Carnegie Mellon University

Asha Banks Headshot

November 20, 2020

The Business of Inclusion

Tepper School alumna’s CheerNotes helps everyone find the perfect way to communicate meaningful moments

By Elizabeth Speed

Asha Banks was building a successful career in chemical engineering, when she felt called in a different direction. The Tepper School of Business alumna describes the start of her journey as one of those moments in life that demands a decision — and possibly an about face.

“I had this moment where I had to decide, do I want to keep going on this path where I'm having less and less free time to do what I'm passionate about,” she says. “Or do I want to take the leap and go full time with entrepreneurship?”

Entrepreneurship was her answer. To get serious about her own business — which was still a vague notion involving travel — Asha needed an equally serious jumpstart on business skills and knowledge. She found what she needed in the Tepper School’s MBA program, graduating in May 2020.

“I used the MBA as a way to pivot fully into the business world and have access to things that I knew nothing about and had a really hard time on my own trying to break in,” Asha says. “I wanted to be in an environment where I could learn from people who were studying technology and innovation in-depth and had an idea of what the future could look like, because they were trying to create it right there in school.”

Within her first year of the MBA program, Asha’s original idea around a travel business proved to be a dead end. But as that door closed, more opened. She thought more deeply about what she brings to the table and themes emerged: diversity/inclusion, arts, relationships and connections. And from that, the idea for CheerNotes — an online marketplace for inclusive greeting cards — took shape.

“The whole idea was borne out of personal frustration,” she explains. “I’d been frustrated shopping for greeting cards for my mom, my sister and so many other loved ones.”

She worked through the details of her idea on evenings and weekends during her summer internship, through her James R. Swartz Entrepreneurial Fellowship and as her capstone project. By her graduation, CheerNotes had already launched.

Today, it’s a business on the rise. And, Asha is taking artists with her, featuring a variety of diverse greeting cards for and featuring Black, Latinx, South Asian and LGBTQ+ communities. Artists also represent the communities they design for, and Asha reaches out to find new artists to feature. Recently, she started working with ACHIEVA to include voices from artists with disabilities in her product lines. Future plans dig deeper into her passion for both inclusion and connection.

“The idea that ended up becoming CheerNotes was a convergence of all of these different things that I've been doing in different ways, in every space that I occupied,” Asha says. “CheerNotes is about inclusion. Helping people communicate and nurture their relationships — and feeling seen during the process. I don’t want people to have to deal with being left out when acknowledging special moments that we all have.”