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Entrepreneurial grad will use MBA to improve future of Congo-Kinshasa

by Jennifer Johnson,

Anna Hope

Anna Hope MBA’21 co-founded a carpooling app, established an African art gallery as a teenager and developed competitive market strategies for Colgate-Palmolive East-West Africa — all before she applied to Willamette MBA

Anna Hope has been creating opportunities for herself since high school. Raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she grew keenly aware of the country’s resources and potential as much as its tumult and poverty. 

But rather than use entrepreneurship as a way to escape, she’s using it as a tool to return — someday, she wants to strengthen her own country as well as others in Africa. 

Her MBA, supported by the Fulbright Scholar Program, gives her a new set of skills that will help her not only achieve that goal but stay relevant with realities back home.

Developing a business mindset

As a teenager in Kinshasa, Hope thrived in opportunities that advanced her education. 

After joining an academy that nurtured young leaders, she founded the school’s Afrik’Art Gallery, celebrating more than 40 nationalities and cultures through artwork, spoken word and fashion show events. Her interaction with such diversity sparked a hunger to explore more African countries, particularly in the east, so she moved to Kenya to study business and marketing at an international university in Nairobi. 

In college, Anna Hope explored her potential. During a semester abroad at North Central College in Chicago, her first trip to the U.S., she launched the school’s first coffee brand. She built on that experience next in South Africa and Kenya, where she spent her summers as an intern in different departments of Colgate-Palmolive East-West Africa. She improved the company’s digital presence then helped launch a new product based on her analysis of company sales data when she became a graduate trainee. 

In her free time, she wanted to improve life in Kinshasa. As her country lacked a reliable public transportation system, alleviating that problem was an obvious choice. So, Anna Hope and her friend thought of a solution: a ride-sharing app targeting students and young professionals who already knew or trusted each other. The challenge, however, was the high cost of the internet and lack of infrastructure to support it. 

The app gained attention. It landed a partnership with the country’s leading telecommunication company to service transportation for its employees, she said. Funding from an international nonprofit soon followed, as did challenges managing funding in a cash-driven economy, but they still managed to do a pilot run in 2018. But by the time they worked up to a real launch, an unusually tumultuous election sparked instability in the country, which temporarily shut down the internet and caused a recession. Her project closed. 

Meanwhile, at Colgate-Palmolive, Hope had moved up to managing a portfolio of small to medium-sized boutique and store owners who couldn’t compete with the power of new multinational retailers. She began to realize she shared some of the same struggles with Senegalese entrepreneurs: many didn’t know how to adapt to changing market needs and had no access to training or mentorship, let alone capital. Graduate school would teach her more about venture financing and sharpen her business acumen. 

MBA bound

In 2019, Hope received a Fulbright and chose Willamette MBA to learn more about venture financing. 

The program’s multidisciplinary nature allowed her to focus on finance and entrepreneurship and build her knowledge in areas like financial analysis. After one project management class, she retraced the steps she’d taken with her carpooling app and understood what she could have done differently, she said. 

The MBA’s student-run Angel Fund program appealed to her most. As an investment representative at Pasadena Angels in Los Angeles, she connected with a number of investor groups in the Pacific Northwest and learned how to secure funding from private investors, by far the most impactful part of her degree, she said. 

Another real-world experience through her MBA, Practical Application for Careers and Enterprises, set her up to become an external consultant for WorldOregon in Portland, where she created a sustainable expansion plan for their core programs. She learned how to navigate through uncomfortability to find clients and work on a project from beginning to end, she said. 

Last year, she landed an internship as an investment analyst and track leader for Carbon Impacting Holdings in New York. Working from home, Anna Hope grew the company’s education investment portfolio and gained management experience leading a small team. 

For the final year of her Fulbright, Anna Hope will be working as a program manager associate at TiE Oregon in Portland, where she will be working with entrepreneurs and investors to channel capital in high impact early-stage ventures. In the future, she plans to create her own fund targeting early-stage revenue in Francophone Africa, starting with her home country. 

She wants early-stage revenue startups to not only get capital, but also training and mentorship, she said.  

“I want to create an ecosystem of support, so entrepreneurs doing the next hottest thing can manage to scale their ventures and boost the private sector in countries with minimal support from the government,” she said. “I want to bridge the gap, that’s my long term goal.” 

 

About Willamette University College of Management (MBA)

Based in Salem, Oregon, we are the premier private university in the Pacific Northwest — the only university in the country that appears on both the US News Best National Liberal Arts Colleges list and the Forbes and Businessweek best business schools lists. Our law school is a leader in the state for job placement and bar passage. With unique proximity to our state's capitol, we are a national leader in civic engagement, delivering an “Only at Willamette” education.

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