Social Impact MBA

Succeeding in Business as a Person of Color

By Anne Lizette Sta. Maria

Paulina Apone, MBA’23, draws inspiration from her immigrant mother’s journey to start a business in America and her mother's subsequent “struggle to make this business succeed for fifteen years due to a variety of systemic and economic factors.” 

Over time, Apone would amass an impressive resume in community economic development work — with an undergraduate business minor, entrepreneurship education service through the Peace Corps, work with multiple private banks, and through providing personal financial support. 

Even so, she believed that more education and training would be conducive to furthering her success in the field. 

Navigating a New Landscape 

Apone wanted to learn more about entrepreneurs of color who navigate a different landscape than white business owners. She found Heller’s Social Impact MBA to be more appealing than a traditional MBA, for it “teaches you how to support organizations, while supporting yourself and your community.”

Gaining Valuable Experience 

For her Team Consulting Project, Apone delivered a robust project including a financial audit to help The Flavor Continues, a recently founded nonprofit organization that provides education and emotional support through hip hop dance. 

Apone also interned at Boston Impact Initiative (BII), a 501(c)(3) charitable loan fund that strives to close the racial and economic wealth divide by supporting entrepreneurs of color in building financial, social, and political power. Here, Apone cultivated synergistic relationships based on shared values, which eventually led to a permanent job offer. 

Coming Full Circle 

Today, she holds the title of Impact Investing Associate at BII. In her role, the impact aspect is valued just as much as the investment, which, according to Apone, is “so aligned with the Heller way.” 

Through BII’s intentional practices, she is able to thoroughly get to know impact-driven entrepreneurs, understand their needs, and set them up for success to better the community. 

“It’s really exciting that I get to provide support to entrepreneurs and enterprises with similar backgrounds and experiences as my mom,” she reflects on her full circle story.  

The Heller Degree: An Impactful Investment

When asked about her most impactful class at Heller, Apone named Financial Reporting and Analysis with Brenda Anderson. Admittedly having struggled with accounting as an undergraduate, she reached a new level of understanding with Anderson’s approach. 

“When I took Brenda’s class, everything just started to click,” she says. “That class was very impactful because it was that moment when I realized that I can do this. I belong here.” 

Apone also recognized the late Jon Chilingerian, whose class Leadership and Organizational Behavior provided concepts and frameworks to help navigate professional spaces as a minority. Other influential faculty and staff members to Apone were Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, who walked her through the salary negotiation process, and Mai Dewees, who supported her overall wellbeing. 

Apone says that she came out of Heller with a community that she did not expect to find in a business program: “I remember as [my cohort and I] were applying for jobs, we would get together and look at everybody’s offer letters,and then figure out how we could support each other in getting more money, advocating more for ourselves, or even in what skill sets would be important to highlight in resumes.”