Maher “Mac” Anabtawi ’18 is a collector. In elementary school, Pokemon cards and Matchbox cars grabbed his attention. As a teenager, he changed his passion to sneakers. Anabtawi once slept outside a store for two days to buy a coveted pair of kicks. In high school, he would connect with other “sneakerheads” through various social media sites, from Instagram to Facebook to forums and chat groups. But he found it frustrating. “I wanted one easy network where I could communicate with people around my passion,” he says.
So the then 14-year-old approached his father, Sari, with a concept for an app. It would let people take photos of their possessions, organize and track them in groups, and either keep the information private or share the collection with others. Collectors then could talk about their passions, follow each other, discover new ideas—just like members of a club.
In some ways, Anabtawi knew his father would like the idea. Years earlier, when the family was on vacation, their suitcase was stolen, spurring his father to think about a similar idea for a digital organizer. “My father dealt with the insurance and all that headache, and he wished he had a private repository of everything that was in the bag. But apps weren’t a thing back then,” says Anabtawi, “and websites were primitive. The best he could do was use an Excel spreadsheet, but that wasn’t intuitive. So he kind of forgot about the idea.”
When Anabtawi explained the app to his father, who also is a collector, Sari immediately saw its value. The private option would allow people to keep track of their belongings, while the ability to make collections public and grow communities would make it potentially interesting to a much broader audience. Revenues would come from data mining.
They named the app Snupps, which stands for Serial Number Universal Protection Protocol System, and in 2011 opened an office in their hometown of London. From the start, Anabtawi says his father treated him as an equal partner. “I was very involved with everything,” he says. When they met with an angel investor, he was in on the pitch. When hiring a chief technology officer and a developer, he and his father interviewed and decided on employees together. At 15 years old, an enthralled Anabtawi would come home from school every day and go straight to the office. In 2014, Snupps launched its app on Android, iOS, and online. With user input coming in, Anabtawi turned his focus to fine-tuning product design and strategy. “Our philosophy is to constantly solve problems for the ideal users,” he says, “and the ideal user of Snupps is me.”
The time also had come for Anabtawi to choose a college. Both a friend of the family and his guidance counselor suggested Babson, and, after some research, Anabtawi agreed. Initially, he was concerned about being so far from the London office, but Anabtawi transitioned. Whenever possible, he would group classes in the morning or afternoon to maximize the time available for work. “Having Fridays off was incredible,” he adds.
Balancing work and school was hard at times, admits Anabtawi, but he also has brought a lot from the classroom to Snupps. Anabtawi participated in the San Francisco program, which proved to be hugely beneficial. “Every class tied into Snupps somehow,” he says. “We had a tech consulting class, where we were helping companies with problems, and a lot of those problems were the same that we were facing. I realized that within the space of three hours, I was actually learning something in class and then applying it to my company.”
One of Anabtawi’s professors, senior lecturer Mary Gale, helped him with his presentation deck. “She looked at it and was like, ‘It’s pretty good, but you have to change the whole thing.’ I said, ‘We’ve been using the same deck for three years. What do you mean, change the whole thing?’ She sat with me for maybe three hours and walked me through it,” Anabtawi says. “I presented it to the office, and my co-workers asked how much I had paid for the advice.”
Back on Babson’s Wellesley campus, Anabtawi valued such classes as “Platforms, Clouds, and Networks” with professor Bala Iyer. The course gave Anabtawi a more comprehensive understanding of the tech infrastructure, helping him see how Snupps fits in and where it should be moving. “I brought these insights back to the office and presented to the whole team, and it actually pivoted our goal for the next year,” he says.
