Entrepreneurs Don’t Go It Alone at Babson

Debbie Cohen '19 of Yad

As Debbie Cohen ’19 went through the twists and turns of starting her business, she could be confident in one undisputable fact: Babson College had her back.

“Babson pushed me to work toward what I wanted,” says Cohen, the CEO and founder of Yad. Based in Guatemala City, Guatemala, Yad sells home decor products in Central America that showcase the artwork of artists with intellectual disabilities.

Cohen took full advantage of the many resources that Babson offers budding entrepreneurs, particularly at The Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, where she participated in the John E. and Alice L. Butler Launch Pad’s entrepreneurial community and the intensive Summer Venture Program accelerator. She also was a grand prize winner in the Blank Center’s B.E.T.A. Challenge and a CWEL Scholar at the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership.

In her own words, Cohen describes her Babson entrepreneurial journey, which actually started when she was in high school, and the substantial support the College gave her with Yad.

You first came to Babson as a high school student in the Summer Study program. How influential was that program?

“I loved my experience. That’s why I decided to go to Babson. We created our own ventures, and I loved the experience of doing my own business that young. I thought it was super cool. It gave me a good sense of how Babson was going to be.”

How often did you visit the Blank Center while working on Yad?

“I visited the Blank Center almost every day. It was very important for me to take advantage of all the resources offered. Without their help, Yad wouldn’t have progressed the way it has.”

How important was being a part of the Butler Launch Pad and its community of entrepreneurs?

“It was so nice. Being an entrepreneur is a lonely track, but I got to meet other entrepreneurs I didn’t know at Babson. The mentors and friends from the Butler Launch Pad became my family. Every week, we met to share ideas and discuss the growth of our companies, as well as the obstacles that we faced. Everyone was doing completely different ventures, but at the same time, we had the same goal: to be successful.”

What impact did winning the B.E.T.A. Challenge have on you and your business?

“It’s a prestigious award. I worked really hard for it. The money was good, but I felt so proud personally. I wanted to leave a legacy at Babson and be an inspiration for others.

“I am super thankful for all the support from Babson. The atmosphere at Babson is so different than other schools. It pushes you. It motivates you.”

Debbie Cohen '19

“Afterward, people were reaching out to me. They were seeing me as an example. They were starting their own businesses and asking, ‘What do you think of this?’

“People also wanted to help Yad for free. They wanted to do marketing, or help with distribution. They liked the mission behind it. They may have had people in the family with disabilities. They would say, ‘This really touches my heart.’ ”

How helpful were the Babson professors you met at Blank and elsewhere on campus?

“They valued what I was doing. They always gave me new ideas. They said, ‘You’re at Babson. You have so many possibilities.’

“Professor Joel Shulman was especially helpful. He helped me change my business model. It’s now a business model that works. He also really helped me work hard on my pitch. That really, really helped. I used to pitch a lot.”

Tell me about entering the Summer Venture Program right after you graduated.

“Babson gave me office space. They gave me support. It was a good transition, to graduate but still be surrounded by my peers, because it is hard to work by yourself.

“My mission has always been to make the world a better place. I am super thankful for all the support from Babson. The atmosphere at Babson is so different than other schools. It pushes you. It motivates you.”

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