11 questions with MS in Entrepreneurship student Alessya Labzhinova

We asked current Foster students to tell us why they chose Foster, what they like to do for fun, and to share advice with potential applicants. Meet Master of Science in Entrepreneurship student Alessya Labzhinova.

MS in Entrepreneurship student Alessya Labzhinova

MS in Entrepreneurship student Alessya Labzhinova

1) Where are you from?

I am a citizen of the world. Born in Almaty Kazakhstan, my family immigrated to the US  when I was 13. Since then I have lived in Vancouver (WA), Seattle, Berlin (Germany), and New York. I feel at home anywhere where there’s coffee and WiFi (I can live without WiFi).

2) What did you do before entering this program?

For the past 9 years I’ve held various positions within Amazon, from Software Engineer to Technical Program Manager. Most recently I managed programs inside the Core Machine Learning (ML) organization, which focuses on developing internal ML applications and platforms.

3) Did you have any entrepreneurship experience before entering this program?

Not formally. However, my parents are serial entrepreneurs who had to be very creative in order to make a living during the chaotic 90s in Kazakhstan and later in the US as immigrants. I was actively involved in all of their business ventures. In college, I dabbled in a few “wanteprenurial” ventures, e.g. creating a local social network.

4) Tell us why you are excited to be a part of the inaugural MS in Entrepreneurship class

It’s exciting to be part of this new program which attempts to teach what many people believe is unteachable. When I tell people that I am studying entrepreneurship, they often roll their eyes and ask, “Can it really be taught?” Having seen the talent and drive among my cohort and how much we’ve already learned from our brilliant faculty and mentors in just four months, I am optimistic that, as a program, we will collectively answer that question with a resounding, “Yes!” We – students, administrators, professor, and mentors – have all embarked on a journey together into largely uncharted territory, and I feel that we are all enthusiastic and determined to succeed together.

5) What are your thoughts on the entrepreneurship scene in Seattle?

Inspiring and welcoming. I’m happy to find that the community has managed to insulate itself from the Seattle Freeze. Compared to my experiences in Berlin and New York, I find that people here are friendly, enthusiastic, and open to collaboration. Whether it is because Seattle is a rapidly developing start-up ecosystem or there is just something in the air, everyone seems eager to see the community grow and thrive. It’s great to be part of that.

6) What connections are you hoping to make while in the program?

The default connections that I made just by entering the program – with the 25 fellow MS Entrepreneurship students, the faculty and administrators, and the mentors from the startup community – immediately gave me an incredible network of supportive and resourceful people. From there, I found that the opportunities for networking are really limitless. Or rather, the only limit to the rate of my personal network growth is the number of coffees I can have in a day.  I am working to develop projects in the educational technology domain, and so I am hoping to build my connections with potential collaborators and people who are passionate about making a difference in that space.

7) Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

The tech industry is changing so rapidly, there is no way to know for sure where things will be in five years from now. However, I enjoy being part of the ever-changing world of technology because it inspires me never to stop learning. In five years, I hope to be in a place that allows me to pursue my passion for building software with great people, breaking down complex, ambiguous problems into achievable projects. I hope to use the skills gained in this program and my experience to drive positive innovation in the space of EdTech.

8) What skills and/or knowledge are you looking to develop?

When I was leaving my job, people asked me this question a lot. Now, a few months after unplugging from the system I can say that structuring my time and managing my own decision-making are skills I have not needed to develop in the corporate world. But when you are your own boss, how do you best manage yourself? I am looking to learn how to optimize the value I can create, given the time, money, and skills that I have.

9) What do you like to do for fun?

Traveling  to places off the beaten path. If the fun is constrained to the vicinity of Seattle, I enjoy hiking, skiing and scuba diving. On gloomy days, tango and board games.

Alessya exploring the Rock of Gibraltar. While living in Berlin, Germany, Alessya traveled to a new city every other weekend, visiting over 30 countries in two years.

Alessya exploring the Rock of Gibraltar. While living in Berlin, Germany, Alessya traveled to a new city every other weekend, visiting over 30 countries in two years.

10) What’s been your favorite part of the program so far?

It’s hard to choose a favorite part. But if I had to choose it would be the applicability of everything we learn in class to the real world. The program is designed as a startup accelerator, so if you are in early stages of a startup (as most students are) everything we have been learning in class will be directly applicable in surmounting challenges commonly encountered in starting a business. I like how in many classes we learn concepts through the case method, which forces us to exercise our core entrepreneurial muscles – analysis, judgement, and decision making.

11) What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about applying to MS in Entrepreneurship?

If wavering, read Richard Branson’s “Screw It, Let’s Do It.”


Learn more about the Master of Science in Entrepreneurship program

This post is part of a series where we ask current students to answer 11 questions about their experience at Foster. Explore the 11 questions tag for more interviews.

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