Student Spotlight: Jonathan Chang

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA dance 970073_10102237610981463_125593827_n 2013-08-15 12.38.56-1 2013-12-18 10.24.28-2What did you do before you came to the Kennedy School?

I am a serial entrepreneur, having founded and co-founded four technology startups across multiple industries. My latest company is called Oh My Green! (www.ohmygreen.com), a purveyor of taste-tested, healthy, organic, and non-GMO snacks for individuals, universities, and corporations. We tend to work with and carry local, small, or independent brands. Our clients include Harvard Dining Services, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Apple, IDEO, Yammer, Silver Lake Partners, and SoFi.

Would you highlight for us two or three accomplishments of which you are most proud?

First: I explored the entrepreneurship path in my senior year of college. Founded out of my small studio apartment in Berkeley, I grew my company to thousands of customers in five years, before being acquired by our largest competitor. It was the first time that I was on the driver seat of my career. I learned essential management skills such as leading an international team, overseeing new market expansion, establishing a company vision, maintaining business relations, and assembling a strong and diverse team. I also learned the importance of teamwork and being able to get things done with little resources.

Second: Several years ago I went to Rwanda to teach entrepreneurship. My workshop, taught via lectures, case studies, and discussions, covered topics such as leadership, strategy, finance, negotiation, and ethics. I stressed the importance of self-awareness and self-determination and asked students to reflect on their goals and how they would contribute to the improvement of Rwanda. I provided a safe and open forum for students to describe the impact the Genocide had on their lives and communities, and how they could foster change. One student created a business plan to form a chemical waste cleaning company. Another student was interested in a waste paper recycling business. I saw a clear connection between entrepreneurship and social impact. I have been committed to the cause ever since.

Third, being selected to give a TEDx talk at Harvard Graduate School of Education was an honor. The topic of my talk was finding life’s purpose. I opened up about my upbringing and the struggles my family had gone through. It was certainly not easy to be so vulnerable in front of so many people, especially knowing that your video will live on YouTube forever. But in a way, I had to be authentic and my talk had to come from the heart. People have reached out to me to say how inspired they are with my talk. I was walking through Harvard Yard one day and someone yelled, “Great TEDx talk! I liked it a lot” It was great hearing that.

How have you been able to sustain your passion for innovation while in Boston?

I keep my eyes and ears open to anything innovation related, especially social innovation. My daily reading habit includes Techcrunch, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, and New York Times. I also subscribe to Fast Company, Inc. Magazine, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and BusinessWeek. I spend on average two hours per day reading news. I am also proactive in being involved in innovation related projects at HKS. I am currently working with former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho on his book about innovation and reframing the 21st century government. I traveled to Jakarta over winter break to conduct research into social innovation and its ecosystem, sponsored by the Ash Center and Mossavar-Rahmani Center. I participated in a Harvard Innovation Lab sponsored trip to New York City, meeting food startups. I was on the leadership team of the 15th Annual Social Enterprise Conference at HBS and HKS. I think I am innovationed out …

What do you miss most about California?

I miss my friends and family members. My startup is headquartered in Palo Alto. So I miss being in the middle of the action as well. But I try not to focus on it too much. I have made Cambridge my home as much as possible. I miss California the most when Cambridge suffered major snowstorms or when I realized how dry and painful my skin due to humidity. I never had a ski mask until I lived in Cambridge.

What is your favorite social memory from the past year?

I was part of a group that won HKS Talent Show. The Japan Caucus formed a dance group and was kind enough to let me join, though I am not Japanese. I became a honorary Japanese and we forever bonded with the experience. We had so much fun. We group danced to a song by a Japanese band called Word Order. Arigato!

What is the story behind having two nicknames, and is it JC or Jon?

I need a nickname because I have one of the most common names in the world. JC is an easier name for people to remember, and it gives a constant informal connection. People seem to ease up or relax when they call me JC. I am very informal in person. JC either reminds you of Jay-Z (the cool rapper) or Jesus Christ (well, you know who she / he is – yep, I learn how to be politically correct at HKS).

If you were graduating from HKS tomorrow, what is the best memory you’d take away?

Being part of the Mason Fellow is an amazing experience. Though born and raised in Indonesia, I have spent almost 20 years living in the United States. So being around other Mason Fellows gives me nostalgic memories about the struggles we all have gone through and a sense of responsibility that I must make a difference in my home country. I think those who come from developing countries often find themselves with one foot in the future and one foot in the past, stuck in the colonial occupation era or dark history of ethnic and religious conflicts. The collective experiences of the Mason program and to the greater extent the entire HKS community have allowed me to reconcile some of that paradox and inspired me to pursue public service.

What one item is essential to your everyday life and why?

I meditate twice a day for 20 minutes each time. Meditation is the one thing that keeps me focused, motivated, and energized. My days are filled with so many activities from coursework, papers, startup, socializing, and other errands. Meditation is the time I quiet everything down and focus on my spirituality, connecting to my consciousness. I believe that I must take care of myself first before I can commit fully to others. Mediation allows me to realize my life’s purpose and that there are more important things to achieve in life than money and power. Things don’t matter as much to me anymore. My life has gotten better by the day.

Just in time for Spring, we have a question about one of America’s favorite seasonal candies: marshmallow Peeps. And here it is, chicks or bunnies?

What is that? Is it organic or non-GMO? Come on, guys. Let’s eat some kale chips. Kale is the new marshmallow!

What are you looking forward to most after you graduate in May?

Immediately after graduation, I will travel to Finland to spend time with former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho and his family. I hope to visit neighboring countries such as Estonia, Sweden, and Russia. Moving forward, I am still exploring different opportunities, in which I can bring my experience and passion in entrepreneurship and innovation to work within a government and help spur grow in private sector and address some of the societal most pressing issues.

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