Kelly Wang on Stanford SENSA

An interview with Kelly Wang, the President of Stanford SENSA, on how they support social entrepreneurship.
February 19, 2024
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Background

Kelly Wang is a third-year student at Stanford University, studying economics and data science. Kelly is the Co-President of Stanford SENSA. Stanford SENSA is a student organization that backs social entrepreneurs from day 1. I talked with Kelly about the various subteams that make up the organization and how to get involved as a student.

Highlights

  • Stanford SENSA students on the venture capital and consulting teams receive training before getting the opportunity to further develop their skills and interests by interning for a firm or organization. Past partner organizations include Fifty Years (vc), Career Village (consulting), and the Stanford Office of Inclusion and Belonging (consulting).

  • All students interested in social entrepreneurship are welcome to join Stanford SENSA by filling out the general application. Students interested in the consulting and venture capital teams must fill out a few more questions, and there is an interview round.

Interview Transcription

Kieran: Hi Kelly, thanks for joining me today. To start, can you introduce yourself?

Kelly: Hi, I am Kelly. I am a junior at Stanford studying economics and data science. I am the co-president of SENSA, the Stanford Social Entrepreneurial Students Association. My background includes economic research, social impact consulting, and economic policy work. I am from San Diego, California. I am passionate about social entrepreneurship and using business tools to solve challenging problems and drive a positive, lasting impact. That is how I got involved with SENSA.

Kieran: Awesome. How did you first learn about the organization on campus?

Kelly: Stanford has a lot of different club fairs and activity fairs. I joined SENSA when I was a freshman. I was at the service fair, and the club was advertising itself as an organization that promotes merging business with impact and finding solutions that work with everyone. That work inspired me because I was involved in debate and DECA as a high schooler, so I have always been very interested in business. Still, I was a little disillusioned with the feeling that there was a lot of profit maximization over social maximization. I came along and was like, oh, there is a way to merge those two; I joined. I joined the social impact consulting team. There was one interview for the application, and then you had to submit a written application. I got in and worked on three different consulting projects that year. We worked with the Stanford Office of Inclusion and Belonging during the fall quarter. We did several student surveys on how people were readjusting after COVID back on campus. I did another cool project with a food sustainability startup that uses discarded catch, which is turned into school meals and served to underserved schools in the Bay Area. We did a project with them looking into Government contracting and how they can break into that market. I also did a cool project with an ed-tech startup called Career Village, which is similar to Quora but specifically for those who have questions about professional development and what they want to do with their career. We helped them revamp their website, increase signups, and do some user testing, and that got me into social entrepreneurship and this idea of social impact consulting. Then, that summer, I interned at a social impact consulting firm and worked with different foundations and nonprofits to help boost marketing and communication efforts. I became a consulting lead at SENSA the following year. I was now running the consulting teams and that was really cool to be in more of a leadership position and have more say in our projects. Then, now co-president of the organization with Arnav and Megan, it's been a really rewarding journey. I've learned a lot and gotten passionate about social impact and entrepreneurship.

Kieran: That was an excellent overview of your journey. You mentioned joining the consulting team. The Venture Capital team and the VIP speaker series are other teams in SENSA. Could you give me a quick overview of those two teams?

Kelly: The Venture Capital team is a little smaller. We have around 10-12 students on that team, but we partner with a VC firm. In the past, it's been with Fifty Years. I don't know if we're repeating our partnership with them this year. Our team leads are also looking into other VC firms to partner with. Typically, we'll have a partner VC firm specializing in impact investing, investing in social impact, and social entrepreneurship startups. The Fall quarter is for recruitment, and the Winter quarter is for boot camp. The VC leads work with the VC firm, put on workshops, and train the team on everything they need to know about VC and impact investing. It culminates in a Spring quarter internship, where the students on the team work directly with the firm. In the past, we worked with a million dollars, researched the best startups to invest the money and then offered recommendations to the firm. It's hands-on and a cool way to get direct experience in VC, which is typically an area in which many students are only able to get immediate hands-on experience much later in their careers. I was not on it personally, but I do talk to our leads, and it's a great opportunity and team. In terms of VIP, which stands for Very Impactful People Speaker Series, that's a one-unit class that we put on every year. This year, Fall quarter and Spring quarter will offer the course. The team is three people. It's the teaching assistant team, but they work to reach out and conduct outreach to social entrepreneurs like really impactful social e-founders and people in the space. On our website, we have a list of the new speakers that we had this year. Give me a second to pull that up.

Kieran: Yeah, I saw that on the website. I'm happy to link it in the interview notes so people can find it easily.

Kelly: Yeah, that would be great. Let me make sure the website is updated. Great, it is updated. We've had Alex Brown from Algae Biosciences. We've had people speak on racial justice in the space. We had Tracy McCurty in week seven, which was an excellent lecture, and in the past, we've even had the founder of Khan Academy, Sal, come and talk to us. It's a way to connect the Stanford community and students to people in the social e-space. They come into class, and we'll have questions set up for them. We don't send the questions to them beforehand, so they can't prepare or script answers. Everything is very raw and authentic. You get real responses and reactions. At the end, students have 20-30 minutes to ask questions. There's no homework associated with the class. It's a weekly speaker lecture that we put on every year. It's an excellent opportunity for students, even if you're not interested in social entrepreneurship, as long as you're interested in social impact and any of the topics these fantastic people work on. It's a great way to learn more about the space and get invaluable insights. And so that's also a great way to get involved with the club.

