April 9, 2019

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Alice Bosley MIA ’17 and Shanna Crumley MIA ’18 both started companies that aim to help refugees.
Alice Bosley MIA ’17 and Shanna Crumley MIA ’18 both started companies that aim to help refugees.
The experience of starting mission-focused companies was the topic of discussion when three recent SIPA alumni spoke to a theater filled with student entrepreneurs at last week’s #StartupColumbia festival.

The panel on “Refugees to Founders” at the April 5 event convened Alice Bosley MIA ’17, co-founder of Five One Labs, Shanna Crumley MIA ’18, co-founder of Bitae Technologies, and moderator Joseph Heritage MPA-DP ’17.

Both of the featured companies are striving to address refugee crises and to empower the population of displaced persons. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) there are 25.4-million refugees worldwide—half of whom are under the age of 18—among 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.

Bosley spoke via teleconference from Iraq’s Kurdistan region, where her company works to connect the talent of refugees and displaced persons with entrepreneurship opportunities.

She recounted how she had worked at UNHCR before enrolling at SIPA in 2015. While the agency was good at dealing with crisis, she said, no one had figured out a good way to help refugees start rebuild their lives.

Bosley arrived at Columbia with an idea for an incubator that would do just that. While here she further developed her concept through the Dean’s Challenge—in which her team won a share of first place—and other channels.

Now the company “helps rebuild lives through entrepreneurship,” she said proudly.

Crumley interned at the State Department during the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, and went on to join the Peace Corps. For her the experiences underscored how the massive human capital of refugee populations was being neglected.

She came to SIPA determined to build a human-centered technology, developed through the lens of the community it would be working for, that would link talent to opportunities.

Like Bosley, Crumley founded her company while she was a SIPA student; her concept won the Dean’s Challenge outright.

Since renamed Bitae Technologies, the company is working to create for refugees and migrants a secure digital record of skills and experience so they can better access employment and/or educational opportunities.

What advice would these founders give student entrepreneurs in front of them?

“Think about everything as a test” said Bosley. 

“We are constantly learning from our mistakes,” said Crumley.

Bosley, who moved to Iraq to start Five One Labs immediately after graduation, said that becoming an entrepreneur is a hard path to choose, but it offers plenty of fun and excitement along the way.

Indeed, she encouraged audience members to go for it.

“What do you have to lose?,” she said. “You’re young and smart and have skills. You’ll definitely make mistakes, but its less a crazy decision and more a calculated risk.”

Crumley agreed, urging the audience to pursue it while they can.

“You’re going to learn a lot,” she said. “I feel like I have a SIPA degree and then half a business degree from learning as I go.”

— Claire Teitelman MIA ’19