Cate Khan ’99 Honored with Inaugural Dyson Alumni Leadership Award

By: Janice Endresen
headshot of Kate Khan

Cate Khan ’99, CEO of VerishopGroup

The Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business is proud to announce that Cate Khan ’99, cofounder and CEO of VerishopGroup and a Dyson School graduate, has been selected to receive the inaugural Dyson Alumni Leadership Award. Jinhua Zhao, David J. Nolan Dean of the Dyson School, will present the award to Khan at Dyson Leads, April 11, 2024, in New York City, where Khan and Zhao will also engage in a fireside chat about responsible leadership.

The Dyson Alumni Leadership Award recognizes Khan as an exceptional, accomplished business leader whose work is an extraordinary demonstration of the Dyson ethos, “our business is a better world.” Through her leadership and business practices in providing a platform and support ecosystem for independent businesses, Khan has proven that she is dedicated to addressing the toughest societal challenges.

“It is with great pride that we recognize Cate for her outstanding contributions to responsible leadership,” said Zhao. “Cate has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to fostering the growth and sustainability of small businesses, and her remarkable achievements serve as an inspiration to our entire community, reinforcing our commitment to developing business leaders who will make the world a better place.”

“I’m extremely flattered, surprised, and honored,” Khan said when asked about being selected to receive this award. “Honestly, my experience at Cornell was truly life changing. I learned a lot of life lessons: Cooperation, integrity, and fortitude. I learned grit while I was at Cornell—achieving your goals is not easy, it takes hard work, and it takes others to help you along the way.”

A champion for independent businesses and diverse entrepreneurs

An expert and innovator in the marketing and e-commerce industry and a champion of independent brands, Khan, along with her cofounder and husband, Imran Khan, launched VerishopGroup in 2018 and she now leads the award-winning growth platform. Dedicated to empowering small businesses, the company’s e-commerce platform, Verishop, features not only “thousands of independent brands, but also a diverse range of female-, BIPOC-, and LGBTQ+-founded emerging and independent brands.”

A strong sense of mission fuels Khan’s work. “Our whole mission is about helping independent brands to be successful,” she says. “Every year, 20 percent of small businesses will go out of business; in five years, 80 percent of those businesses will be out of business. Eighty percent! With those statistics, you can’t help but try to help these small businesses.”

Khan drew on her experience in the retail industry and in brand management to create and launch Verishop. She worked at Amazon leading’s e-commerce and ads businesses, as a director at Avon, a brand manager at L’Oréal, and a consultant at Accenture. Those roles enabled her to pull together the skills and knowledge she knew startup businesses need to succeed.

“We’ve gotten to this place where, finally, starting a business is democratized,” says Khan. “Online tools, like Shopify, allow anyone to start a business. Why not help them stay in business? That is our mission.”

Sustained by a passion for learning

Khan is frank about the challenges of launching, managing, and sustaining a business. “The challenges that come at you take an incredible amount of grit; life is not easy along this journey,” she said. “There have definitely been days where I feel like, ‘I’m beat. I quit.’ And then I wake up the next morning, and I’m like, ‘No, we got this. We’re going to figure it out, we’re going to solve this, and we’re going to have another day.’”

What fuels Khan is her passion for learning. “You have to be hungry for knowledge, otherwise you will burn out,” she said. “If you do not love and crave what’s next, then you will give up.”

Mentors at Cornell opened a new world of possibilities

Khan grew up in a small town and is grateful to Cornell for giving her “the opportunity to see things differently,” she said. “My world was so small when I was growing up, to see so many possibilities I did not know existed was really incredible.”

Cindy van Es, professor of practice at the Dyson School, was an important mentor for Khan. “I became a TA for her statistics class. She’s an incredibly smart woman and she also opened my eyes up to possibilities. Being selected as part of her staff, being able to work with such a strong female leader whom I had so much respect for, was one of the biggest honors I’ve had.”

Khan credits her advisor, Gene German, MS ’59, PhD ’78, who was the inaugural Robert G. Tobin Professor of Food Marketing in the Dyson School and who recently passed away, with helping her to see paths that she didn’t know were possible—like the “amazing experience” of going to Japan to give a presentation on food marketing as a marketing fellow in the Food Industry Management Program. He also helped Khan get her first internship, with Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), which took her overseas—“an incredible opportunity,” she said.  “None of this would have happened without Dr. German and without Cornell. I am forever thankful to both and this award brings it all back for me. I feel, again, extremely honored to be part of an institution that did so much for me.”

German was also a unifying force who built a real sense of community among students in applied economics and management, Khan recalls. “Dr. German would invite all his advisees over to his house and we all played croquet together.  I have great memories of him bringing all of us together. It made us feel like while we were part of this huge institution, we also had this intimate family and connection with each other.”