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An Entrepreneur's Data-Driven Experience in the Harvard Business Analytics Program

Written by Stephen Eichinger on Apr 6, 2020

Related content: Data Science, Outcomes

A bona fide entrepreneur, Anferny Chen has always sought disruption. After selling his first startup in 2013, he embarked on a search for the “next big thing.” It didn’t take him long to find an answer. “I quickly realized that artificial intelligence was the future,” said Anferny—and he wanted to be a part of it.

In 2016, Anferny met Zhicong Lu, a computer scientist with a deep passion for data (who would later help Anferny co-found his current company). Inspired by Zhicong, Anferny started studying the industry and didn’t want the learning to stop.

Two years later, Anferny heard of a business analytics program, designed by one of the world’s top universities, for students who aim to drive disruptive innovation through data. Anferny was particularly excited that the program had just recently launched. “If I try something, I want to be the first,” said Anferny.

Ever the pioneer, he applied for a spot in the inaugural cohort of the Harvard Business Analytics Program.

Living locally, learning globally

Enrolling in an online program afforded Anferny tremendous freedom. “I didn’t want to relocate,” he said. “But I still wanted a quality education.” Anferny could live locally and learn globally—sitting in a virtual classroom while being taught by experts hundreds of miles away.

From day one, Anferny was impressed by his cohort’s diversity. Before enrolling in the Harvard Business Analytics Program, he had obtained his MBA in Toronto. “Toronto is very international. I was able to meet with and learn from talents from all over the world, but the majority of my peers had a strong focus in banking and a few other industries,” said Anferny. “Through the Harvard program, I was studying with people who worked in all different industries—from technology to Hollywood.”

This diversity of perspectives proved invaluable when Anferny founded his new company, a peer-to-peer learning platform called Dataraction. “As an early-stage startup, we wanted feedback,” said Anferny. His cohort certainly delivered—with more than a dozen classmates volunteering key insights.

Come launch time, Anferny also asked his peers for help promoting Dataraction to communities across the U.S. The answer was always yes. Today, Anferny has welcomed two cohort connections to his startup’s advisory board and is in the process of onboarding a few more. “We help each other succeed,” he said, “because in doing so the whole community succeeds.”

Fulfilling a lifelong goal

Growing up, Anferny dreamed of studying at Harvard. Now he can finally say he’s done it—and the experience didn’t disappoint. Anferny praised the accomplished faculty who lectured on cutting-edge topics like blockchain and machine learning. “They always stayed ahead of the curve by teaching what was new in their field,” he said. In one course, Digital Strategy and Innovation, Professor Karim Lakhani developed a case study inspired by current events that had only surfaced a week prior. “We learned in real-time,” said Anferny.

Since graduating from the program, Anferny has stayed in touch with Professor Lakhani, who also hails from Toronto. Through an active membership with the Harvard Business School Club of Toronto, Anferny is now organizing a local WeWork event to promote Lakhani’s new book, Competing in the Age of AI, which was co-written by another Harvard Business professor, Marco Iansiti.

Another standout professor was Hanspeter Pfister, a computer scientist at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “He genuinely loves his work,” said Anferny, “and he loves sharing his research with students. Whenever I emailed him with a question, I’d hear back in under 24 hours.” Among the many lessons Anferny learned in Professor Pfister’s class is one he’ll never forget: “If you want to be great at what you do, you must first love what you do.”

Going back—and giving back

Though Anferny graduated from the Harvard Business Analytics Program in 2018, he’s remained an active member of the cohort community. “When you’re done with the program, that’s only the beginning,” he said. “The education doesn’t end.”

Before enrolling in the program, Anferny had relied on news outlets for important industry updates. Now, he leans on his immediate network. “I have contacts across the world who are constantly sharing the latest happenings in their fields and their cities,” said Anferny. “Expert sources tell me about emerging innovations in their fields. And it only gets better as the community gets bigger.”

As part of his commitment to lifelong learning, Anferny travels to Boston each year to attend a Harvard Business Analytics Program immersion weekend. There, he meets with faculty, alumni, and mentees—forming in-person connections with the many faces he’s come to know online. And he doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon. “It’s become a tradition,” said Anferny. “I love going back.”

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