Shena Lohardjo a recent Boston University grad and a program coordinator at MassChallenge FinTech sat down with Holdette to talk all things startup, the importance of getting involved in communities and why pockets are a daily essential for her work life.
Harper: What you do as a program coordinator at MassChallenge?
Shena: MassChallenge is part of a global network of startup accelerators and the FinTech program primarily focuses on matching startups with industry leaders to solve some of the biggest challenges in financial services. We partner with industry leaders in asset management, banking, insurance such as Fidelity, John Hancock, and MassMutual to name a few. We identify their pain points every year and we match startups to embark on a partnership that will extend beyond our six-month program.
As a program coordinator, I primarily serve as a team utility player. I focus on partnerships, operations, and program management. On the partner side, I help manage our eleven challenge partners, help them identify their pain points, making sure that they complete their deliverables, really driving what we call our startup readiness education which helps 100-year-old corporate partners to get going and work with a three-year-old startup. On the operation side, I work very closely with our development team to implement our online processes for our program activities like judging or applications. I also help plan a lot of our program content and coordination for startups. A lot of my work consists of project management and partner management as well.
Harper: I know hustle culture is such a big thing in this generation and workforce, is there anything that you do on the side?
Shena: It's always been my mission to champion and immerse myself in the Boston innovation ecosystem for the past four years. When I was at BU I was the startup manager for the BUild Lab and it's always just been my passion personally to support startups which leads me to participate in a lot of startup related events. I guess aside from the startup realm a lot of my hobbies include fitness classes, cooking classes, things like that.
Harper: What would a productive day look like for you at MassChallenge?
Shena: In general, I like to be able to wake up early, and get a workout in before going to work which helps clear my brain. After that I section my days off and in the morning block off an hour to answer all the emails that I have, set up emails that I need to get out and attend all my meetings. A lot of times people end up in meetings that don't need to be in and like I think that's a huge factor in determining your productivity as well. I like to block off hour-long time blocks to manage my productivity and just focus on that project and not let anything disrupt that, which allows me to be productive. Then, at the end of the day, go home and meal prep for the next day, cook dinner and just relax.
Harper: What part of your job makes you happy and sends you home with a smile on your face?
Shena: What drew me to this whole startup universe is just seeing startups leverage technology for impact. So the reason why I chose MassChallenge out of all the startup accelerators out there was because they are very impact-focused and all of the startups that they work with have that element of creating impact, which means a lot to me.
Being in the FinTech industry, day to day I'm able to see startups and partners, looking towards the future of FinTech. During the summer, we go to our corporate partners' offices, we sit down with them and have a roundtable discussion with our key business unit leaders to discuss their pain points and what they think the future of fintech is. Seeing startups that have solved exactly what their problem is is the exciting part. I'm looking forward to seeing these partnerships flourish. We've got a lot of success from our first year with our partners and startups doing great things.
Harper: What was pivotal or influential in getting you into doing what you do?
Shena: When I was a sophomore at BU, I interned for a startup that made mobile games for children with chronic conditions. That was the very first internship that I did in Boston and they were part of MassChallenge’s health tech accelerator program. That was my first exposure to MassChallenge and I saw that there were all these programs out there to help startups win, to help startups take their business to the next level. For me, MassChallenge was the most differentiated one because we take zero equity from the startup and we accelerate over 100 startups in our main Boston cohort in addition to our global programs. From being involved in that first startup, I interned at MassChallenge the summer after my sophomore year where I was helping the Special Projects department research the possibility of a FinTech accelerator. Joining all these discussions with existing MassChallenge startups and partners, the possibility of a FinTech accelerator really drove me to decide my concentration the next year. That was the summer before my junior year, and I decided to concentrate on finance and information systems based on the research that I did as an intern at MassChallenge the summer before and so I've just been in a constant MassChallenge circle for the past four years and it is really close to my heart.
Harper: What's some advice you would give to someone who wants to get into your line of work?
Shena: I think community is the most important part of the startup ecosystem. There was one VC that liked to say it takes a village to build a startup, and it's really true. Immersing yourself in the community is important - going to meetups, online communities/publications like BuiltInBoston or BostInno. When I was a sophomore, and I was interning at a startup, I was doing a lot of different things. I was still really confused as to what function or what role I wanted to play within the ecosystem, I just knew that I wanted to be a part of it. I explored a bunch of different roles, I did marketing, I did product management, I did a VC internship, and I was a startup manager at BU. Just exposing yourself to different functions will allow you to identify what value you can bring to the ecosystem. The only way to do that is by immersing yourself in the community.
Harper: What has surprised you about working at MassChallenge?
Shena: It's a lot different than when I was an intern. When I was an intern, I was doing primary research. Then throughout my entire full-time career, I had been more startup facing and now I'm more partner-facing, working with our corporate partners. I think what really surprises me is the difference in culture and mentality is not necessarily what you always hear about what startup culture is. The corporate culture is very different and trying to integrate that innovation culture into our corporate partners is definitely the part that is challenging to me and the fact that they're really open to it is delightfully surprising.
Harper: What is your go-to office wear at MassChallenge?
Shena: It's definitely more business casual. We really do embody a startup culture. We have a completely open workspace and everything. We don't have a dress code. I tend to dress more formal, let’s say if I have a partner on-site meeting or something like that. So, for that, I would wear navy blue dress pants with a white blouse and a tweed jacket instead of a black blazer to be more casual, but today is probably one of my best outfits even though it is snowing. Whenever it seems like it's gonna be really bad out I actually make more of an effort to dress better because I feel better when I dress up. Right now I'm wearing a black turtleneck, a scarf and a long denim skirt with pockets!
Harper: Is there anything else you would like to say?
Shena: Having pockets when you’re working is insanely clutch. You are not always at your desk, you're running back and forth from meetings, you carrying your laptop, your coffee, your notebook and your phone, right? Days I am not wearing pockets at work are horrible. I have to put my phone under my arm and it is just a mess.