One 2Y’s journey to launch a social-impact startup at Kellogg
Katia Tamer (2Y, 2023) is a first-year MBA student at Kellogg. Before business school, Katia worked at Google leading global brand campaigns, including those for International Women’s Day, Black Trans Lives Matter and Global Accessibility Awareness Day. In August 2020, she founded The Beirut Project, a social impact initiative aimed at providing disaster and economic relief for Lebanon through grassroots fundraising efforts. We caught up with Katia to learn about how she’s pursuing social entrepreneurship at Kellogg.
How have your experiences before Kellogg drawn you to the social impact space?
I was lucky to first gain exposure to the social impact space via my marketing role at Google. Every campaign we did focused on working with and for underrepresented communities. The fulfillment I derived from amplifying their voices brought meaning to the work I was doing on a day-to-day basis and ignited my passion for social impact.
What really propelled me into the social impact space, however, was my personal connection to the port blast in Beirut in August 2020. I felt overwhelming grief for the dire situation that had hit my country of origin. I knew a one-time donation wasn’t going to cut it. After brainstorming with two Lebanese-American family friends, we recruited 50 ambassadors to garner and match donations for a fundraising campaign we called The Beirut Project. We raised $250,000 dollars for the NGO SEAL, which allocated funds towards hospitals and shelter reconstruction, and we later expanded our initiative to support small businesses there.
However, throughout this process, I noticed that while a lot of energy was being put into physical reconstruction, there were not enough conversations happening around mental health and wellness. This got me passionate about further immersing myself in the wellness space, and I decided to come to Kellogg to have two years where I can build out a venture that addresses wellness holistically.
What brought you to Kellogg?
There were three key factors that drew me to Kellogg: the experiential learning style, the entrepreneurial resources and the people. So far, all three have surpassed expectations. I’ve found learning opportunities that will let me work on my idea in real time, a close-knit and collaborative entrepreneurial community and people who pay it forward.
What resources at Kellogg have helped you the most?
I came to Kellogg knowing I wanted to be involved in The Garage, Northwestern’s entrepreneurship space. Through this space, I was lucky enough to meet my cofounder, meet an entrepreneurial community across Northwestern and gain mentorship. The cross-school networking has been phenomenal; I’ve been working with teams across schools to share knowledge, and I even had the opportunity to be a client of the Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center Clinic, through which we got to work with two law students who help us with legal matters for our startup, such as getting incorporated. The professors have been an amazing resource, and I regularly go to office hours to chat through my startup progress and seek feedback. I’m currently in the Launching and Leading Startups course with Professor Carter Cast, and it has been one of my Kellogg highlights to date. I’m in awe of the time and thoughtful feedback he is willing to give to his students. I have found the most useful resource at Kellogg to be my fellow classmates — everyone here helps each other out, and the community is truly unparalleled. Starting a new quarter, I’ve been so amazed to continue to meet so many classmates who I admire greatly.
How do you think about impact in your career moving forward?
I’ve always been passionate about amplifying others’ voices and about building communities, and I want to continue to do this throughout my career. In the venture I’m currently working on, this means giving a platform to experts who are looking to improve the way we think about wellness. Long term, I hope to have enough impact and reach to help break the stigma around mental health – we need to start changing the narrative away from resilience, and towards empathy and vulnerability. At the end of the day, what drives me most is people, and as long as I’m able to have a positive impact on the people I’m connecting with, then I view that as success.
Any advice to students thinking of pursuing entrepreneurship or social entrepreneurship, whether as a career or a passion?
Yes! My biggest piece of advice is to talk to as many people as you can and build a community of people who are as passionate about the area that you want to work on as you are – you won’t be able to get any progress done if you’re just sitting at your laptop waiting for an idea or trying to build something on your own. Entrepreneurship can be intimidating, but having two years to try it out at Kellogg is low-risk, and it is a rare opportunity to have so many resources available to help bring your idea to fruition.