Overcoming Challenges as a Student Entrepreneur
Kitty Chen ‘21
Founder of Kinsfolk & Draper Participant
Kitty Chen ‘21 is a sophomore psychology and economics double major, and like most Smithies, has a lot on her plate on any given day: courses, extracurriculars and groups meetings. Unlike most however, Kitty is not just a student at Smith, but also an entrepreneur and the founder of her venture, Kinsfolk - an errand running and delivery service for students by students. “Think of it as Uber for errands,” Kitty explains.
The idea for Kinsfolk was inspired by a problem and need she observed on campus: long lines and short business hours at the mail pick-up desk. “I’m very much a problem solver” she says, and as such, she recognized that students often rush to get their mail after classes or wait in a long line during lunch time. Recognizing that inefficiency made an idea pop up in Kitty’s head: what if people start picking up items for others? What if you could get food delivered from places in town or get an item from a store? Students who participate in the delivery service save time running errands, while deliverers make an extra buck tagging on a few items to their to-do and shopping lists. While Kitty originally came up with the idea to participate in the Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs, she was so passionate about Kinfolk that she could not just let it go after the competition was over. Currently, Kitty is looking for a team with the right expertise to build a minimum viable product and has big plans to eventually roll out the app on other Five College campuses.
Building a venture as a full-time student however, has not always been smooth sailing for Kitty. “As a student entrepreneur, you’re biggest cost is your time,” she says. Additionally, being at a liberal arts college, Kitty’s biggest challenge so far has been not knowing who to turn to with specific business problems: “growing a venture as a student means I have absolutely no experience with business; it’s not knowing how to lead a conversation, write cold emails, and mostly how to proceed after connecting with someone that’s been challenging.”
To overcome this challenge and equip herself with the business tools she needs to be a successful entrepreneur, Kitty often seeks out opportunities and resources on campus that teach her new skills and provide useful insights into the business world. Her first year at Smith, Kitty was accepted into the Smith-Tuck Fast Track to Businesses program - a two week crash course in accounting, financial modeling, and business communication hosted on Smith campus by the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Through this program Kitty gained exposure to the business world:
“I really liked it, because I knew it wasn't something I would be able to learn in my regular classes,” she reflects. “Without these tag-on opportunities I would just be student but with these opportunities, I can also be an entrepreneur and have a more holistic understanding of different topics.”
While current students know Kitty for entrepreneurial spirit and business sense, becoming an entrepreneur and businesswoman has not always been top of mind for Kitty. “When I came to Smith I was really focused on the social sciences and humanities.” However, through different workshops and events hosted by the Conway Center and by the Lazarus Center for Career Development, Kitty quickly discovered her passion for solving business problems. After founding Kinsfolk, it was not long before Kitty started thinking of herself as an entrepreneur.
“In the beginning I didn’t know where to draw the line between student and entrepreneur. But for me it was sitting in on the Conway Center’s entrepreneurship class when everyone was defining what an entrepreneur is, that I realized I have every right to call myself an entrepreneur and the founder of my own idea,” she recalls.
Ultimately, Kitty has realized that there really is not just one definition for ‘entrepreneur’ and has come up with her own: “when an entrepreneur walks in a room they can see what can be improved.”
Kitty’s advice for current students who are thinking of pursuing an idea is to “just go ahead and do it, instead of just thinking about it.” She also encourages students to seek out mentors, on and off campus, and to value every piece of feedback no matter where it comes from. Kitty was given this advice herself over the summer by a Smith alumna mentor who taught her the importance of open mindedness: “mentorship is not just about a single person but is a collective of different individuals who bring something to the table,” Kitty recalls her mentor say. This piece of advice inspired her to talk to as many people as possible about her idea and to lead with compassion, which for Kitty, is what being an entrepreneur is all about.
Kitty Chen ‘21
Kitty is a sophomore at Smith born in Shanghai, China and raised in San Francisco, CA. She is double majoring in Economics and Psychology and passionate about Architecture. Aside from pursuing her own venture, Kinsfolk, Kitty is involved in the newly founded Startup Consulting Group and in other organizations on campus and in the Pioneer Valley. Kitty plans to go into consulting and/or finance industries after she graduates from Smith and eventually start her own company.
Connect with Kitty on LinkedIn; firstname.lastname@example.org