Because he took extra courses, Anabtawi graduated in December, but he is staying in the U.S. until May to attend Commencement. “I want to take this time to figure things out and work on growing Snupps in the U.S.,” he says. Snupps currently has almost 2 million users, but Anabtawi is hoping to bump that number dramatically. To attract new users, he focuses on social media, working with well-known YouTube personalities. Snupps also recently partnered with eBay, making it easy for the app’s users to sell their wares: An icon in the Snupps app lets users upload items to eBay in about 30 seconds, and Snupps gets a cut of what eBay makes. Anabtawi also wants to use the time before Commencement to meet more people. “I haven’t had a chance to network much in Boston,” he says, “and there’s a huge tech hub in Boston and even at Babson.”
Anabtawi liked having other students to talk with about entrepreneurship at Babson, although he concedes that he probably has offered more advice than he has received. “That’s just because I started this process at age 15,” he says. “A lot of my friends are in those shoes that I was in a few years ago. They ask all these questions. I really love talking about the experience and helping people through that stage, because the most exciting time is getting started.”
ENTREPRENEURS OF ALL KINDS
Prabha Dublish ’18 describes herself as “somewhat shy.” At a networking event, she isn’t likely to walk up to strangers and start conversations. She also isn’t fond of talking in front of crowds. Even raising her hand in class feels awkward—all those eyes and all that attention focused on her. “I don’t really fit into the stereotypical mold of an entrepreneur,” she says.
At the same time, when Dublish sees a problem, she acts. As a junior in high school, she noticed that peers who were supposed to be donating time to the community as a requirement for National Honor Society were getting friends to sign off on hours. As someone who cares deeply about social impact, Dublish was bothered by their actions. So at the age of 16, she started a nonprofit called Charity Cycle in her hometown of Seattle. “It shifted the focus from hours to impact,” she says. “I would bring community service activities to our City Hall, play fun music, and make it so people have a good time, but also at the end we got a certain amount of work done. I tried to focus on the impact.”
Standing in front of her fellow students to organize their activities was intimidating. “But it helped me build a lot of the skills that I use today,” Dublish says. “It was something that I loved doing. The organization is still running.”
When deciding on colleges, Dublish knew she wanted to study business, but she wasn’t sure where to go. She learned of Babson from Facebook posts of former schoolmates, applied, and received a Weissman Scholarship. During her first year on campus, Dublish lived in Park Manor Central, and she became friends with Derek Tu ’18. “He was always someone who pushed me to think of different ways to address things,” she says.
Dublish also became intrigued by alumni who had started businesses. “In many ways, it changed their lives, right? But I was curious to see what entrepreneurship looked like in communities where they didn’t have the same access to resources like we do here at Babson,” she says. So the summer after her first year, Dublish used the stipend that comes with a Weissman Scholarship to travel to northern India outside of Delhi, where her family originally is from, and meet with women entrepreneurs in underprivileged villages. “It was an incredible experience,” she says. “It’s not just about the power that comes from starting a business. Obviously, there’s an income stream, but there’s also a huge rise in these women’s confidence.”
Dublish also realized how difficult it was for these women entrepreneurs to get started. With no education or income, they didn’t qualify for loans, and their husbands and families typically were not supportive. Some had received entrepreneurship education through programs run by NGOs, but then they had no access to capital. “They were given a toolkit, but they weren’t given anything to use,” says Dublish. She talked to the women about microloans, but they didn’t like the idea. “They didn’t want to send their hard-earned money back to the United States, which they perceived as wealthy,” says Dublish. Instead, the women would pool their money and give it to other women in the community who wanted to start businesses.
Dublish was inspired by the faith and trust the women had in each other and, upon returning to the States, wanted to mirror their efforts. So she came up with the idea for Womentum, a crowdfunding platform that allows people to donate to women entrepreneurs starting businesses in developing countries. As she often had before, Dublish talked with Tu about her idea. Having started several companies, he was a great sounding board. “Derek is such a powerhouse when it comes to entrepreneurship, and he has a strong marketing mindset,” she says. “I feel like I have such a strong social-impact background.”
