Bangladesh-born Khaled Hassan dreams of closing opportunity gaps in the venture capital space — and in life.
His goal: Get accepted to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and earn his undergraduate degree.
After that — sky’s the limit.
Hassan says that if he’s accepted to Wharton, he wants to learn how to start a venture capital firm that takes capital from developed markets and gives it to the developing world. “I want to bring more funding to founders in Bangladesh and level the playing field,” he says. “One of the best ways to reach my goals would be to start at Wharton, as it will help me stand out in the business world. For the right doors to open, there needs to be a certain amount of equality.”
GROWING UP IN BANGLADESH
Hassan lived in Bangladesh until he was 16 years old. Growing up, his mother was a stay-at-home mom and his father worked in the military, work that took him on United Nations missions to Africa and across Bangladesh.
“From an early age I would see my father work from 1 a.m. to 7 p.m. I had a value system of work ethic. This made me appreciate what it takes to get from the bottom to the top of any ladder,” says Hassan.
Because of the nature of his father’s work, Hassan and his family have lived in nearly every district of the country. In each place they lived, they stayed in military quarters. “I didn’t get much time in each region,” he says. “There would be times that I’d have to change schools three times in one year. We were constantly on the move.”
Hassan says that nonstop change meant that he learned how to quickly start over and make new friends. However, he says the toughest part was that once he’d settled into a new place, his father would be transferred to another city and he’d have to do it all over again. “When you grow up in that kind of environment, change itself becomes your only constant,” he says.
While Hassan’s upbringing brought challenges in the form of instability and change, he thinks fondly of his childhood. “I can’t complain about my upbringing. I was quite privileged. Compared to the other 160 million people in my country; I was one of the luckiest ones,” he explains.
EDUCATION IN BANGLADESH
In the seventh grade, Hassan experienced more steadiness. His father was transferred to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, where he and his family moved and lived for four years. “That was the most constant time of my life,” he says.
There, Hassan went to the Bangladesh International School. He describes the Bangladeshi education system as being rigid. “If you’re doing well in science or math, you’re destined to study STEM. That’s how my journey started; I didn’t really get a chance to explore other areas,” he says.
But his curiosity got the better of him; in the tenth grade, Hassan began a small apparel business where he bought clothing from garment factories and sold them online. “I was loving it, and from there became interested in studying business,” he says.
When he borrowed his sister’s book on microeconomics, he realized that there was a whole other world outside of STEM. He took a risk and switched his courses to commerce. In Bangladesh, this was a big deal. “When you switch from one subject to another, there’s pretty much no going back. It’s almost like moving from one region to another and starting all over again,” he says.
MOVING TO PARIS
A few months into the tenth grade, Hassan’s father got transferred to Paris, France to represent the Bangladesh military at the embassy. This meant that once again, he and his family would pack up and move.
With a portion of tuition paid by the military, Hassan was able to enroll in a two-year International Baccalaureate at ICS Paris. Upon his arrival in Paris — and ICS — he recounts experiencing culture shock. “ICS is a private school, and most people who attend are from upper economic classes,” he says. “Bangladesh -— and that part of the world in general — is known for being rather conservative. France, on the other hand, is one of the most liberal countries. The first three to four months at ICS were challenging. I had to learn what was appropriate and understand the French value system.”
He says that many extracurricular activities with peers weren’t financially feasible for him, so instead he decided to allocate his time to further explore his passion for business and financial markets. With some money he’d saved from his apparel company, he began trading. Soon, he was hooked and would wake up at 1 a.m. every day to trade. “I’d watch documentary after documentary on people like George Soros, learning everything I could. I was reading hedge fund research papers and learning about hedge fund managers and strategies. I was also obsessed with watching Shark Tank,” he says.
Inspired by what he was learning, Hassan found direction on his path. Following high school graduation, he landed an internship at a small investment bank in Paris, France. There, he worked closely with the CEO and helped raise funds for startups. This work experience — although valuable — shed light on opportunity gaps in the investment world. “Out of the many founders we screened and interviewed, only 2% got funded,” Hassan tells Poets&Quants.