Kieran: Can you talk more about the application process? You mentioned the written application on the website and an interview for the consulting team. Do the other teams follow that same process?

Kelly: Pretty much. Like all the other clubs, we recruit mainly in the fall. We have one main application that everyone fills out. If you're a general member, you fill out your basic information and explain why you're interested in social entrepreneurship. We don't prevent anyone from being a part of SENSA. Everyone is welcome. As long as you're interested in social entrepreneurship or you're interested in what we do and you want to participate in the club, you're an automatic SENSA member. If you sign up on this form and put in your email, you are added to the list. You're welcome to come to any of our events. Suppose you want to get more involved with any of our sub-teams like consulting or VC, or you want to be part of the teaching team for VIP. In that case, we have separate sub-parts of the application that you fill out, and each team lead will craft questions specifically for what they're looking for in their team that year. The applications are short - three short answer questions for people followed by an interview round where we, the team leads, will reach out and talk to people. Then, we make acceptance decisions. It's a pretty straightforward process in terms of the application process. It can be competitive for the VC and consulting teams because we have limited spots. In general, we prioritize accepting anyone who's passionate, willing to put in the effort, and ready to learn and grow.

Kieran: Do you need any prior consulting or VC experience to join these teams? What do you look for when selecting students for these sub-teams?

Kelly: You don't need any experience, and we try to communicate that to students when recruiting. I joined the consulting team, wondering what consulting was. You get to work on some cool projects doing impactful stuff. We have people from a diversity of backgrounds. We have a lot of people who are interested in entrepreneurship and have past entrepreneurship experience. We also have people who don't know what consulting or VC is, but it sounds interesting to them. We have people with STEM backgrounds and humanities backgrounds. We're accepting of everyone. As long as you are interested and passionate about positively impacting the world, solving complex problems, and using business entrepreneurship tools to create change, you should be able to engage with social entrepreneurship in the club. We encourage everyone to apply. When selecting applicants, we prioritize people with high passion and commitment levels. Commitment to learning about the space, engaging with the club, and putting in the work is more important than any specific experience.

Kieran: Makes sense. What do you see as the biggest opportunities to improve Stanford SENSA?

Kelly: This year, we've been focusing on creating more of a community. Because the club is decentralized, we have three different sub-teams and general members; in the past, there has been little overlap. I was in consulting, but I never got to talk to people from VC or VIP. We would make one Board retreat, but there weren't many opportunities for cross-team engagement and collaboration or as many events for general members. So, it was also hard for general members to get to know other people on the teams. We've really been prioritizing creating a sense of shared community and having more opportunities for people to engage and meet each other. Earlier this quarter, we had a social mixer, a bonfire at the fire pit. Everyone was invited to mingle, get to know other people on the other teams, hear about the work they're doing, make new friends, and prioritize community within the board and leadership board. We have been doing a lot of team-building events with all our team leads so that we're all on the same page. We are ensuring that all of our sub-teams align with SENSA's broad mission and goals. And then we also want to put on more events for general members this year. So, doing more, we had a speaker series. We did a joint speaker series with BASES, the Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students, which was open to general members. So anyone in SENSA or BASES could come. It was similar to VIP. We brought in three speakers. It was more focused on food systems and that kind of stuff, but we also want to put on more of those kinds of events, more opportunities for general members to get engaged with the club and engage with social entrepreneurship. So, those have been our main areas for improvement.

Kieran: Is there anything I didn't ask about that you think is important to know for a student considering Stanford SENSA?

Kelly: The biggest thing we get in terms of questions from students is the difference between SENSA, BASES, and ACES. BASES and ACES are other entrepreneurial organizations on campus, and the most significant difference for SENSA is that we are a social impact-focused organization. Yes, we foster and create a space for students and founders to get to know each other. Each year, we put on a social impact night, inviting founders from all across campus and all different schools and departments to come in and share their social venture ideas, recruit people for their teams, and learn about what other people are doing on campus. Yes, we focus on entrepreneurship, but we also focus primarily on issues with a strong social impact. So, like housing affordability and sustainability, everyone here is passionate about creating a positive impact. So, I'm not just creating startups to create a startup where I'm going to create the next Facebook or the next big dating app, just for the sake of creating something. We focus on creating solutions to real-world issues, so in our work, design thinking is also critical, addressing real communities' real needs and ensuring that profit motives are aligned with social, environmental, and governance motives. A big part of our work is honing in on that passion for social impact that some other entrepreneurship organizations are less focused on. That's the main distinguishing factor with SENSA. Everyone here sincerely cares about these issues and wants to make a positive impact, so it's an inspiring and great community. We recommend anyone interested go to our website. Join our email list. We have events. We're not recruiting for our specific sub-teams for the rest of the year. Applications for that are closed, but there are other ways to get involved with the club if you become a general member, so we recommend you join our email list.

Kieran: Awesome, great way to finish. Thank you so much for joining me today, Kelly.

Kelly: Yeah, thank you. Of course.