Seble Alemayehu and Felekech (Fei) Biratu started as high school friends, and after a similar journey through life, a move around the globe and two MBA degrees from the Robert Smith School, they now are proud co-founders of Yenaé, an online-based, high-end fashion jewelry brand.
Alemayehu and Biratu grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and interestingly moved to the U.S. on the same plane after completing their high school. Once in the US, they went their separate ways, each earning a bachelor’s degree from different universities in different states. Alemayehu earned her degree in business administration and landed an internship at EY in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, while Biratu earned her degree in applied economics and finance and worked at United Healthcare Group.
Both women then pursued their professional careers in the Washington, DC area, where they found themselves living in the same city since they had left their home, Ethiopia. Alemayehu went into federal government consulting and Biratu worked as a financial analyst at AOL.
Both women then decided to apply to the Smith School Part-Time MBA Program. After a fulfilling few years at the Smith School, pursuing their MBA while working full-time, Alemayehu and Biratu agree that their experiences while earning their MBAs were some of the most impactful experiences in their lives.
“When you come in, and when you leave, you are completely two different people,” Biratu said. “I found another layer of myself that I didn’t know was there.”
Biratu loved the supportive community and the interactive classes at Smith. She took advantage of the study abroad program and traveled to Brazil. After earning her MBA, she decided to leave the corporate world. Biratu moved back home to Ethiopia and began working as an independent consultant in hospitality.
“My journey at Smith was one of the most impactful experiences in my life,” Alemayehu agreed. “Smith taught me the need to be bold, to not sell myself short and to be confident.”
Coming from an entrepreneurial family, Alemayehu knew she always wanted to start her own business, which is why the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship was a huge draw for her to Smith. She also took advantage of the study abroad program and traveled to Israel and Australia. After working at Booz Allen Hamilton post-graduation, Alemayehu also decided to take a break from the consulting industry and visit her home of Ethiopia.
Finding themselves in the same place at the same time once again, Alemayehu and Biratu reconnected over coffee, and that’s where the concept for Yenaé really launched. When Alemayehu returned back to the U.S., with an idea in tow, she, on behalf of Yenaé participated in the 8-week Lean Startup Dingman Jumpstart Program. This program provided them with the well-rounded experience needed to start a company and taught them how to effectively build something from the ground up, without getting caught up in the traditional way of building a business.
Before starting the program, they had the idea to focus on creating a customizable jewelry brand targeted primarily toward the wedding industry and special events. However, because of the program, they were able to test and validate all their assumptions behind their business idea. This helped them to re-define their value add and the desired target audiences they wanted to serve, jumpstarting the road to what Yenae has become today.
With Biratu still living in Addis Ababa and Alemayehu in Virginia, they look at their geographical locations as an opportunity, rather than a challenge. Through their dedication, help from their close support systems and the experiences they gained at Smith, Yenaé launched in November 2018 featuring designs inspired by two African countries: Ethiopia and Eritrea. As a two-woman company, they wear many hats to keep the business running, including designing the jewelry themselves. As their brand continues, they’re excited to feature all the rich culture and heritage of the different African countries.
When asked what advice they would give to current Smith students, they said: Invest your time in making personal connections outside of a structured classroom setting, grow your professional network, keep pushing through the challenging times and take care of yourself and your emotional well-being.
Read from source Robert Smith Business School