Khanh Mendelowitz was born in Saigon, Vietnam. She moved to the United States after completing her Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. Khanh is fluent in Vietnamese and Korean. She worked as court interpreter for the Massachusetts Trial Court from 2013 to 2017.During that time, Khanh attended the Harvard Extension School where she studied International Relations. Khanh is currently employed by the Massachusetts Office of International Trade and Investments (MOITI) as Business Development Manager.MOITI is an international business development agency promoting trade and investment with global partners in Massachusetts and around the world. Khanh is also the Project Director for the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) which is a trade and export initiative dedicated to matching fund grants to Massachusetts companies in order to help them to export to foreign markets. Khanh is a US citizen and is proud to call herself a Vietnamese American. 

What do you love most about the industry you are in?

I love working for MOITI because I found the meaning in my job in bringing FDI to the Commonwealth in order to create jobs and enhance the Commonwealth’s economy. I also very much enjoy working with small businesses, encouraging and enabling them to do export though the STEP grant program.    

MOITI, as the Commonwealth’s designated international agency, promotes direct foreign investment by receiving delegations from overseas in order to present the Commonwealth’s ecosystems and introducing these delegations to appropriate state and Quasi agencies. Our office works closely with consulates and economics developments offices from 65 different countries. 

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts applies for grants from the Small Business Administration (SBA) through the STEP program, and match one-third of these grant monies received from the SBA.  As Project Director for STEP, I apply for and obtain approximately $500,000 annually from SBA. With a matching grant from the Commonwealth, we are able to provide up to $12,000 to each of 40 to 45 small businesses toward the enhancement of exports. 

What does a typical day consist of for you?

During a typical day in my position as Business Development Manager and STEP Project Director, I dedicate myself to MOITI’s mission of meeting with delegations from overseas. More locally, I oversee management tasks of five individuals–interns in our office from various universities within the Commonwealth. Throughout the course of the day, I work with small businesses interested in the STEP program and attend to numerous administrative responsibilities as well.

What keeps you motivated?

I have found in working with entrepreneurs and small businesses that they really need help yet don’t know where to go.  When I speak at various Innovation Labs, start-ups and entrepreneurs are often frustrated in feeling that the government does little to support them. It is quite true that government does not help by investing taxpayer funds into Start-ups because of the risks involved.  However, we have in the Commonwealth venture capital and Quasi agencies that are half public half private that support businesses directly. I communicate with these businesses and make introductions so that they are able to pursue this kind of assistance. 

4 Who has been a role model to you and why?

A previous colleague of mine who I met while working at the Massachusetts Trial Court has been an especial role model for me. She is a Vietnamese refugee who came to the U.S. when she was 12 years old. She completed her university studies and now has a family while still working.  What I have found interesting about her is that she is a traditional woman in significant respects. She still likes to cook for her family and will play dolls with her young daughter for hours. At the same time, she has been very determined to excel at her career. After her kids went to bed, she would take her laptop computer, head out to Starbucks, and study until midnight. This colleague eventually obtained a Master’s degree with distinction and now works at the management level.

How do you maintain a solid work/life balance?

I try to do whatever I can to do excel in my work.  I am working remotely right now.  When I am not at work, I do yoga and enjoy listening to music.  I have a husband and two daughters.  My girls are learning online now, so I am also overseeing homework with them as well. It is all very busy but rewarding!

What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?

When I meet with delegations from overseas, they often ask about financial incentives. In Massachusetts, we do not have a competitive financial incentive, such as building offerings or tax breaks.  We put our investment into ecosystems.  We don’t buy the company, but we can help them with infrastructure or with workforce training.  We have nearby universities and a highly trained workforce available to them–students that have graduated from UMass, Harvard, MIT and so on. It has been sometimes difficult to have delegations overlook preconceived expectations in order to focus on the unique opportunities provided by the Commonwealth in greater perspective.

What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?

You may not control the events that have happened to you, but you can try your very best not to be reduced by them. 

What is your biggest accomplishment?

I find my biggest accomplishment and satisfaction in seeing companies’ reports on their ROI (Return of Investment) through the STEP program.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to others?

The advice I would give to startup companies is that it is never easy.  It can be very difficult and oftentimes painful. But I would say don’t give up so long as you believe in your product. Entrepreneurs and small businesses should feel confident in reaching out to the government for help. Through MOITI, the business development office, and by using the quasi-agencies, we are here to keep things running smoothly and to support industry as robustly as possible.  Do not hesitate to contact me.  I may not have the answer you need, but I will make sure to get you connected to the right person or persons or resources. 

Outside of work, what defines you as a person?

I think it is important that you are able to do what you like and that you like what you are doing. 

What trends in your industry excite you?

The thing that really excites me is the STEP, the State Trade Expansion Program.  With our funding at over a half-million dollars, we are able to help about 45 companies to do exports and achieve a huge return of investment. That is a big incentive for me.  I am happy helping these entrepreneurs and small businesses succeed in exporting.