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Becoming A Trailblazer

Regina Gomez (MBA ’25) interviews fellow RCs Hande Ilhan (MBA ’25) and Kasey Boyle (MBA ’25) on their entrepreneurial journeys. 

How many of us envisioned becoming entrepreneurs during our HBS experience? I certainly did, crafting my admissions essay around my passion for financial inclusion and aspirations to launch a company that would better integrate women into the Mexican economy. However, my perspective shifted dramatically upon arriving at HBS. The initial semester was particularly challenging; amidst a cohort of exceptionally bright and well-prepared peers, the pressure to contribute groundbreaking ideas was immense, and my self-confidence tumbled. This intense self-doubt during my first year at HBS might explain my decision to explore paths other than entrepreneurship over the summer. And although I will stay close to the entrepreneurial scene, I wonder what else I can do to ensure that I am prepared when the time comes to build my own thing. 

Thus, I sought to learn from those who did choose the entrepreneurial route. What drives them? What could their experiences teach me about fostering the determination to start my own venture? Two of my fellow RC classmates, Hande Ilhan and Kasey Boyle, have been especially inspiring. Despite women receiving less than 2% of venture capital funding – a statistic highlighted by the World Economic Forum – Hande and Kasey are boldly defying the odds. Ilhan, an engineer from Turkey, and Boyle, a former consultant from Canada, imparted life-changing lessons over an hour-long lunch. What does it take to be a trailblazer? Ilhan and Boyle certainly seem to have the answers, and their journeys offer invaluable insights into overcoming barriers and succeeding against the odds.

When did you start this journey?

Ilhan: My journey began when I decided to invest my savings in starting a greenhouse agribusiness in my hometown in Turkey. My goal was to contribute to my hometown’s economic development and create job opportunities. I have always been driven to make a positive impact, especially in environmental sustainability. This passion has been with me for as long as I can remember. I am excited to work on a problem that truly excites me and has the potential to have an impact on the world. 

Boyle: My entrepreneurial spirit sparked when I was just a little girl. I started small businesses right from my doorstep, selling various items. When my sisters saw that I was making money, they wanted in. Instead of just letting them join as partners, I hired them. I organized our neighborhood into three routes, assigned one to each sister, and managed the logistics. They each earned 15% of the profits, while I retained 60% for orchestrating the entire operation. I have always loved being an owner!

What is the secret to your fearlessness?

Ilhan:  At HBS, success is common, but failure is less so. My journey as a professional ice skater in my childhood taught me the invaluable lesson of resilience -- that falling is not a defeat but an opportunity to rise again. I see getting back up on my feet as my superpower and I am not afraid to fall. This fearlessness has driven my 'all-in' mentality, leading me to discover my true passions and pursue them relentlessly, regardless of the outcome.

Boyle: I think of it this way: getting into HBS and starting a business both involve beating long odds. We have already succeeded at something less than 1% of people achieve. Having done it once, why not again? Also, we need to combat the “fear of not knowing.” When making a decision, I try to picture two scenarios: the downside and the upside. In my case, my “down-side” is just spending time and money into an idea that may not work. That may itch for a while, but I will know I have learned so much. The upside is building my own successful business and being my own boss. I don’t know what you think, but to me, the upside is incredible and the downside is not bad at all!

How do you build up your confidence in a male-dominated activity?

Ilhan: Stepping into a male-dominated field on my own was daunting, and it's easy to let self-doubt take over. To counter this, I've surrounded myself with amazing women who are passionate about their work in tough-tech industries and achieve remarkable things that I deeply admire. They are a true inspiration to me. Their combined strength reminds me that I'm not alone -- I'm part of a supportive sisterhood. I also make a conscious effort to ensure that my gender does not define or limit my ambitions.

Boyle: Forget the statistics – they do not set your limits. Being a woman is not a disadvantage; it is a profound source of strength. Remember, the conventional data often overlooks the impact of feminism.  Entrepreneurship is the real challenge, not being a woman. I do not intend to step into men’s shoes.  We must empower ourselves and focus on personal achievements. If faced with rejection, I try not to dwell on it. I am confident that persistence and hard work will lead to the right opportunities eventually.

Why you, why now?

Ilhan:  There are two key reasons for me. Firstly, I'm currently without family obligations, which allows me the flexibility to fully manage my schedule and commitments. Entrepreneurship gives me control over my time and decisions. Also, life is about making choices, such as deciding between starting a business or a family. Both paths require significant commitment and right now, entrepreneurship is the path that resonates most with me.

Boyle: Why not now? We are in an ideal environment here at HBS. We have the freedom of having no family obligations, we receive immense support from our faculty and peers, and we have access to a wealth of feedback and potential customers. Plus, we have ample time to refine our ideas. It is the perfect setup to pursue our ambitions.

Thoughts on HBS’s programs for entrepreneurs?

Ilhan:  Sometimes, I feel a bit “crazy” for choosing this path since only a few of us are truly dedicated. Not everyone takes it as seriously as I do, which can be disheartening. However, I have found a solid community within the iLab where we all understand who is genuinely committed. It is reassuring to be surrounded by peers who share the same dedication.

Boyle: At HBS, there is a strong emphasis on traditional career paths, which can overshadow entrepreneurial pursuits. It is disappointing that many view programs like the Rock Fellowship as a fallback option, creating a perception that those of us pursuing entrepreneurship are only doing so as a last resort. This is far from the truth. The Rock Fellowship, the iLab, and the Startup Bootcamp were significant reasons why I chose HBS. Unfortunately, the wider HBS community does not always recognize the value of these programs. Additionally, making these programs more competitive could ensure that committed entrepreneurs like us receive more support and resources.

Hande and Kasey are two women whom I deeply admire. Hande will be working this summer on SeaCycle, a company that transforms seafood waste into a valuable biopolymer through an eco-friendly and cost-efficient patent-pending process, which is then utilized in various pharmaceutical, medical, and tissue engineering applications. Kasey will build MUSE, a platform that streamlines the process of discovering and booking beauty service providers. They are trailblazers, fearless in their endeavors, and committed to uplifting other women. While I have no doubt they will achieve their dreams, I am equally confident that, should they encounter setbacks this summer, those experiences will only propel them toward even greater opportunities. Ladies, I fully expect to see your names in Forbes magazine as some of the most powerful leaders of our time. Continue to inspire me and many others to become the best versions of ourselves.

Regina Gomez (MBA ’25) was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico. She graduated from Tecnológico de Monterrey with a degree in Economics. Prior to HBS she worked at Mastercard and an early-stage fintech as a Global Strategy and Operations Manager specializing in the payments industry.

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