Kevin Vu is a serial entrepreneur. He is also getting ready to start his senior year at .
“I see problems all the time in my daily life,” he said. “But, an entrepreneur sees problems as opportunities. Entrepreneurs constantly seek opportunities and are able to sort out which ones are most important to tackle. And which solutions are the best ones to solve the problem.”
By the time he was a junior in high school, Kevin had already started two nonprofits and was pursuing a third. The first, Pencils Fight Poverty, raised money to purchase school supplies to send to students in South Africa.
“I wanted to focus on education, because education is the key to success,” he said.
Kevin’s second nonprofit, Students Helping Students, was started because he saw a need for school supplies both at home and abroad. Students Helping Students expanded the scope of Pencils Fight Poverty. Instead of focusing solely on South Africa, Students Helping Students also provided school supplies to local Washington schools in need, including several including , and high schools in the and in Bellevue.
In his junior year, Kevin pursued yet a third nonprofit idea, this one focused on the creation of an online peer-tutoring system. Kevin saw that current tutoring methods weren’t very effective and wanted to find a way to get students help they couldn’t get otherwise. His idea focused on the integration of whiteboards and webcams to transmit a whiteboard “feed” between tutors and students. However, the idea ran into some technical glitches and administrative hurdles related to student security and privacy.
This setback hasn’t slowed Kevin down. In fact, it was a valuable learning experience.
“You need to have a really good team to back you,” he said. “When I organized a new team to tackle the tutoring system, I hadn’t formed the company idea well enough. I jumped the gun. It’s always a balance.”
That team includes Kevin’s mentor, Pascal Stolz, a serial entrepreneur and experienced executive.
“Kevin isn’t afraid to ask for advice,” Pascal said. “He has always demonstrated a true sense of leadership at a managerial level, which is very unique for his age group.”
This summer, Kevin is focusing on relaunching Students Helping Students in the StudentRND Incubator, a physical workspace and eight-week program to help students build and develop their technology ideas. He’s also boosting his entrepreneurial know-how with an internship at ReadyPulse, a Bellevue startup. Finally, he’s learning programming to bolster his business experience and help Students Helping Students continue on its mission.
All of that leaves very little time for taking it easy this summer vacation. Kevin doesn’t mind.
“The No. 1 trait of an entrepreneur is determination,” he said. “It might look glamorous, but it’s hard work and a hard life. You have to be willing to work additional jobs to get things off the ground.”
Kevin’s parents were initially worried that all of this entrepreneurial activity would distract him from his core academics. But he has worked hard to manage the inherent risks of entrepreneurship by keeping his grades up.
Though Kevin has focused on nonprofits so far, he sees himself working in high-tech management and then moving on to lead a tech startup.
“You can have for-profits that change the world,” he said. “I want to create something that’s useful to people, something that creates value. And that can be in either a nonprofit or for-profit setting.”
Kevin is getting ready to apply to college, where he plans to focus on engineering and business. The application process already has him thinking about his next venture: an application to help students understand and manage student loans.
“Starting your own company extremely risky, but it is the manifestation of the American dream,” he said. “If you can’t get a traditional job, you can create your own. Our values have been tested in this recession, but I still believe that self-reliance and hard work will lead to success.”
For more information about Students Helping Students, contact Kevin Vu at email@example.com.
(QUINN READ is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.)