Growing up in the countryside of Japan, Kei Takatsuka (MBA 2022) attended a small school with fifty other students. She had good friends and teachers and never imagined something might be missing until she moved to Nagoya, Japan for college. It was then that she saw the breadth of opportunities available to students living in larger cities and began to consider how to close the education gap not just in Japan, but around the world.

This question eventually led Takatsuka to Harvard Business School, Nairobi, Kenya, and then back to Japan to work on an exciting entrepreneurial venture. Throughout her career journey thus far, she has learned a great deal about what is most important to her, the impact she wants to make on the world, and how to make it all happen by tapping into the HBS alumni network.

From Neuroscientist to Consultant to Educator

Takatsuka’s passion for furthering education worldwide originally manifested itself as an interest in pursuing advanced education for herself.

While at Nagoya University in Japan, Takatsuka studied neuroscience both for her undergraduate and graduate degrees. The work took considerable rigor and she enjoyed it, but along the way she began to wonder if becoming a scientist was what she really wanted. Meanwhile, another interest began to take hold as she became aware of the academic options her classmates had had access to before college that she hadn’t. Takatsuka was also teaching after school classes for teenagers at the time, and noticed that the students who did have a large number of opportunities available to them sometimes felt overwhelmed with information and options.

“I became interested in what is the best way to make the education system fairer, while also giving students direction as to what they actually need,” Takatsuka said. “With that, I wondered what was the best way for me to contribute to the transformation and innovation of the education system and thought that businesses may be one of the ways to make something scalable and sustainable.”

Therefore, instead of pursuing a career as a scientist, Takatsuka changed her plans and went to work for Boston Consulting Group for four years. Then she was accepted to Harvard Business School and was excited to attend so that she could clarify her path forward and determine how she would build a career at the intersection of business and education.

Tapping into HBS Resources

Upon arrival at HBS, Takatsuka was particularly interested in the impact that startups could make on education and considered three different paths forward. 1) Joining a startup, 2) Impact Investing, and 3) Starting her own business. With that in mind, she started to explore the startup and venture capital ecosystems to determine which path to pressure test over the summer.

To do that, Takatsuka took advantage of CPD events on how to craft your career vision which helped her better understand how she wanted to spend the summer. “I thought about what I really wanted from these precious three months of my life, not what others might think that I should do,” Takatsuka shared. “I ended up pursuing two internships in developing countries in the middle of COVID-19 – no one recommended that I do that! But for me, I knew I wanted to travel, I was interested in Africa and education in developing countries, and I wanted to have as many company experiences as possible to get to know different leadership styles, even if that meant I couldn’t go super deep with one company.”

Finding the right internship opportunities was an exercise in tapping into the HBS alumni network. Takatsuka connected with alumni in Venture Capital to learn more about their portfolio companies and how she could contribute. When she reached out to Satoshi Shinada (MBA 2019), General Partner at Kepple Africa Ventures, there was a perfect fit.

“I had met Satoshi while visiting HBS and when he graduated, he went to Kepple Africa Ventures, a VC that invests exclusively in African startups,” said Takatsuka. “I reached out to him at the beginning of 2021 and explained that I was interested in EdTech startup operations and investment in startups, and then I proposed an internship to their portfolio companies.”

Tackling Two Internships and an Entrepreneurial Pursuit

Kepple had two portfolio companies focused on education in Africa that would benefit from Takatsuka’s support, so she joined Kepple Africa Ventures for the summer with the plan to split her time.

In the first half of the summer, Takatsuka focused on building a go-to market strategy for an ed-tech company that had bases in South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria, but was looking to expand to Ghana. “I did a lot of interviews with local teachers and government officials along with internet research of the Ghana market,” she explained.

In her second role, Takatsuka is in a project management position overseeing the work of two interns. The company provides an education program for the top 5% of engineers graduating from college in Nigeria to connect them with top worldwide companies like Google and Microsoft and increase the value of human capital from the country. “One problem we are facing is super practical and that is navigating the Visa issues to make the model sustainable,” Takatsuka said. “The second problem we want to solve for is how to motivate our placement companies outside of Nigeria to be willing to hire junior engineers and mentor and educate them.”

While working on these problems for the Kepple Africa Ventures portfolio companies, Takatsuka also came to an important realization. The third option she had considered coming into HBS, starting her own company, is what she truly wants to pursue. Therefore, she decided to move back to Japan for the rest of the summer while working remotely for Kepple Africa Ventures and after hours she has been dedicating her time to developing and selling the vision for a school she wants to start at home. “I had tech startup ideas, but I emotionally have this conviction that if I can build this dream school I have in my mind that it will be a hub of the impact I want to make and show society that this is feasible,” Takatsuka said with infectious enthusiasm. “The COVID-19 pandemic made the gender gap issues in Japan very clear, so this idea of creating a school and curriculum that could help close the gender gap by encouraging STEM education set a fire in my heart.”

Looking Ahead

Clearly, Takatsuka is making the most of the summer between RC and EC year, building startup experience and working to make her entrepreneurial vision a reality. She has kept very busy but is thrilled with her decision to pursue multiple paths that align with what matters most to her.

For students considering an internship experience or entrepreneurial venture that may seem nontraditional, Takatsuka recommends that RC students remember that these three months are an irreplaceable gift that can make a significant impact on your life. “The summer is not just to set you up for your MBA career, it is an opportunity to do anything you want,” she said. “This is super difficult to recreate any other time in your life so don’t go with the easy or safe option.”

Looking ahead, Takatsuka is excited to continue working on her entrepreneurial venture. There won’t be anything easy or safe about it, but it is exactly the path she knows she needs to take to make her impact on the world.