Growing up in the small city of Gherla, Romania, Mara Steiu ’20 and her classmates were expected to earn good grades, go to a nearby college, and land a safe job. But Steiu had other plans. Believing teenagers should learn about finance and entrepreneurship, she pitched innovative education concepts to fellow students, won several startup competitions with her ideas, and created iXperiment, the first startup accelerator for Romanian high school students. Now Steiu, a Global Scholar, is following her ambitions at Babson.
How did you become interested in entrepreneurship? My mother knew about my frustration with the fact that financial education is not the norm in Romania, and that I saw an opportunity to innovate on this topic. She encouraged me to apply to a startup competition in Cluj, a city nearby. I applied with an idea for a computer and smartphone game that combines finance and entrepreneurship, and my team won. We were all teenagers, up against people who were between 25 and 30 years old. I thought, maybe that’s a sign that I should continue with entrepreneurship. I really loved it.
What spurred iXperiment? While working on the financial education game, I had a chance to work with a lot of students from Romania. I realized that they also had innovative ideas for entrepreneurial ventures. But most of the entrepreneurial initiatives in Romania are for young adults, like university graduates. So I thought, what if I create an equal system for high school students? I took a gap year before coming to Babson to get iXperiment started, and I was mostly alone in the beginning. I had to do marketing and fundraising, find volunteers, and create a curriculum, which I did with support from my mentor and other expert entrepreneurs. Now we have an amazing team that does a great job. We offer students the opportunity to experience entrepreneurship and to decide for themselves if they want to do it.
What keeps you busy at Babson? I’m a tutor at the Learning Center, and I also take a class at Wellesley College. I do computer programming there. I’m trying to combine business, education, and technology, because my long-term goal is to use technology to innovate outdated education systems in places like Eastern Europe.
You were a ballroom dancer? My parents sent me to ballroom dancing since I was 7 or 8. I loved it. I did it for a long time—about eight years. Me and my partner were national champions in our category back in 2008. It taught me a lot about persistence and discipline, and it was physically hard. I miss it.—Donna Coco