to help the company reset and rethink operations and metrics in anticipation of this major shift. A few years later, I supported the same company in restructuring key functions impacted by recent merger-and-acquisition activity. I love a good challenge.
My key area of deep expertise is in product user engagement, and I have been featured on webinars and at events and conferences. See some examples below:
What inspired you to pursue a degree in public health? How did you get started?
I was in one of the first graduating classes for the BSPH program at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in 2006 and my experience dramatically (and thankfully) altered the course of my career. As a passionate health care professional, I originally planned to become a doctor; but, following my journey at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, I was compelled to drive change within the industry through business. My career in health care exposed me to various sectors within the industry – from provider systems to health plans and biotechnology companies – and I evolved as an expert in growing digital health companies, with a mission to change the way we experience health care as consumers. I am eager to support hungry entrepreneurs seeking to impact public health through technology.
What do you think makes the Gillings School unique?
The Gillings School always welcomes you with open arms. Whether you just moved to the area or are regularly in touch with the School, the alumni, staff and board members are there to answer your questions and support you in any way.
What are some of your favorite memories at the Gillings School?
Our BSPH class was very close, and we supported one another inside and outside of the classroom. We also had fun. For our final year, we even had T-shirts made sporting our name – “The hungry, hungry HPAAs!”
What do you miss most about the Gillings School?
I miss the people. I was constantly inspired by my classmates and my professors. I am still very close to some former students and hopeful we can get a reunion organized soon.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Personally, I enjoy challenging myself. I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro while I was attending the UNC-Chapel Hill, and I recently travelled to Nepal to complete a three-week trek to the Mount Everest base camp.
Outside of my professional focus, I share a passion for advancing women, particularly in professional advancement and board participation. I attended an executive education program at Harvard Business School on this topic, and I am bringing these lessons to the Carolinas as the leader of the 2020 Women on Boards regional chapter.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
“Focus on your strengths” is the best advice I’ve been given. I believe each of us is on this earth for a unique and special purpose. Understanding what is different and unique are critical to unlocking the impact you can have. So instead of always thinking about what you can do to improve (which is important in other ways), don’t forget your strengths.
What advice you would like to offer to current the Gillings School students?
Take full advantage of your time at Gillings. Ask questions, get advice, reach out to alumni. When you are a student, you have a free pass – you are learning. Everyone wants you to succeed, so don’t be afraid to ask for help and really dig into understanding all the ways that the School and the people can support you.
Please name topics and focus areas on which you can offer advice to current Gillings School students:
I would be happy to advise or mentor current students and alumni that are passionate about advancing public health via technology and are interested in exploring an MBA. I am also an advocate of women and board-diversity initiatives, and I would be happy to explore either of these topics in more detail.
Connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jbellvanderwal/