We knew our students were talented and would go on to do big things, but what we didn’t realize is that one of them is already a business owner, and she hasn’t even graduated!
Meet Spring 2014 Paris – Business & International Affairs (BIA) and advertising major at Penn State University, Nicole Kelner, an entrepreneur whose blend of fashion and tech savvy led to the creation of the SmartPurse. It’s stylish and water-resistant with a plastic pocket that allows you to carry and use your phone without fear of dropping or damaging it.
In this interview, you'll learn how studying in Paris has inspired Nicole, from her coursework and professors to Parisian culture and street fashion.
IES Abroad: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and the company you’ve created?
Nicole Kelner: When I was a freshman, I started my wearable tech handbag company. I make purses called the SmartPurse and you can touch through a plastic pocket to protect your phone. Since I started, it was featured in a lot of really awesome media outlets like Vogue UK, Mashable, an Australian biking magazine, TechCrunch, and a few other really great sources.
IES Abroad: How did you come up with this idea?
NK: I used to lose my purse all the time or my phone; I was running around because I like to keep busy and I would leave one thing at another place, and I wanted a way to keep organized and use my phone through my purse.
I actually used to work at a river tubing company where we were given waterproof dry packs to use our phones through … I remembered using my phone through that plastic-like protection. My first prototype, I ripped up that and I ripped up an old purse and I combined the two.
IES Abroad: How has your study abroad experience helped you improve your company? Has it given you any new outlooks?
NK: It’s given me such an international perspective. In being able to take courses at a French business school and also an American program, I’ve been able to absorb the French culture and really see how the differences between startups are perceived, and perception of failure in different cultures, especially with Novancia having students from all around the world. Being able to have discussions like that has really given me a whole new outlook.
IES Abroad: What other classes are you taking?
NK: Global Marketing, Luxury Brand Management, History of Paris in Architecture and Art, Entrepreneurship Culture, and French.
It’s been a really nice balance of getting [the] history of Paris … and also getting the perspective from international marketing and learning more of the technical and business side of that, which I hadn’t taken a course [in] before. Luxury is so native to France … I can take some of those principles and implement them back in the States.
My international marketing professor checks in at the end of class with me and ties in my business to the class. [He] does a great job focusing on the content that we’re doing, and then I can ask questions and he’ll help me. I think it’s been incredibly valuable.
IES Abroad: How do you think the Paris BIA Program will impact your professional life upon returning to the states?
NK: I think being able to be absorbed in the Paris culture and also being coached through it with IES [Abroad] has been really incredible and, especially, I feel like I’ve really taken interest in Paris fashion and that‘s something I’ll take back to the states … It’s really helped me see a more sophisticated and completely different perspective. I’ve lived in New York before so I’ve seen that type of street fashion but it’s so much different than what Paris is … I can’t wait to get home to my sewing machine!
Learn more about the SmartPurse at www.MySmartPurse.com.