FOUNDER STORIES: Ayla Musharrif, FostaParty
By Julie Jung
Who is Ayla Musharrif?
Ayla Musharrif is a UT junior pursuing a Management and Psychology double major, followed by a Jefferson Scholars Program certificate. Before joining the FostaParty team, Ayla had prior entrepreneurship experience interning at her father’s investment banking startup. Her interest in entrepreneurship stemmed from her desire to follow her father’s footsteps. Taking courses from the Product Prodigy Institute with professor Rubén Cantú helped her not only gain soft and hard skills focused on project management, but also introduced Musharrif to the UT Austin Startup Ecosystem. Ultimately, the Kendra Scott WEL Institute Women in Entrepreneurship course led her to join the members of FostaParty after listening to the founder’s, Kiara Patel, memorable pitch in class.
What is Fostaparty?
FostaParty is a non-profit party planning service for children's birthday parties. Through FostaParty, families can host parties for both their child and one foster child with one donation. The non-profit was inspired by founder Kiara Patel’s experience mentoring a girl in the foster care over several years. She decided that she wanted to help make children like her mentee feel celebrated on their birthday, given that over 400,000 people are in the foster care system. The whole team believes that one positive experience can truly impact a child long term. FostaParty is designed to help sponsor parents and children create memorable and bonding experiences while alleviating financial cost of event planning and hosting. Ayla manages FostaParty’s business development and sales.
As a subscriber of the HKEC newsletter, Ayla heard about and applied to the McCombs Entrepreneurship Summer Fellowship (MESF) and recieved funding for her startup over Summer 2021. The fellowship buoyed FostaParty tremendously over the summer allowing the team to cover setup costs and launch their first few parties. Instead of their previous 1-for-1 model fundraising, the MESF fund helped the team place their focus more on the executing the parties rather than seeking new customers. As college students running a non-profit, securing the MESF was extremely critical. By using the fund, FostaParty saved enough money to apply to become a 501(c) non-profit. Now, they can move their model forward and begin competing for company sponsorships. Applying the MESF was a, “good experience for getting better prepared and knowledgeable as well as keeping FostaParty afloat,” over the summer, Ayla says. Other than applying for funding and grants, Ayla recommends student entrepreneurs get involved with the SELL Fellowship student organization and the Kendra Scott WEL Institute. Working with these organizations allowed her to stay motivated and feel held accountable through strong communities of peers, mentors, and professors.
What’s on the horizon for Ayla and FostaParty?
As a junior, Ayla is focused on securing a summer internship. She is still evaluating whether to pursue a corporate career or start her own startup. Meanwhile, FostaParty is getting back into the groove of things. Their current focus is on streamlining the customer acquisition process, developing relationships with foster agents, and educating the community about foster care.
Joining the FostaParty team opened many doors for Ayla. She gained a community, found mentors, and developed experience and exposure to grants, pitches, and the ambiguity of the startup process. Running a startup during COVID-19 also helped her “pivot when there is a huge societal crisis and educated [her] beyond any class because of the real life experience.”
With a team of all women of diverse ages, the “DEI” aspect has made a deep impression on Ayla. Working in an empowered team of women and, “sharing her experiences in both work and life with [her] hype-women,” has become essential to Ayla and may be difficult to replicate in a traditional career path.
When asked if she considers herself an entrepreneur and what the word means to her, she replied, “although I’m not the founder [of FostaParty], taking this venture from point A to point D has changed me, so yes. An entrepreneur means to me the mindset. It comes from having a growth mindset, learning, brainstorming, and being creative.”
Ayla’s Pointers for Student Entrepreneurs:
- Do research on the startups and get involved in clubs and resources UT offers (ex: HKEC events, Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency)
- Don’t be discouraged. It’s okay to pivot. Be positive and flexible with change over time.
- Seek mentors- it’s easy and affordable to access mentors as a student
ABOUT THE SERIES
The Herb Kelleher Entrepreneurship Center’s FOUNDER STORIES are monthly blogs that allow the Center to highlight students working on entrepreneurship and innnovation at UT Austin. Our blogs feature UT student founders and spotlight their ventures, recent accomplishments, and any specific entrepreneurship resources they have utilized to accelerate their startup or grow their entrepreneurial mindset.