SFU entrepreneur’s social venture wins award
A Simon Fraser University Beedie School of Business alumna has parlayed an initial $30,000 advance from an entrepreneurial leadership program into a new business venture. And she has subsequently seen the business voted best launch product at a renowned education conference.
Jessica Fan’s business Penyo Pal, an app that teaches children to speak Mandarin, beat out stiff competition from 31 other entrants to be named Best Overall 1.0 Startup at the Launch EDU conference.
The two-day, education-focused conference was held at Microsoft’s campus in Mountain View, Calif., last month. Penyo Pal was not only the sole Canadian venture selected to present at the conference, but was the youngest company presenting, and boasted the youngest company founder of all entrants.
Fan last year joined the ranks of The Next 36, a program which seeks the most promising undergraduate students around the country and transforms them into high-impact entrepreneurial leaders. She has since used the experience and support gained from the program to develop Penyo Pal in conjunction with her co-founders and fellow Next 36 members, Jane Wu, Rafal Dittwald and Ryan Wagner.
“Penyo Pal tackles a problem that is very personal to me. My parents immigrated to Canada from China and have always believed it’s important that I maintain my cultural connection. I attended Chinese school for 12 years but always felt disengaged by the repetitive exercises. Many kids drop out every year because they lose interest or find the subject too challenging. Penyo Pal combines education, technology and play to make learning Mandarin an experience kids will enjoy.”
In addition to receiving the award at the Launch EDU conference, Penyo Pal was also recently named the Financial Post’s hot startup of the week.
Fan was selected last year from more than 1,000 students to join the second cohort of The Next 36 and has spent the time since working with cohorts at Queens University, University of Waterloo and University of Toronto to develop her startup company.
Described as an intense “hot-house” effort to stimulate young entrepreneurship in Canada, The Next 36 uses a rigorous national selection process to identify Canada’s most promising and innovative undergraduates in order to provide them with the skills and networks needed to become the nation’s next entrepreneurial leaders.
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