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MIT Better World

By Christine Thielman

MIT Sloan School of Management student Brittny Chong has pondered that question for a long time. “I’ve always been interested in understanding behavior,” she says. “I want to find new ways to help people make better decisions.”

As a pre-med and Asian Languages and Civilization undergraduate at Amherst College, Chong explored these ideas and other wide-ranging interests. After college, she embarked on an unconventional career path that included practicing social work in New York City, studying traditional Chinese medicine at a hospital in Yunnan, China, and product development and management consulting at Deloitte.

At Deloitte, Chong worked in immersive technology, leading the design and development of a product that used virtual reality to help executives understand their implicit biases. She continued on to work in Deloitte’s Digital Reality practice as the head of product for a consolidated platform that solves the major challenges of enterprise adoption for augmented, virtual, and mixed reality tools. “For companies, there are four hurdles to adopting a new technology like that,” she explains. “Device management, meaning you have to buy tons of equipment; content management, because you have to keep it updated; learning management, which requires integrating it into your existing systems so people will really adopt it; and analytics, so that you can prove to your boss that it’s worth the money!”

Chong’s team developed a one-stop-shop product so that customers wouldn’t need four different vendors to meet those four challenges, and with those two intrapreneurial products she raised a combined $550,000, ran live pilots of the solutions, and created sales pipelines before leaving the firm. From these experiences, “I caught the entrepreneurial bug,” she says.

Throughout the professional twists and turns, one thing was clear: “I’ve always been focused on innovation, even when working for others in the public and private sectors,” she recalls. “I love to tinker and build solutions.”

With startups in mind, Chong sought to improve her technical skills and expand her network through graduate study. She designed a graduate experience that will cover all the bases of her curiosity by earning an MBA from MIT Sloan concentrating on entrepreneurship and innovation, and a master’s degree from the Technology, Innovation, and Education Program at Harvard University, concentrating on learner agency and cognitive science.

Receiving fellowship funding from MIT Sloan, including the Beatrice Ballini (1986) Fellowship, made coming to the Institute possible for Chong. “Money was not a trivial consideration for me,” she says. The eldest of six children, most of whom live in her native Jamaica, she has supplemented her family’s income and education throughout her career. “Even taking time to go to school was a sacrifice and a family decision,” she explains. “The fellowship gave me the opportunity to pursue my dreams.”

During her first year at MIT Sloan, Chong is proud to have cofounded three startups. The first is an app called ONA, which means “ownership” in Jamaican Patois. ONA uses augmented reality to provide consumers with analytics that help them make more socially conscious spending decisions. “People talk nonstop about the things that frustrate them,” she says. “You can create a new form of protest through your dollar.” Chong is particularly interested in using the app to help consumers make choices that support climate action.

Her second startup, Two Breaths, was built on the Snapchat platform and uses machine learning and augmented reality to assist users with anxiety. “If you see something that triggers extreme stress, you can put on Snapchat Spectacle glasses that will shield the offensive object with a unique filter that is trained to calm you,” Chong explains.

Most recently, Chong has been incubating her third startup, WiRa Lab, which will apply machine learning analytics and interactive design to managing food waste. WiRa’s technology will identify which food products are commonly thrown out, allowing front-end food-service operators to receive data that will help them better forecast supply and demand. Chong and her cofounder and CTO, Abdalla Moustafa, also hope to transform this food waste into biofuel, creating a new economic driver for communities disproportionately impacted by climate change, like the island nations in Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. “Their primary source of income is tourism,” she remarks. “They will be impacted first by climate change even if they’re not contributing to it at the same rate.”

Chong is pleased that her decision to attend graduate school led her to the tools and network needed to build the solutions she envisioned. “I came here to be an entrepreneur,” says Chong, “and I was one thrice over this past year. MIT Sloan provided all the guidance and mentorship I was hoping for and more.” While developing her startups, she has connected with MIT alumni all over the world.

Like everyone else, Chong had her life disrupted by Covid-19, but her immediate family in New York City was hit particularly hard. “My mother and stepfather, plus seven other relatives, were diagnosed with Covid-19,” she says. Two of her grandparents passed away from the virus, and Chong took a leave from school, with the full support of her professors, to help with their end-of-life care.

Chong is grateful that fellowship funding made studying at MIT Sloan possible, and looks forward to her final year in the program, after spending this academic year at Harvard. “The spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship at MIT is unlike anywhere else.”