Having grown up in Singapore and Hong Kong, April Chen ’19 says she was used to a traditional, risk-averse environment.
And, then she came to Babson, seeking to pursue her interests in design and entrepreneurship.
“At Babson, I found an empowering community that freed me to pursue my true interests, and supports me even as it pushes me to reach new heights,” she says.
Those new heights included co-founding Gentle with Wellesley College student Michelle Yu. Gentle began as a venture focused on creating colorable empathy cards to show gestures of love and thoughtfulness for those who need it most. On its two-year anniversary, the venture pivoted. “Gentle’s renewed mission is to create opportunities for the integration of gentleness in our daily lives, communities, and public engagement,” says Chen. “Our ecosystem includes spaces, partnerships, products, and content.”
Chen’s entrepreneurial journey included time in The Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship’s Summer Venture Program. “I got a taste of what it means to show up every day, and navigate the ambiguity of the startup environment, but also work toward clear goals,” she says.
That path also included hosting a pop-up shop in downtown Boston during her final week of classes. She balanced coursework with the demands of running a business. “It was all so much fun. I could only also, be thankful that I was in a college environment that understood and embraced that kind of tension.”
Now that she has graduated, Chen is focused on building Gentle, balancing freelance graphic design projects on the side. We asked her to reflect on her time at Babson and share some advice for current and prospective students.
When I came to college, I wanted to further mesh my interests in design and entrepreneurship. Right away, I began developing a business idea with other Babson students which, by connecting designers and engineers, aimed to build solutions for small business in emerging economies through jugaad (frugal innovation). We ended up being selected as a 2016 regional finalist for the Hult Prize (given to young social entrepreneurs), and what really stood out to me was the support we got from professors, the team at the Lewis Institute, and Babson alumni.
I have so much gratitude for Denicia Ratley, the director of Religious and Spiritual Life. Beginning sophomore year, I visited Denicia’s office frequently for an hourlong about our personal lives and all sorts of topics, from justice and inequality to feminism and spirituality. It was a meaningful time set apart for me. In those conversations, I ended up adopting many healthy mindsets that are still impacting the choices I live out, post-Babson.
While I was a student working on Gentle, we piloted something we called Gentle Spaces. My team chose a hidden gem of a location on Wellesley College’s campus, and held an intentional gathering with friends and guests in celebration of a new product line launch. We had Babson, Wellesley, Bentley, Berklee, Boston University students, as well as an Olin professor, Babson staff, and other professionals. It was as simple as a meal, but the depth of conversation and human connection that we reached, many of us as strangers, was very memorable.
Throughout my college career, my mind was expanded through my exposure to new perspectives. This happens through classes that revolve around issues of justice, inequality, race, and culture. But, when it comes to these topics, it also makes such a difference to have students of different ethnicities and backgrounds voicing their experiences. Babson provided a space for me, through listening and sharing my own stories, to develop personal connections that go beyond my intellectual understanding of other cultures.
Posted in Entrepreneurial Leadership