EMBA class launches entrepreneurship fund to honor classmate’s daughter

EMBA students attended a Diwali festival of lights fundraiser hosted by Sumit Shah and Sonali Patel, which raised more than $8,000 for the Sanaya Shah Memorial Fund.

Students in the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program turned a classmate’s tragedy into a mission to help others, creating a grant fund that will provide seed funding to under-represented minorities and social impact startups.

Members of the EMBA Class of 2017 established the Sanaya Shah Memorial Fund after the passing of Sanaya Shah, the daughter of their fellow classmate Sumit Shah and his wife, Astha Shah.

Sumit and Astha Shah
Sumit and Astha Shah

Sanaya was born prematurely and passed away after just 52 days due to complications from prematurity and a rare heart condition.  “She was our little warrior princess, a true fighter to the very end who never gave up,” Sumit Shah said.

Exceeding the $100,000 goal

In June 2017, the EMBA class decided to re-name its philanthropic fund the Sanaya Shah Memorial Fund. The fund will supplement the Dean’s Startup Seed Fund, which was founded in 2016 and is managed by the Berkeley Haas Entrepreneurship Program (BHEP).

So far, they’ve raised more than $136,000 for the new fund, surpassing the $100,000 goal, with more than 60 percent of class participation.

“Everybody was really heartbroken, and just wanted to contribute to make it a little easier for Sumit and Astha,” said Tina Summers, who serves as vice president of philanthropy for the EMBA class.

Summers said the students chose to earmark the fund’s grants specifically to social impact startups and under-represented minorities after Silicon Valley Immersion Week opened their eyes to the problems these groups face in getting funded.

The first $5,000 grants will be awarded in September 2018.

“We became like family”

Summers met Sumit Shah right after she began the EMBA program. “We sat next to each other for a couple of terms when we started, and I had the opportunity to get to know him—being neighbors,” she said. “We became family very quickly.”

Shah’s classmates rallied around the family while the baby was in the hospital, building a spreadsheet to coordinate help with everything from meals to rides to places to stay while the Shahs commuted to UCSF Hospital from their home in Mountain View every day.

Sumit Shat's classmates supported the family
Sumit Shah (second from right) and Sonali Patel (left) with their EMBA 2017 class study group, which helped Sumit’s family while daughter Sanaya Shah was hospitalized.

“Astha and I very humbled by the love we received from our Haas family,” Sumit Shah said. “We are touched by everyone’s kindness and willingness to help.  We greatly appreciate all the support and cannot thank everyone enough for helping us through this very difficult time.”

He said he believes the fund will endure after he graduates, with the support of the EMBA class and the students’ extended families who continue to contribute.

“We’re hoping the season of giving will encourage people to donate,” Summers said. “The fund is intended to live on, so we’re hoping to plan annual fundraisers and events like fun runs to continually raise money.”