In this series, Karen Guzman talks to student and alumni entrepreneurs about how they are making an impact with their startups.
Venture: The Path Forward is a global digital platform that connects refugees fleeing crisis situations with immediate help and available resources to cover their basic needs.
Founders: Ali Platon ’23, Bart McDonough ’23, Kelsey Overby ’23, Ivan Volodchenkov ’23, Meshie Knight ’23, Jide Okandeji ’23, Puneet Chhabra ’24, and Ella Archibald ’22
What was the moment when you had the idea for this startup?
In April 2022, MBA for Executives students Ali Platon ’23, Bart McDonough ’23, and Ella Archibald ’22 flew to Krakow, Poland, to help meet the immediate needs of Ukrainian refugees crossing the Poland border. They visited two shelters accommodating a total of more than 200 refugees, women, and children, and with the funds they raised through the EMBA network, they bought food and other supplies for the Ukrainian refugees.
When they returned, they recruited more students from the EMBA Class of 2023 (Kelsey Overby, Meshie Knight, and Jide Okandeji) and Class of 2024 (Puneet Chhabra), to provide support, from fundraising and collecting food to assistance with refugee visa applications.
As we all learned, we developed a deeper understanding of the global challenges, crises, and conflicts that lead to people fleeing their homes. We also reflected deeply on how climate change is causing forced migration. In May, we organized around the name The Path Forward, and in October, we drafted a global vision and began developing our digital platform.
What’s the problem you’re trying to solve or the gap that you’re trying to fill?
We want to minimize the timeframe for fleeing refugees to integrate and support themselves in a new place they can call home. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, because there are already so many organizations. But we want, so to speak, to update the carriage so that the wheels can spin faster.
To achieve this, we’re designing a platform that can accumulate information and optimize collaboration among refugee organizations. A crucial feature of our design is that every available function or resource should be helpful in its own right.
What was the most important resource Yale SOM contributed to your startup?
Yale SOM has offered a number of courses that have contributed to our work. They include the Global Macroeconomy with Lorenzo Caliendo; Financial Markets and Macroeconomic Policy with Alp Simsek; Social Entrepreneurship Lab with Teresa Chahine; Teams with Amy Wrzesniewski; Operations Engine with Saed Alizamir; and Modelling Managerial Decisions with Nathan Novemsky and Anjani Jain.
SOM students also have access to classes at other Yale schools, and we used this opportunity to learn from Economics of Climate Change with William Nordhaus and Critical Border Studies with Leslie Gross-Wyrtzen. Outside of classes we benefited from conversations with professors Mushfiq Mobarak and Michael Peters and from presentations at the MacMillan Center’s Program on Refugees, Forced Displacement, and Humanitarian Responses.
What’s the biggest milestone your startup has hit?
We already have a working platform, which is currently in beta. What’s most important is that we have already helped people. By graduation, we plan to sponsor a local refugee family, write a series of blog posts that will impact refugees in New Haven, and raise funds for Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services.