An Interview With Jasmine Chigbu, MTM Founder/CEO & Duke Medical Student
MTM Founder & CEO Jasmine Chigbu is on a mission to connect underrepresented students with scholarships and resources to attend college and graduate school, as well as to increase enrollment and revenue for schools.
MTM connects underrepresented students to scholarship opportunities, financial assistance, and workshops, using the platform to match with a curated list of resources.
MTM recently swept the prize categories at the inaugural pitch: a Competition for Black Student Founders, co-hosted by the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI) and NCCU’s School of Business. MTM won not only the grand prize ($25K sponsored by Visa), but also the Fidelity Community Catalyst Innovation Award ($15K sponsored by Fidelity Investments) and the Carimus MVP Design, Build & Brand Prize, valued at $25K, which will support MTM in developing its digital presence.
Jasmine shared her thoughts on pitch, her path as an entrepreneur, and how she approaches time management as a CEO and med school student.
Can you describe your entrepreneurial journey? What led you to found MTM, and what motivates you?
I always tell people I fumbled my way into entrepreneurship. My journey to MTM started when I was at a crossroads in my life. I had taken a gap after graduating from Duke undergrad with the hope of attending medical school the next year, but instead of receiving medical school acceptances, I received about 25 rejection letters from medical schools. So I knew I had to go back to graduate school, and that’s when I started looking for different ways to fund my education. MTM started off as an excel spreadsheet that I created for myself as I searched for scholarships and grants in my apartment. I quickly realized that there are so many amazing financial opportunities available to students, but they are just so hard and sometimes impossible to find. That’s when I started thinking of building a scholarship database for students, especially those who’ve been historically denied access to resources and opportunities. However, I had no technical experience, no business background, and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I truly started at the bottom, but it has made my journey in entrepreneurship one filled with growth and learning. I am motivated by my belief that one opportunity can change the trajectory of your life forever. And I believe that all students, regardless of where they come from, should have the opportunity to pursue the education of their dreams, free from financial barriers.
Can you describe a specific and significant challenge you’ve faced in building MTM? How did you overcome it?
A major challenge building MTM has been the fact that I have been a student for 90% of MTM’s journey. Thus it became essential that I build a strong team with the necessary talent and shared vision for MTM. However, considering I was a student, very new to being a founder and start up space at the beginning, it wasn’t always clear who needed to be on the MTM team and who didn’t. I think as a new founder it’s exciting when people say they want to be part of your venture, but as a new venture you have to set a very high bar for who you add to your team because not all “help” is good help. So through a series of less-than-ideal team situations, MTM has learned that right now we can only add highly capable individuals with a crazy vision for MTM to the team; because the startup life is hard and you have to be able to see and work beyond the current challenges. Thus having a company mentality of “staying lean but deep” with our team has allowed us to make major progress and show huge results.
Being an entrepreneur/founder/CEO is often described as all-consuming—as is being in med school. How are you doing both?
It can be very difficult, but I have become really good at focusing on what really matters, whether it’s in business, school, or my personal life, and sidelining everything else. That doesn’t mean I ignore the sidelined things forever, but I just understand that I will get to them when I can. I have also learned to be at peace with not being able to accomplish everything. Furthermore, being a med student and entrepreneur has forced me to become very efficient and acutely understand the importance of having a strong team which I trust, because both allow me to focus on MTM’s mission and moving the company forward. So yes, medical school and MTM are all consuming, but honestly it’s been the most exciting time of my life, because I love what I do. Both medicine and MTM are focused on serving others and bringing more value into people’s lives, and it’s a privilege I get to engage in every single day.
Can you describe your experience in pitch and what you feel you’ve learned and gained from it?
My experience in pitch was incredible. Beyond the financial incentives, the resources each semi-finalist was offered, from the business and pitch coaches to the legal office hours, were so valuable. I can honestly say that over the few weeks I worked with the coaches, I grew as an entrepreneur and my company transformed as well. We are now a stronger company, and we are better able to articulate our value proposition, our position in the market, and how we anticipate disrupting the status quo. In all, pitch was an experience I never knew I needed, but truly had a positive impact on MTM’s trajectory.
What advice would you give to other Black and underrepresented founders?
My best advice is focus on growth. It can be easy to focus on what resources you don’t have, who you don’t know, and the knowledge you lack, but please understand that resources can be obtained, people can be met, and knowledge can be gained if you focus on growing every single day. If you are an underrepresented founder, trust that where you start doesn’t have to be where you end, and underrepresented doesn’t mean underqualified. So show up at those events, pitch your venture to strangers, and reach out to people who seem out of reach, because you just never know. That one decision may just break the glass ceiling.