McDonough School of Business
News Story

Empowering Global Voices: Dumi Mabhena (MBA‘24) Draws from Life Experiences and Setbacks to Launch Startup

Dumi Mabhena (MBA’24) never planned to live in America. Born in Zimbabwe, Mabhena considers himself a global citizen and has lived in five different countries – including South Africa, Canada, and Scotland.

“My background has been one of where there is opportunity – it’s kind of serendipitous – I say let’s jump at that and make the most of whatever is in front of us until the next thing presents itself,” Mabhena said. 

After earning a bachelor’s degree in business studies from the University of Stirling in Scotland, Mabhena returned to Zimbabwe. While he loves the people and stunning scenery of his home country, Mabhena recalls economic turbulence in the region, which made it difficult for him to find a job. 

Dumi Mabhena (MBA'24) describes himself as a global citizen, having lived in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Canada, Scotland, and the United States.

Dumi Mabhena (MBA’24) describes himself as a global citizen, having lived in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Canada, Scotland, and the United States.

“I got into entrepreneurship because as opposed to seeking a job, it helped me learn the way in which I can create jobs – not only for myself, but for other people,” Mabhena said. “Once I did, bit by bit, it was hard to shake.”

Mabhena launched a laundry soap manufacturing business in Zimbabwe and grew the business to achieve an annual revenue of $200,000. The company ultimately didn’t last, but Mabhena’s first entrepreneurial venture taught him valuable lessons to build on. 

In search of a fresh start, Mabhena moved to Johannesburg, South Africa –  where he met his wife, also a Georgetown graduate – and worked for a couple more successful startups. Through those experiences, Mabhena realized there were skills he needed to refine in order to grow into a well-rounded entrepreneur. 

“I was working for people that had done their MBA at Stanford and Harvard, respectively, and I could see that they had a skill set that I didn’t have,” Mabhena said. “They just had an insight, a rigor, and an approach to things that came by virtue of them doing their MBA.”

Eager to build on his business skill set, Mabhena decided to apply to graduate school and cast a wide net on MBA programs. He was attracted to Georgetown McDonough because of the school’s service-oriented values. 

“Thankfully, Georgetown let me in,” Mabhena said. “It was the one school that said yes, and I’m incredibly thankful that they did, because it’s really changed my life.”

Transformative Experiences

After working hard to get accepted into McDonough’s MBA program, Mabhena was not prepared for the transformative experience that awaited him on the Hilltop.

“You meet such incredible people from around the world who are amazing and who are your friends for life,” he said. “Being around that, great professors and great people who are speaking at school all the time, becomes truly transformational. You have no choice – your body will transform, your brain will transform.”

Over the course of the two years in the MBA program, Mabhena took every opportunity to get involved in the Georgetown community. He served as co-president for the Georgetown Entertainment and Media Alliance, as well as co-founder of the Georgetown Africa Business Alliance. Additionally, Mabhena was a finalist at the Bark Tank pitch competition, an MBA Startup Fellow, and part of Georgetown Ventures.

Dumi Mabhena (MBA'24) was a finalist at the BarkTank pitch competition where he presented his startup, Shanda.

Mabhena was a finalist at the Bark Tank pitch competition where he presented his startup, Shanda.

For Mabhena, what sets Georgetown apart from other universities is the close-knit community. 

“Of course, people have similar career tracks to some degree in terms of jobs they’re trying to compete for. But because of the service-oriented mindset, people aren’t competing – they’re actually helping each other,” he said. “When I was struggling at things or when I needed help, I got help. Everything I’ve been able to do has been because of people who are willing to serve and help each other.”

Successfully Launching a Startup

Mabhena’s experience in the MBA program gave him the resources, network, and skills to launch another startup. Shanda Studio grew out of a personal passion of Mabhena’s: podcasting. While living in South Africa during the pandemic, Mabhena started Zimbabwean Voices as a way to connect with his local community and global identity.

“The premise of the podcast was to hear the stories of people who are doing good things in a community known for dictatorship and bad economy,” Mabhena explained. “I wanted to highlight who is actually doing great work to try and shift the storyline a little bit in a positive way.”

Mabhena produced 35 episodes in total, which he found to be a fulfilling experience. Throughout the process, however, Mabhena found the production of the podcast – editing and publishing – to be difficult. He began researching and realized he wasn’t alone. 

Mabhena presents Shanda, which uses AI to convert Zoom interviews into fully-edited podcast episodes.

Mabhena presents Shanda, which uses AI to convert Zoom interviews into fully-edited podcast episodes.

“I learned that for most people, there’s a big technical hurdle to editing and getting your story from A to Z,” Mabhena said. “When I came to business school, I knew I wanted to keep doing my podcasts remotely, but I couldn’t. I started digging into the problem and I met the Georgetown Entrepreneurship community and they put me on a clear path to help solve my own problem.”

Shanda simplifies the podcasting process by using AI to convert Zoom interviews into fully-edited podcast episodes that are ready to publish. Mabhena workshopped the startup through McDonough programs like Chalk Talks, Rocket Pitch, and Georgetown Ventures. By winning various grants and pitch competitions through Georgetown Entrepreneurship, Mabhena and his co-founder were able to raise enough money to fund their dream. Since its official launch at the end of April, Shanda already has 250 active users and a team of six full-time employees.

The word “shanda” in Mabhena’s native language translates to “work” in English, embodying the journey of building the startup from the ground up – and a greater reflection of his entrepreneurial career.  

“The whole community has helped us from me having a problem to digging into the problem, getting it funded, getting interns to help – to building a product, launching the product, to getting users,” he said. “If I look back, there are so many things that happened in between here, but every single step has been a direct input from this community.”

Planting Roots in D.C.

Though America is the fifth country Mabhena has called home, he plans to grow his roots in the nation’s capital.

Though America is the fifth country Mabhena has called home, he plans to grow his roots in the nation’s capital.

After graduation, Mabhena plans to work on Shanda full-time. Ultimately, he aspires to serve people around the world and enable them to share their stories.

“We think storytelling is a global medium,” Mabhena said. “People around the world like having conversations. I think most podcasts shouldn’t fail because of technical hurdles. We want to put our product into the hands of as many people as we can.”

Looking back, Mabhena said his experience in Georgetown’s MBA program far exceeded any expectations he had. He credits the program for giving him formative opportunities that helped him grow both professionally and personally. Mabhena encourages future MBA students and aspiring entrepreneurs to not be afraid of failure. 

“I would say not to be an absolutist,” he said. “You can come explore your problems and if it turns into startups, great. But if not, you still have a great network, access to a great school, and great resources with a good degree, which you can always use in the labor market as well. It’s a win-win situation.”

Even before crossing the Commencement stage, Mabhena is making waves in the business world. He was named among the 100 Best and Brightest MBAs for the Class of 2024 by Poets&Quants. 

Looking back at his childhood in Zimbabwe, Mabhena never imagined he would be where he is today – living in America, graduating with his MBA, and successfully launching a startup. Though America is the fifth country Mabhena has called home, he plans to grow his roots in the nation’s capital. 

“Every day for me is constantly a surprise,” he said. “I’m in Washington, D.C. – what is going on right now? I’m living in God’s plan. I just try to wake up every day to do my best with the opportunity that I have in front of me. I didn’t plan to be here, quite frankly. But now that I’m here, I want to make the most of it.”

Tagged
Class of 2024
MBA