Yannell Selman, MBA 21

From nonprofit to tech—this entrepreneur holds her roots in impact and community

By Emily Carron

Yannell Selman, MBA 21, began her professional career in nonprofit, starting with an assignment with Teach For America in Richmond, CA.

This sparked her interest in education policy, and she brought this passion back to her hometown of Miami, FL. She founded P.S. 305, a nonprofit whose mission is for every student in Miami to receive a high-quality education.

Yannell first applied for various fellowships and grants and immediately received $75k in funding, and another 40k soon after, making her dreams a reality. P.S. 305 grew to have the support of bigger philanthropies, such as the Walton Family Foundation and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative.

While working on grassroots campaigning and policy issues, she spoke with hundreds of teachers and families about their educational hopes and goals. Yannell discovered screen time and lack of focus were their biggest concerns.

She knew she had to do something about this issue, and Haas was the perfect place to start.

Connecting with fellow entrepreneurs

“I came to business school because I was really eager to learn how to build a sustainable business that would grow and scale and have a global impact,” Yannell says. “I chose Haas not only because of the entrepreneurship, but also the reputation for social impact.”

Once at Haas, Yannell took advantage of the network of students and programs dedicated to connecting entrepreneurs. Through Berkeley STEP, a 10-week experiential program, and BearX, a Berkeley networking site, she founded Cultiveit with Dunja Panic, MBA 21, Jacob Holesinger (2019 CS graduate), and a growing passionate team by her side. Cultiveit’s mission is to help people reconnect to the things they care about by taking meaningful breaks and proactively avoiding burnout.

Berkeley felt like a place I could thrive

Another major reason Yannell chose to attend Berkeley Haas was because of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) action plan in place. Her parents are both immigrants and neither attended college, and she knew few people with an MBA before starting her full-time MBA program. Yannell applied to Berkeley Haas through The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which helps to elevate the representation of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans.

“For me, it was really important that the school understood my experience and has systems in place to support people like me,” she says. “I looked at a ton of business schools. I remember visiting GSB and HBS, and not really feeling like, as a Latina, they were going to be places that I would really thrive or be celebrated, and I just felt really different at Berkeley.”

She is also part of The Forté fellowship, which is a nonprofit community that works to empower and support female MBA students. This includes an annual leadership conference, which Yannell attended in Chicago before starting her MBA program.

“Forté has continued to be a source of support professionally in thinking through entrepreneurship and technology, even since the conference,” she says.

Learning how to scale impact from Big Tech

During her internship at Amazon, Yannell worked on the Alexa International team, which supports growth in Latin America. Given her Latina background, it was very personal to bring access to opportunities and jobs to these communities. She also wanted the opportunity to bring valuable business tactics from a huge tech company back to the social impact sector, and was pleasantly surprised.

“What does it look like to have impact at scale and work at a global company and have a sort of rigor around the bottom line? I've never even worked in the private sector so all of that was something I wanted to learn more about and be involved in,” Yannell says. “I was really blown away by Amazon. I was just so impressed with the whole company. I’ve never seen any sort of structure of people that was so well run.”

Tapping into the Haas community

Between internships, a full time MBA program, and launching Cultiveit, it would seem Yannell’s plate was full, but she still sought out a creative outlet. She took on Haas Art Club as co-president, built up their leadership team to eight people, and currently organizes events (now virtually) for the community to stay active. She also teaches salsa dancing classes and is involved in the Berkeley Haas LatinX Business Club.

Citing her diverse background, she advises future Berkeley Haas applicants to be crystal clear about their story, values, and identity before starting the process. Then when it’s time to apply, connect those values to the values at Haas.

“I feel like there are different components when people say ‘your story’, but for me it really comes down to your identity, values, the work you’ve done, and Haas as a place, with our Defining Leadership Principles,” she says. “That is what I still remain grounded in—my understanding of myself, why I’m doing this, the purpose of the struggle, and the purpose of this part of my journey. It serves you long after the application.”

Learn more about the Full-time Berkeley MBA Program

Posted on October 28, 2020
Emily Carron
Emily is a Marketing Communications Specialist for Berkeley Haas. Her goal is to create and deliver content that inspires and excites prospective and current Berkeley MBA students.