Tu encouraged Dublish to move ahead with the nonprofit, and he became a co-founder. He asked his friend and tech-whiz, Aaron Leon, to be a co-founder as well. “Aaron goes to college in Chicago, and he actually built our entire platform,” says Dublish. “We each bring something to the table, which I think is great with our co-founding team.” The trio launched the site before the end of their sophomore years. Womentum is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so donations are tax deductible, and 100 percent of donations go to the women.
In her junior year, Dublish participated in the Boston Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab, offered by Babson’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership. “WIN Lab was life changing,” she says. It helped focus her vision and made her accountable. At the end of the eight-month program, Womentum went from funding four women in two countries to funding 36 women in six countries. Since then, the nonprofit also has secured four new corporate sponsors.
The long days of running a nonprofit and attending school can be trying at times, notes Dublish. “Sometimes those days are worth it, when your business is going well and donations are coming in,” she says. “But if you have a 13-hour day, and you spent the entire day putting out fires, then having to do your homework is definitely difficult.” Nonetheless, she wouldn’t have done anything differently. Ups and downs build resilience, she says.
Although Dublish may always feel a bit shy when speaking in front of crowds, she has found new confidence since working on Womentum. “One of the most incredible things I’ve learned is that we tend to portray a certain kind of outgoing person as an entrepreneur, but I think I bring something new to the table,” she says. She has pitched in front of hundreds of people, and Womentum even won “Fan Favorite” at a recent pitch event. “I felt like that was such a huge point in my life,” she says. “I remember calling my mom afterward, and she was like, ‘This is so incredible. What happened to my daughter who would never talk or raise her hand?’”
NEVER SAY NEVER
Ask David Zamarin ’19 where his business drive comes from, and he’ll tell you it began with his grandfather. When Zamarin was 3 years old, his grandfather would come home from work, take off his socks, and offer the toddler a dollar a day to clean them. Even as a child, Zamarin realized that people will pay for desirable services.
Zamarin’s drive to succeed also comes from a difficult childhood. After his parents divorced when he was 2, he lived with his grandparents in a rough Philadelphia neighborhood while his mother worked retail jobs and earned a degree in civil engineering. Eventually, his mother finished her degree and landed a good job, but the years left an impression on Zamarin. “Seeing my mother struggle was tough,” he says. “It kind of inspired me to be entrepreneurial and independent.”
The young entrepreneur started his first “official” business in the fifth grade, buying and reselling popular items such as headphones and watches at flea markets. Then as a freshman in high school, Zamarin applied to a city-run youth entrepreneurship program. “There were 2,000 applications, and 20 were accepted,” he says. “I was the only nonsenior.”
The program provided the aspiring entrepreneurs, who were tasked with starting businesses, with guidance and mentors. Zamarin’s idea for a business stemmed from a pet peeve. A sneaker collector, he hated getting his shoes dirty, so he thought about creating a protective film that could be sprayed on the sneakers. But Zamarin couldn’t fathom how to make such a product, so his mentors suggested starting a shoe-cleaning business. Although initially turned off by the idea, Zamarin came around after doing some research. He named the company Lick Your Sole and focused on university sports teams, contracting to clean athletes’ shoes on a biweekly basis.
Zamarin landed four lucrative contracts and ran the business, which at its peak was bringing in about $25,000 a month, his entire freshman year. He then was looking for a way to scale but didn’t see an obvious route, so once again he began thinking about that protective spray. At the same time, he had an employee whom he paid on commission. “This individual moved to California and wanted to expand the business there,” says Zamarin. “Instead of expanding it, he actually bought me out completely. I sold the company for six figures, which was the most money I ever had.”
With such a successful year, Zamarin became well-known in the Philadelphia entrepreneurial community. “I had a lot of eyes on me,” he says, including serial entrepreneur Bill Green, who had become a close mentor. “I got a good network behind me, and that really motivated me early on.”
