Born to be an Academic, Entrepreneurship Professor Takes Non-Linear Route to Whitman

Suho Han, assistant professor of entrepreneurship, has acquired tenacity and success through following opportunities wherever they may lead him, even across the Pacific Ocean. Han joined Syracuse University’s Martin J Whitman School of Management in August 2018, but his path to get here was non-linear.

Han was born in Busan, South Korea. He explains, “I was three years old when we moved to Chicago where my dad pursued graduate school. Then, after 10 years, I went back to Korea for middle school. I then returned to the states to complete high school and college.”

Han began his studies at the University of Washington. He interned for an international trade consultancy firm and an online marketing startup, but he realized that he did not enjoy the typical nine to five job and wanted to pursue a career that was more meaningful to him. Instead, Han decided to pursue a career in higher education, specifically as a business professor. 

“My parents are both university professors, so I think they provided a model for me to follow. My dad got a Ph.D. in sociology and my mom got one in nutrition. They have been a big inspiration in my life and without them, I would not have taken this path to be in academia. They never forced me into this career, but when you grow up in a household where the focus is asking questions and reading a lot, that helped me develop a natural interest,” explains Han.

(Han and his father at Haeundae Beach in Busan, Korea in December 2019)

However, Han’s plans had to be put on hold because South Korea mandates that all male citizens serve approximately two years in the military. Han returned to Korea to fulfill his conscription.

After completing basic training in South Korea, Han worked in a government office completing administrative work. In addition, he says, “I also taught English during that time to elementary and middle school students which helped expose me early on to teaching and classroom management.”

Han returned to the United States after his service and completed his B.S. in economics. He continued his education and earned an M.A. from Indiana University and a Ph.D. in strategic management and entrepreneurship from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin

Han is passionate about researching and educating others on entrepreneurship topics, specifically how startups acquire and keep key resources. His current research explores this topic through the lens of trust and organizational structure and decision making, in the context of both startups and early-stage investors like angel investors.

“I’m really interested in understanding the processes of how firms and startups change over time. It’s quite messy but a colorful and exciting process.” Han shares, “They have changes in the founding team, employees and the structure of the company. Many young firms and startups fail, so understanding these processes can help us learn how and why some startups eventually survive and others fail.”

Currently, Han is an advisor for Honeybee Health, which is an online pharmacy startup based in Los Angeles. He also serves on the Angel Capital Association’s (ACA) data and analytics committee. In addition, Han began serving on the editorial review board of the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal this past January. 

“My role is to determine if a submitted paper meets the journal’s high standards for publication through the peer review process. Through peer review, I provide input to editors and give feedback to authors on whether a study is interesting and addresses an important question, is well written, and the research rigorously designed and executed to merit eventual publication. In addition to the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, I am asked regularly review for the Strategic Management Journal and Journal of Business Venturing,” he says.

Han brings his experiences to the classroom where he teaches an introductory course on entrepreneurship. He joined the Whitman School after meeting with Dean Gene Anderson and was excited to see that the School was on an upward trajectory in prestige. “It was rising in rankings and I wanted to shape that path as well,” explains Han.

Aside from research and teaching, Han has also adopted a new skill since moving to Syracuse. He says, “I started learning boxing when I moved here. My dad started boxing after he got a Ph.D. when we moved back to Korea. He got some recognition in the media there. I never knew of any gyms but I found the downtown YMCA. Local legend, Willie Kemp is the instructor there and he was a top 10 boxer in New York state who went to box professionally, touring with the likes of Mike Tyson. I have been boxing there since November 2018. They hold classes three times a week, so I try to go at least one to two times a week. It is a great way to stay in shape, but I also use it as a stress reliever. I don’t think I’ll go out on fights because I know the dangers, but it is a good skill to learn.”

(Han with his father in Busan, Korea in December 2019)

Han shares, “My strength is definitely my ability to adapt. I moved around so much, to so many cities and all in different circumstances.” 

Han has moved several times within his life. Sometimes across the country and sometimes across the world. Regardless of where he went, he always made the most of the situation and the opportunities. His current goal is to maintain progress on the tenure track, get research published and continue to positively impact students though the classroom. 

Han’s advice for other individuals interested in entrepreneurship is to seek opportunities. Han explains, “I would say try to get direct experience wherever you can; that could be through interning at a small company or startup. It is a very stressful path and it is not for everybody and that is ok too, but if you’re interested in entrepreneurship, there are many opportunities for students on campus such as through the Entrepreneurship Club (eClub) at Whitman and the Blackstone LaunchPad at the Bird Library.”

Learn more about Whitman faculty members in the latest faculty profiles.

Maya Bingaman
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