This drive to promote equality came from the grave reality that founders in developing countries — such as his home country of Bangladesh — are not on an equal playing field when it comes to competing with foreign startups. Plus, his experience growing up in a low-income household made him aware of the effects of economic disparity. “There’s a lot of talent in Bangladesh,” he says. “But when it comes to getting substantially funded, it’s much more difficult. They rarely get access to foreign capital.”
When Hassan was looking for an internship, he applied to over 70 companies — most of which were venture capital firms. “In seven out of 10 cases, most employees were from Wharton,” he says.
Out of the six Ivy League schools on his wishlist, Hassan believes that Wharton is the best fit due to the school’s pre-professional curriculum. Plus, the fact that this school has clubs and communities in venture capital, entrepreneurship, and finance is attractive to him.
Coming from a rigid educational system in Bangladesh, Hassan also appreciates that Wharton is an interdisciplinary school. “You can pursue economics and finance at Wharton, as well as economics from the school of arts and sciences,” he says. “Wharton also allows you to create a major — you can mix and match different subjects together. There, I’d have the opportunity to explore finance, corporate social justice, and economics at the same time.”
Another reason he’s applying to Wharton is that the school provides 45 full financial aid offers each year. However, this means that it’s extra competitive. “I’m competing with the best of the best,” he says. “There’s a limited amount of funds for a lot of students.”
Hassan describes the application process as stressful; between the six schools he’s applying for, he’s had to write 17 essays. “It’s what I’ve been doing for the last four months,” he says. “I’m trying to juggle a few things; every day, I’m committing 8-9 hours to my internship. Then, I’m putting 3-4 hours into my applications and studying for the SAT.”
So far, he says his biggest challenge has been in connecting all of the dots of his journey in 650-word application essays. “It’s difficult to make sense of your entire journey and life purpose in so few words,” he says.
Despite how competitive it is to get into Wharton, he says that there are a few things that set him apart from other applicants. “Most high school students don’t get an internship at an investment bank. That just doesn’t usually happen,” he says. “Interns rarely get to close deals with the CEO, let alone lead them. I was able to do both of those things firsthand.”
Another factor that sets him apart is the relationships he’s built at his internship; one of the founders he’s helped raise funds for is one of the 17 United Nations Young Leaders and a Forbes’ Top 30 Under 30 candidate. “He’s offered to write a recommendation letter for me, which I hope helps my chances,” he says.
HOPEFUL FOR THE FUTURE
While pursuing post-secondary education at an Ivy League school would be a financially challenging feat considering he had only one working parent, he decided to give it his all. He built up his CV in a few ways: At school, he found outlets to further explore his interests. He became the president of the student government and he and his friend, who was equally as enthusiastic about finance, began a finance club. Then, after graduation, he gained momentum during his internship. He also started writing articles for the Financial Express newspaper in Bangladesh, leading a section related to entrepreneurship and the startup ecosystem.
Through this section of the paper, he’s helping to educate the young Bangladeshi generation about the startup ecosystem and help give them a leg up.
While Hassan is hopeful that he can get into Wharton, he’s realistic about the opportunity gaps that give one party an edge over the other. “Many students who get into the top Ivy League schools with the least amount of effort are the ones who have been making steps towards this goal since the seventh grade,” he says. “That’s an opportunity that’s likely being passed down to them due to their demographics, having parents with affluent backgrounds, or having parents who went to similar schools. When you come from a country like Bangladesh, you don’t have this same opportunity.”
Despite the uncertainty of what the future holds for Hassan’s academic and career path, his goals are what are helping him to persevere and stay motivated. “One of the most fundamental values I grew up with is that if you really want something, go after it. No one owes you your dream. It’s your responsibility to make it happen,” he says. “This part of my journey is for me to create. Otherwise, my future will be diverted back to Bangladesh.”