Feeling inspired, Zamarin decided to focus on developing a spray. He began researching nanotechnology, which was used by a competitor’s product, and came across the lotus leaf, which has a natural wax coating. He reached out to a friend with a Ph.D. in chemistry, and the friend let Zamarin use his lab after hours. Teaching himself through lessons found on the internet, Zamarin figured out how to decompose the lotus leaf and devised a formula.
But one key was missing. To make the product consumer friendly, the spray had to dry clear. Other sprays already existed, but they dried white. That might be OK for industrial applications, explains Zamarin, but not for consumer applications, such as using the spray on shoes or furniture. While researching production, Zamarin found a manufacturer in Florida whose scientists came up with a 2 percent proprietary addition to Zamarin’s formula that made it dry clear. Naming his business DetraPel, Zamarin incorporated in the summer of 2013 and launched in February of the following year. He was a sophomore in high school. “We ran with it for eight months, hit about $80,000 in revenue, and then my manufacturer went out of business,” he says. “When they filed for bankruptcy, I lost the formula and that crucial 2 percent.”
For several years, Zamarin worked to re-engineer the formula, contacting more than 12 labs, domestically and abroad, and paying close to $100,000 in research and development. “None of them were able to do it,” he says. At the same time, he focused on business-to-business customers who didn’t demand a clear-drying product and brought in six-figure annual revenues.
Zamarin also turned his focus to college. In addition to Babson, Zamarin was accepted at Harvard and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Then he visited Babson and met professor Joel Shulman, who became a mentor to the young entrepreneur and introduced Zamarin to influential alumni. A scholarship offer sealed the deal. “The network you meet and the connections that you make through Babson—you’ll have those for the rest of your life,” he says.
Despite being drawn in new directions, Zamarin never had given up on finding the right formula. In 2016, during the winter break of his first year at Babson, he went back to the lab where he came up with the original formula, re-examined all the notes and research he’d done in the past, and began testing and tweaking. By the summer, he finally found what he was looking for—a formula that dries clear. “The difference between us and what most people were doing is not only the compounds that we use,” he says, “but also the process that we have for making some of these compounds.”
Zamarin fully relaunched DetraPel in August 2017, starting with the business-to-business market. Now he is poised to scale and take the company to consumers. He has attracted high-level investors, including a deal with Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner after an appearance on Shark Tank, and he also offered his mentors an opportunity to invest. “I count all my success to the help and mentorship I’ve had,” he says. “I’m very loyal to my network.”
Zamarin’s mentors inspired him to help others as well. “I also have to give back,” he says. “I spoke at a youth entrepreneurship conference recently. I want to give other kids the inspiration they might need, because I had that from an early age.”
ACCESS TO EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES
Michael Ioffe ’21 realized at a young age how access to educational resources can positively impact a life. Halfway through the fifth grade, he was sent to Access Academy in his hometown of Portland, Oregon. Although highly gifted, Ioffe wasn’t doing well academically, and this public school specialized in helping children like Ioffe succeed.
The school was a 40-minute commute to the other side of town, but Ioffe immediately felt a part of its community and began to thrive. The school, however, needed funds and support. “The entire school—this vital resource—was in three portables, and that was our only home,” Ioffe says. “The school district repeatedly tried to kick Access out and get rid of the school, because the neighborhood was gentrifying and the elementary school next door needed space.”
Ioffe had an idea. Recognizing that some of his fellow students were brilliant writers, he proposed publishing an anthology of their stories to raise funds. “I packaged their stories into three books, one every year I was there, to raise awareness of our school and our needs,” he says. “In the eighth grade in particular, I ended up being pretty successful, and Access got a new building, which was fantastic.”
