Growing Up in the Soviet Union Taught This Founder to be Resourceful
I grew up in the Soviet Union, during a time of political and economic turmoil. My parents didn’t have much money, and so my childhood was one of hand-me-downs. I’d inherited my older brothers’ books, clothes, pants, and even their tights -- the footed kind to keep you warm in the bitter cold of winter. I had a few cherished dolls of my own, though we couldn’t afford to buy them shiny new dresses. So I put my brothers’ old clothes to a different use: I cut off parts of them and fashioned the fabric into doll clothes. It would take me years to understand what I’d really done there. I wasn’t just dressing a doll. I was teaching myself how to find potential in overlooked things.
I left Russia about a decade ago, determined to do more than just get married -- the cultural expectation from my old world. Instead, I wanted to continue unlocking potential. I studied economics and marketing in college, moved to New York for a job on Wall Street, left it to start my own marketing and advertising agency, and then sold the agency a few years later. That earned me enough money to become an investor, and I decided it was time to unlock other people’s potential as well. In 2015, I launched a VC firm and accelerator called Starta Ventures to specifically help foreign founders. Then I founded the Immigrant Entrepreneurship Foundation to bring awareness to the challenges faced by foreign founders, as well as a new fintech business, VentureBox, to provide growth capital and other resources to help even more entrepreneurs like myself scale profitably.
A couple of years ago, I traveled back to Russia to visit family. My young daughter came with me, and she found my dolls -- still adorned in those dresses made from old pants and tights. My daughter couldn’t believe her eyes. So I explained the outfits to her, and told her about how resourceful I had to be as a child. These were the moments, unglamorous as they may have seemed, that ultimately developed my entrepreneurial muscles. Seeing it all, and hearing my story, gave her a new perspective, too: She saw that she can create anything she wants.