ASIJ hosted its first Engage Forum from April 8-10, which saw young entrepreneurs and students from Taipei American School and Singapore American School join our students for the weekend to work together, learn what it takes to be a young entrepreneur and find the inspiration to achieve personal success. Guest speakers Pamela Mejia, Abhishek Sharma ’10, Riley Ennis and Laura Deming spoke with students about their entrepreneurial experiences both on campus at a co-sponsored evening event with the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ).
Pamela Mejia is the founder of the fashion social enterprises The Asian Recyclers of Textiles and Phinix. She was born and raised in Manila, and graduated from the University of the Philippines. “Life gave me many options, but by always choosing the ones that I’m passionate about, I have ended up in places bigger than what I had even imagined. It’s okay to make the wrong choices and it’s okay to fail, as long as you persevere.”
Abhishek Sharma is a returning ASIJ alumnus from the class of 2010. With his passions for neuroscience, psychology and music, Abhishek teamed up with Strong Memorial Hospital and founded Project Forte, an organization that connects musicians with patients in upstate New York. He advises students to “remember to ground your passions in the value they generate. Remember to listen carefully to your target audience and continually improve your product or service. And perhaps most importantly, take care of yourself so that you can focus on the signal in the noise.” Having seen success with Project Forte, Abhishek continues to follow his passions and has started a second venture called IMBR that addresses the unequal distribution of life-sustaining resources.
Riley Ennis attended Dartmouth and was awarded $100,000 by Peter Thiel, entrepreneur and co-founder of PayPal, as a Thiel Fellow and also started the cancer immunology company Immudicon. He believes that “true compassion for our world comes only when you feel the problems in the eyes of another. And only then can you innovate and shape our future.” Immudicon has secured paid partnerships with several biopharma collaborators including companies such as Novartis.
Though unable to make it in person for the event, Laura Deming sent in a video to share her equally interesting anti-aging entrepreneurship venture. At 17 she was one of the youngest 20 under 20 Thiel Fellows, using the award to pursue her venture full time. She is currently a full-time partner at the Longevity Fund, a specialty life science venture capital firm focused on pharmaceutical companies developing therapies for aging-associated pathology.
The Friday evening event at the Tokyo American Club (TAC) with ACCJ provided students with the opportunity to practice networking with the guest speakers and the business professionals in attendance. Jesper Koll (Former ASIJ Parent, CEO of WisdomTree) opened the evening at TAC with a keynote address on innovation and entrepreneurship. On Saturday, participating students were given less than 36 hours to form groups and devise a project following the theme “Reverse, Rehash, Rethink.” Riley, Abhishek and Pamela worked with the groups, offering valuable advice and critiques to help the teams prepare pitches for Sunday.
Sunday morning started with a gathering in the Multi-Purpose Room, where students taking ASIJ’s synthetic biology class had the opportunity to share the research and experimental results from their self-study projects thus far. Next, the Engage Forum teams had 5 minutes to pitch their ideas to the panel (Riley, Abhishek and Pamela) and an audience of teachers and other students. Each team’s final project was clever and clearly showed their hard work and research from the past 36 hours. Ideas ranged from alternative ways to teach coding, less wasteful fruit juice products, cancer-detecting toilet paper, a hub for cultural immersion, illness-detecting gum, and finally to an online website for clubs to connect and collaborate.
The Forum was a great success because students were able to learn from and inspire one another. We hope to make this an annual event, and possibly expand to other schools to continue inspiring high school students to follow their passions, make a difference in the world and develop an entrepreneurial mindset. (Amanda Shick, Grade 12)
Several students who attended the Engage Forum provided feedback regarding their experience
“It was a unique and eye opening experience! I had a lot of fun working with my group and I learned a lot about self motivation.” (Serena Chen, Taipei American School)
“The Engage forum was definitely something I’ve never experienced before. Through the process I was inspired by the social entrepreneurs as well as the student participants’ projects. Most importantly, I learned the importance of networking and taking action. I had a great time over the past few days at ASIJ!” (Ellen Chang, Taipei American School)
“What I love the most about the Engage Forum is the people. The three visiting entrepreneurs are really inspirational and insightful, of course. However, to see what our fellow students from around the world are doing—from the Samosa Project that Tuhina started freshman year, to the refugee crisis that Henry is tackling—was simply amazing. It reminds me that young people like us are capable of so much more if we only try.” (Timothy Shu, Taipei American School)
“This is truly a great, once in a lifetime event for any future businessmen and women or entrepreneurs. Also, to experience cooperation with students who one may have never met before is very fun and inspiring. I hope that this event could happen again in the future to allow students to get a first-hand experience.” (TK Hwang, Singapore American School)
“I really liked the environment in which I got to see so many people from diverse backgrounds explain their passions and ideas during the brainstorming session. The forum game me an opportunity to experience varied ways of thought, and has instilled a set of integral communication skills that can be applied to any profession. The entrepreneurs were like mentors who were not only friendly and encouraging, but also extremely informative.” (Diva Lahad, Grade 12, The American School in Japan)
We would like to thank the PTA for helping make this event possible by sponsoring airfare for the young entrepreneur speakers. If you would like to know more about the Engage Form and all of the presenters, check out the iBook.
Update: The Engage Forum was also featured on ACCJ’s news site, The Journal.