Ioffe didn’t stop there. In high school, he discovered that many of the Portland schools were overcrowded and in disrepair. A lover of architecture, he became the student representative to a committee tasked with overseeing the reconstruction of his high school as well as the group creating its master plan. Then just before his senior year, a problem with lead in the water was discovered, creating a sense of urgency to rebuild. To try to force the school board to act more quickly, Ioffe organized a student walkout. “It was the largest student walkout in Oregon history,” he says. “I led 1,500 students on a four-mile march across the city.” In the spring of his senior year, voters passed a bond to fund new school development.
But another endeavor that Ioffe started during high school has had an even greater impact, affecting students both in the U.S. and around the world. A curious youth, Ioffe tried to meet with various leaders in his community his sophomore year. “I reached out to more than 50 business and nonprofit leaders, asking for a conversation because I wanted to learn, and every single one rejected my request—except for one guy, who said, ‘Listen, I won’t talk with you individually, but if you bring 100 of your friends together, I’ll speak with all of you,’” Ioffe says. “I was like, all right!”
At first, Ioffe went to the Portland Business Alliance and proposed creating a place for business leaders and students to connect and talk, but it rejected his idea. So he decided to create a conversation series. “My goal,” he says, “was to bring students from all types of backgrounds, particularly students who didn’t have access to educational resources in business and entrepreneurship, and give them an opportunity to listen to business leaders and have a conversation with them.”
To pull this off, Ioffe needed speakers, an event space, and a crowd of students. He walked around Portland, knocking on doors and asking businesses to donate space. Eventually, he convinced the Portland Center Stage to donate its basement. Then he called and emailed business leaders until he persuaded 10 to participate. Each event would last an hour and feature one of the speakers; for 30 to 40 minutes, the speaker would answer 10 questions asked by Ioffe, with the remaining time devoted to questions from the student audience. Ioffe even got the Portland police to provide free security and the public schools to bus students who needed transportation. Local newspapers covered the events, which were a hit. “The coolest thing was there was no overhead,” says Ioffe.
About halfway through the series, Ioffe realized the model could be replicated in other parts of the country, even the world. So after each event, he reflected on what could be improved and created a manual detailing everything students would need to start their own conversation series. Thus began TILE, or Talks on Innovation, Leadership, and Entrepreneurship, a worldwide network of independent student organizations that host free conversations with interesting people in their communities.
To get other students interested in hosting a TILE event, Ioffe initially tried connecting with college counselors, but he found that didn’t work. “I realized that I had to target students who were looking for a way to learn,” says Ioffe. He started frequenting the question-and-answer website Quora, answering questions from students about innovation, leadership, and entrepreneurship. “I mentioned that if people wanted to learn more, here’s an organization, TILE,” he says. “Eventually, that proved to be incredibly successful.” By his senior year in high school, Ioffe had launched 250 chapters in 37 countries.
When applying for college, Ioffe was deciding between architecture and business schools. With TILE in full gear, he decided to come to Babson and received a Weissman Scholarship. Upon arriving, his priority was to build a team, which he did with a grant from the Helen Diller Family Foundation. “Thankfully, Babson has a lot of students that are really passionate and interested in doing something that matters,” he says. He also launched the TILE platform, an online directory that facilitates setting up TILE chapters. “You plug in where you’re located, and it gives you a list of speakers and event spaces near you,” says Ioffe. For help building the platform, Ioffe reached out to Jinn Tech, a tech consultancy founded and run by current and former Babson students.
Managing TILE and balancing school work can be challenging, but Ioffe doesn’t mind. He likes being able to talk about TILE with other entrepreneurs at Babson. “People are supportive,” he says. “A few of my friends who are at other, less entrepreneurial schools say they can’t talk about their projects because people just don’t get it.”
At the same time, Ioffe tries to remain humble about his accomplishments. “As a successful entrepreneur, you get a lot of validation, but that should never translate into arrogance or overconfidence,” he says. “When students come to TILE events and get to chat with somebody they look up to, I think the most important realization is that this person is human, you know? This person is not very different from me. And you start to realize, if this guy is head of a $125 billion company, there’s nothing stopping me from doing the same thing.”