Xiaoyin Qu ’15 came to the U.S. from China at 18 to enter Pomona College. Sana Javeri Kadri ’16 arrived from India. Maya Horgan Famodu ’13 is a Nigerian American who grew up in Minnesota. And Stephen Smith ’17 came to Pomona from Chicago after transferring from a college in Texas.
What they all have in common less than 10 years after graduating is they are tremendously successful entrepreneurs selected to the Forbes 30 Under 30 lists for 2021. They join previous Pomona 30 Under 30 honorees Scott Tan ’16, Gator Halpern ’12, Brennen Byrne ’13, Kevin Yamazaki ’10 and Kyle Hill ’09 as Forbes marks a decade of its 30 Under 30 lists in various sectors.
Hazel Raja, associate dean and senior director of the College’s Career Development Office, says in many ways it’s not surprising to see young Pomona alumni heading successful startups.
“Liberal arts students are oftentimes dynamic entrepreneurs,” Raja says. “Our Sagehens’ enterprising mindset is fueled by a desire to pave their own path, challenge assumptions, and think in non-conventional/non-linear terms. They are unfazed by complexity and ambiguousness, and thrive in environments that allow them to lead change.”
Shortly before the pandemic hit, Qu launched Run The World, an online events venue that aims to build connections and say goodbye to “boring virtual events.” It proved to be good timing: The platform has hosted more than 10,000 virtual events since.
“It took me many ideas to get to this one,” Qu told Forbes in a 30 Under 30 video. “I probably tried like seven ideas that didn’t really work out.
“My lesson is that I just try it.”
She also founded Ingressive for Good, a nonprofit providing micro-scholarships, technical skills training and talent placement.
“I have an obligation to use my access to empower the next generation of African innovators,” she told Forbes.
As founder and CEO of Diaspora Co., Kadri has combined her love of food, photography and her interest in food justice, connecting independent spice farmers in her native India with the vast American market.
“I was actually deciding between art and economics, which sounds funny, but those were the things that I loved,” she remembers. “I think one of the first things I said to my advisor, Mark Allen, freshman year was if I could figure out ways to bring food and art together, then I would definitely be an art major, and he said, ‘OK, well, I can introduce you to people who are already doing that.’”
As co-founder and CEO of NOCD, a telehealth company that provides face-to-face online sessions with licensed therapists to patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder, Smith is honored as an entrepreneur in the healthcare sector.
An economics major who minored in Asian studies with a focus on China, Smith started NOCD—pronounced “No-CD”—while still a student at Pomona. The idea for NOCD grew out of his own experience with OCD.
With increased needs for accessible mental health services during the pandemic, NOCD is growing rapidly. The company recently raised $12 million to expand its online OCD therapy services to all 50 states.
Smith credits economics professors Michael Kuehlwein, Bowman Cutter and Gary Smith with helping him learn to think about complicated problems and their solutions—as well as with being understanding about his schedule as he traveled to raise funding to launch NOCD his senior year.
“I love Pomona,” Smith says. “Pomona was where everything started for me. Going to Pomona was the best decision I've ever made I feel like in many ways—educationally speaking, at least.”