Long before Kyung Han designed specialty microchips, built a data startup and became a tech-oriented angel investor, he took his first computer class at Indian Springs School.
Han ’85 says his experience as a Springs day student not only built an academic foundation, it gave him the drive and confidence to ultimately become an entrepreneur.
“Indian Springs had a large part to play in shaping the person I am today. It has had a huge impact on my life,” says the Manhattan resident, who now funds and advises early-stage startups, mostly on technology-related projects in education and healthcare.
Han, who in the 1984–1985 academic year took one of the first computer classes ever offered at Springs, later returned to advise the ongoing expansion of tech-oriented education at his high school alma mater. This academic year he started a seven-year term on the school’s Board of Directors.
“It is my way of giving back,” Han says.
Han’s educational and professional tracks have been marked by being at the right places at the right times.
In that computer class at Springs, he glimpsed his own future in a rapidly developing field, leading to a focus on electrical and electronics engineering at Duke University. After graduating in 1989, Han worked five years at Mitsubishi Semiconductor America Inc., designing advanced video chips including one for which he was awarded a patent.
And in 2004, Han co-founded and was a managing partner of a New York-based data startup, EmPower Research, at a time when social media was emerging as a new tool for communications and marketing. EmPower seized on the innovation to substantially expand its services—and success.
“We were very fortunate to see the trend and start informing clients this would be a game-changer,” Han says in a recent interview. “So we got in on the wave, and extended our client base to serve a number of Fortune 1000 companies and their respective brands in addition to our professional services clients.”
Eventually EmPower added another component—creating, vetting, culling, and updating large databases for clients. One project, for example, was to build and maintain a detailed list of physicians worldwide, from medical school, residency, and practice locations to their relationships with pharmaceutical companies.
Han says he long imagined a typical career path in his field, a consulting firm job that leads to being hired by a client. But when presented the opportunity to run his own firm, Han says, his Indian Springs experiences empowered him to make that leap.
“Indian Springs teaches us to be very flexible in our learning process,” Han says. “It is an education that rewards creative thinking. When you’re an entrepreneur, that creativity is obviously of huge value.”
He ran EmPower until the business services firm Genpact bought it in 2011. Han remained at the General Electric spinoff some five years before starting his advisory and investment business in mid-2017.
“I wanted to do something different, and get back into entrepreneurship,” Han says.
His interest in education-related tech startups stems from a term in the early 2000s as a general manager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he also obtained an MBA in 1996.
Han helped launch MIT’s OpenCourseWare program, which consolidates all of the university’s course material, lectures, tests, and other materials for free online access by professors and students worldwide.
“Education is changing and educational tech clearly is a very important area,” says Han, who is particularly interested in online learning programs for K-12 students.
His investments in healthcare startups have focused on analytics, new product-development platforms, and wellness programs for seniors. A related project uses data to help farmers produce healthier and more abundant food by improving soil health and analyzing best practices to plant and harvest.
Han, who retains family ties to the Birmingham area, returned to the Indian Springs campus in 2013 as a guest lecturer for an entrepreneurship class. Several former teachers attended, providing a touching reminder to Han of how the school is such a nurturing and special place.
Before joining the Board of Directors, Han served on its technology subcommittee. As a byproduct of that inaugural computer class, he’s proud to see AP computer science, computer tech, and robotics classes today at Indian Springs.
Physically, the campus has changed considerably in the 34 years since Han graduated. But stronger than ever, he says, are Indian Springs’ core values, the diversity of thought and experiences when interacting with students from around the world, the depth of knowledge passed on by its teachers, and the school’s commitment to creative thinking.
Han urges all graduates who have not visited the campus to reconnect in some way, whether it’s financially or returning to talk to students about their careers.
“Get a sense of how the school has evolved,” he says. “And participate in how the school continues to evolve.”
This story appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Indian Springs Magazine.
By Eric Velasco P '23