Nancy Hoque, MBA 19, arrived at Berkeley Haas in search of a fresh start in her career. She'd worked as an engineer at Nokia and Motorola for more than a decade, but a new interest in go-to-market strategy was emerging. Why? Because on the side she'd been running her own online business, SixteenR, which sold headscarves as tools of empowerment for Muslim women. The business had grown to a point where she didn't exactly know how to proceed.
"I needed more money to grow, but I didn't know how to approach investors," she says. "I needed help scaling up, perhaps transitioning from an e-commerce model to a brick-and-mortar business, and I didn't have the skills to do it."
When she started her Evening & Weekend MBA at Berkeley Haas, she closed down SixteenR, but the experience gave her the idea of establishing a virtual entrepreneur incubator particularly for women. And since Nancy herself is a Muslim woman of Bangladeshi heritage, she decided to focus the incubator's outreach on women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and South Asia.
During her time at Haas, Nancy honed the skills she would later use with the incubator by facilitating a networking group called Lean In Circles, which gathered students to provide each other with peer support for professional goals. The circles resulted in a Women in Tech event that featured a panel of female executives from Visa, Netflix, and Kevala.
"These circles helped me learn how to foster dialogue, networking, and mentoring," she says. "And I began to see that an incubator could make these skills actionable."
Nancy also participated in the Haas Global Network Access Management Program which connected her to the G20 Young Global Changers summer school program and the Global Solutions Summit, which she attended in 2018 in Berlin. Her participation in Professor Rajiv Ball's Design Thinking course took her to Amsterdam last summer.
"That was a great experience," she says. "It really made us think through the particular business problem we were trying to solve and to come up with a creative solution."
Finally, with help from finance and strategy professor Gregory La Blanc, Nancy conducted a study over the course of a semester to create her incubator. She met with staff from Haas's MENA Group which operates under the school's Center for Entrepreneurship and Development in Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.
While she was at Haas, Nancy joined Symantec in New Ventures Product Marketing and will start a new job at Adobe this summer as a Go-To-Marketing Strategy associate. But she's also planning to launch her incubator, focusing first on a publishing startup in Bangladesh. To prepare for the launch, she's been developing a network of women entrepreneurs in the MENA region who can serve as mentors to those going through the incubator curriculum, which includes the three key aspects Nancy took from her Lean In Circles work: mentorship, networking, and dialogue.
"In particular the program will have what I call virtual 'fireside chats,' that will bring together women entrepreneurs to discuss topics of concern, like how to negotiate with manufacturers and how to find a mentor," she says. She will work with women leaders she met through the Young Global Changers network to build the global dialogue.
As the commencement speaker for her class, Nancy highlighted the bravery and support of her fellow classmates and the need for more women leaders in business. She also thanked family, friends, faculty, and mentors on behalf of the class for their encouragement, calling out her own husband as a great source of support throughout her Haas journey.
"I really want to establish a peer support system and network, much like I found at Haas," she says. "As women entrepreneurs, we need that to pursue our ambitions."