Shay Gaafar MBA’19 started her career in the tech field. In Egypt, she earned her degree in computer science, and began working for Fortune 500 companies. She was very successful in her career, ultimately becoming an executive at Pepsi. But, she wasn’t fulfilled.
“People said I was crazy to leave that job,” said Gaafar. “Corporate is great, but I had an inkling that maybe it wasn’t for me.”
In her gut, Gaafar wanted to be different, she wanted to be an entrepreneur.
Where It All Began
Gaafar grew up in the United Arab Emirates, where her mother made her beautiful and modest uniforms to wear to school. As she got older, Gaafar realized that other girls didn’t have access to this type of clothing. In order to dress modestly, they had to layer clothes. By college, it was clear to Gaafar that the fashion market wasn’t reflecting the demands of women in the Middle East. Fashionable options for the 90 percent of Middle Eastern women that dress modestly were scarce, and Gaafar sensed an opportunity. She started drawing up dress designs, found a tailor who could help cut and sew, and began making her own clothing.
While Gaafar attended university in Egypt, she continued to make clothing for the women in her social circles. She fell in love with building a fashion brand, and found inspiration in enhancing other women’s lives. She wanted to help those women express themselves through their own styles.
This passion drove Gaafar to make a career shift and go back to school to study entrepreneurship.
Her Journey to Babson
When looking at schools and sponsorship programs, Gaafar decided to apply for the prestigious Fulbright Program, She was admitted, opening an opportunity for her to apply to Babson.
“I applied to Babson because of its entrepreneurship reputation and because I wanted to grow an entrepreneurial mindset,” she said. Gaafar received a scholarship to attend, and began her studies as part of the two-year MBA cohort. “I wanted to shift to the entrepreneurship ecosystem through venture capital.”
As she became more ingrained in all that Babson offers, her career trajectory shifted away from venture capital. Gaafar knew it was time to start her business.
“When I came to Babson, I had an idea for my business but I didn’t have the courage to start. I figured if I didn’t start now, with all of these resources, when would I? I took a leap of faith.”
A Business Born at Babson
Gaafar’s fashion business, eventually named Shay Jaffar, was born during the Entrepreneurship & Opportunity course she took her first semester as an MBA student. Everyone in the class had to pitch a business idea that they’d work to build throughout the course.
“I thought to myself, why not pitch the fashion business that I have always dreamed of starting?”
As Gaafar pitched, her professor pointed her to all of the resources that Babson offers entrepreneurs and new ventures. That is when things really took off.
She joined the Butler Launch Pad and participated in its GTM Fast Track Program. She pitched her business at the B.E.T.A. Challenge, where she was a finalist and was awarded the Female Founder Impact Award from the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL).
In terms of funding, Gaafar received support from the Babson Seed Fund, along with winnings from the B.E.T.A. Challenge and the CWEL award. These funds helped with finalizing her product development in New York City and preparing samples. To support her studies, she also received the Sorenson Scholarship Award for Meritorious Achievement—awarded by the Babson community for her contributions to the ecosystem.
Gaafar didn’t stop there. She also participated in both of Babson’s accelerators: Summer Venture Program between her first and second year, and the Boston Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab® in her first year.
Gaafar has soaked up every resource Babson has to offer to grow her brand—making the most of her time on campus to shift her career.
“I would say that Shay Jaffar is a product of Babson,” said Gaafar, “From here, I plan to continue my journey, keep building this luxury brand, and take it to the international market.”
Posted in Entrepreneurs of All Kinds