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Tell us about yourself and your early career

I was born in Serbia and lived there until I was 15, at which point my entire family emigrated to the States. The concept of building was always fascinating to me, and I knew I wanted to have a career in either design or engineering. I ended up getting a degree in chemical engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and then joined an oil and gas technology licensor, in their career development program. Most of my early career was spent working with international clients globally and advising them on optimizing operations. I also spent time as a product manager for the company's first IOT product, which is how I fell in love with technology. I then took a role with GE Transportation, where I built AI and machine learning optimization models for their supply chain. 

What about technology do you love?

My life has always been structured in terms of thinking about future possibilities rather than where we are today. Throughout my life, I saw technology as an enabler to make these possibilities a reality, better and faster. After years of building and commercializing tech products, I realized I wanted to do something on my own. A big driver for getting my MBA has been to gain the know-how of building my own company.

Did you always harbor entrepreneurial aspirations?

Yes, pretty consistently throughout my life. When I was a child, I remember designing my own clothing. I would create the designs, find the material, and my grandma would sew them for me. I always knew I wanted to continue designing and building, hence my degree in engineering. At one point, I was exploring making art videos, and I ended up forming a group with two girls to create art for local businesses. I’ve had a continuous stream of ideas that I’ve wanted to commercialize, but I was missing the knowledge of how to scale before coming to Chicago Booth.

Catch us up to your whirlwind entrepreneurial journey

I started Chicago Booth in 2019, and met my business partner Dip Majumder at a networking event. We formed a company with an intention to take it through the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s New Venture Challenge (NVC), which is the top-ranked accelerator program in the country run by Chicago Booth. We didn't get into the NVC on our first try, but we tried again and got in for spring of 2020. I also transitioned into the startup full-time, just as we were entering the NVC, and spent three months there in an incredibly accelerated environment where we were able to pivot quite a bit and get a lot of feedback on our business model. From there, we went into the Polsky accelerator, which gives students a chance to work intensively on their businesses over the summer, and then we participated in the fundraising accelerator All Raise in the fall. So it's been quite a bit of an activity-packed year for us.

Chicago Booth alumna Tina Djenge

"My life has always been structured in terms of thinking about future possiblities rather than where we are today...After years of building and commercializing tech products, I realized I wanted to do something on my own. A big driver for getting my MBA has been to gain the know-how of building my own company."

— Tina Djenge

Tell us about your startup

My startup is called Neural Trend. It's an AI and big data company for quantifying and predicting consumer trends with a specific focus in fashion apparel. The apparel industry has been a laggard when it comes to using technology to help it thrive. We found a problem in the market and started exploring applications of machine-learning with alternative data sets to help apparel retailers and brands come closer to consumer demand. Our platform was launched with the help of Polsky mentors in August of last year, and we now have a couple of businesses using it. It's been an incredibly exciting, challenging and humbling process, but overall, I’ve been very happy with the journey.

You mentioned entrepreneurship resources were a large part of the reason you were attracted to Chicago Booth. What other resources have you taken advantage of?

As part of the Chicago Booth curriculum, there is a course called Private Equity/Venture Capital (VC) Lab. To be able to enter into the lab, you have to secure an internship with a VC company and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation actually helps match students with the companies. I wanted to learn how venture capitalists think so I could apply this as I move through the fundraising process for my startup. I have taken a few notable classes that have changed the course of how I do business. A few favorites have been Entrepreneurial Selling with Professor Michael Alter, Commercializing Innovation with Professor Scott Meadow, and Women As CEOs, Entrepreneurs, Investors, Executives and Directors with Alyssa Rapp.

Booth’s entrepreneurial curriculum is very rich. You can start exploring an idea, build it, and test it all through Booth classes or additional programming. The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation has also been tremendously helpful in building Neural Trend. The vast majority of resources that Chicago Booth provides are not just content you'll learn in classes, but also the willingness to help from anyone who is at Booth or who has ties to Booth. 

What else have you been involved in at Chicago Booth?

I took on two board positions, one with Graduate Women in Business (GWIB) and one with Built@Booth, which is the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club. When I joined Chicago Booth, I struggled with some of the gender equality issues that I was experiencing in my day-to-day job, and I was interested in learning from others on how they navigate these challenges. I worked to create an allyship committee to engage in more of these gender equity conversations. For Built@Booth, I brought in content on questions I had as an entrepreneur that I wasn’t finding answers to, and helped build connections between Booth students and coastal investors.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I am incredibly grateful to the Booth community for letting me be part of this ecosystem and for all the resources and support they provided.