Presidential Scholar Ela Gokcigdem ’24 likes to stay busy working on her two ventures, her school work, and her passion for sustainability. Alongside that, she strives to solve climate change. Diverse, driven, energetic, and accomplished—she might be the person to do just that.
Gokcigdem has put together an extensive resume that includes starting her own ventures, developing a curriculum for high school students, and pitching her business plan on a national stage to an auditorium full of people. Through it all, sustainability and entrepreneurship were the ingredients for success.
In her sophomore year of high school in Arlington, Virginia, Gokcigdem started her own company called ePearl Technologies that developed and sold environmentally-friendly noise-canceling ear buds.
“I marketed toward high school athletes because the ear buds were affordable, made out of recycled plastic, noise-canceling, and they also didn’t fall out of your ears,” she said.
After selling about 300 units—mostly through her ePearl Ambassadors Program—she was off to the NFTE Entrepreneurship Competition at The Times Center New York City, where Gokcigdem pitched ePearl to a panel of judges from PayPal, EY, MasterCard, and more, in front of an audience. She finished the competition as a runner-up, and was awarded $9,000 and a choice: accelerate ePearl or pivot to another venture.
With the determination of an entrepreneurial leader, Gokcigdem started her next venture, Youth Environmental Society (YES), which provides high school students with an environmental literacy curriculum—and was featured in The Washington Post. She spent much of her last semester in high school actually writing the curriculum herself, waking up at 5 a.m. each day, and building a solid reputation through collaboration and perseverance.
“I partnered with various environmental organizations to gain credibility,” she said. And, through her position on Arlington County’s Sustainability Advisory Committee, she had gathered 500 high school students to beta test her course when COVID-19 hit. Putting her plans on hold, rather than subjecting students to further stress, she is now scheduled to launch her curriculum next September.
Again, showing true entrepreneurial leadership, Gokcigdem didn’t slow down despite setbacks. She started the Avsa Project, aimed at inspiring youth activism through environmental empathy and storytelling, based on her own experience at her family’s summer house on the island of Avsa, where she had noticed the economy and environment collapsing since she was 8 years old.
“I realized that it was because of agricultural globalization that the farms shut down on Avsa because imported foods were increasingly cheaper,” she said. “That realization is the one thing that made me very environmentally conscious as a person, and that’s what drives me every day to work toward sustainability.”
Gokcigdem also serves on the council for EarthEcho International and currently is a finalist for National Geographic Young Explorers, combining her passions with her energy and hard work ethic to target solving global challenges.
Looking to make a difference in the world, Gokcigdem started applying to colleges.
She attended Babson’s Summer Study, a four-week experiential program for rising high school juniors and seniors that helps them develop as entrepreneurial leaders.
“To know that I could gain a network of social entrepreneurs globally, I thought that was so valuable.”
Ela Gokcigdem ‘24
“I saw how they valued corporate social responsibility and social innovation, and that really encouraged me to come to a place where I could major in business but also concentrate in environmental sustainability, and be surrounded with a lot of like-minded individuals,” she said.
Gokcigdem was especially drawn to the Lewis Institute at Babson, focused on showing future change-makers what they need to do to create their desired change in the world, and giving them resources and connections to follow their dreams, passions, and business ideas.
“To know that I could gain a network of social entrepreneurs globally, I thought that was so valuable,” she said. “And, to see how everyone values sustainability and entrepreneurship at the same time, I knew Babson was the place for me, but it was really the Lewis institute that got me.”
At Babson, Gokcigdem is combining her personal passions and career aspirations to make the world a better place, and tapping into her experience as an established entrepreneur to make that happen.
To learn about experiential learning at Babson, check out the ongoing series about the journey of first-year students through the Foundations of Management and Entrepreneurial Leadership (FME) course.
She joined the Sustainability Club and the Net Impact Club. “It’s been nice to connect with people who are into sustainability at Babson,” she said. And she values those connections, collaborations, and resources as she moves toward her career goals.
Gokcigdem also is gathering students from Babson, Olin, and Wellesley (BOW) to develop the first BOW Student Sustainability Summit with the goal of creating cross-campus collaborations between sustainability-minded students.
“I definitely want to be a social entrepreneur. My dream has always been to start a tech firm based off of biomimicry and creating climate mitigation solutions that harness the power of nature.”
To do this, Gokcigdem sees a path to the biggest prize of all.
“While not altering nature, just maximizing the technology that nature has already provided us with, and putting it on a larger scale,” she said, “and just basically solving climate change.”