2019 SVP Startup Profile: Integrate
Integrate is one of thirteen Babson startups presenting at Thursday, July 25th’s Summer Venture Showcase at the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston. Register to attend our showcase at bit.ly/2019svp!
Many people look back at their high school years and laugh at their own naivety and blunders. But high school can be a trying time for many adolescents looking to make the grade both academically and socially in competitive environments. Imagine trying to handle the challenges of high school away from home in a culture much different from your own. Would you have been able to adapt to the unspoken rules of surviving high school? SVP entrepreneur Wendi Kan ‘22 faced a difficult culture shock as she entered American high school in San Diego after growing up in Shanghai. Wendi started her venture Integrate to provide workshops and course content to the growing market segment of Chinese middle school students preparing to enter American high schools. I spoke with Wendi to learn more about Integrate’s development in SVP. Here are the highlights of our interview:
How did you start Integrate? What specific experiences lead you to pursue this venture?
I’m from Shanghai and I moved to San Diego to attend American high school. At first I faced a lot of cultural and language barriers and it was very hard for me to make friends. I did not know how to join clubs or activities in my school and in San Diego. Fortunately I made some American friends who helped me become part of the community by explaining a lot of English sayings and bringing me to a lot of school events and parties. When I was a sophomore, there were a lot of Chinese students coming to my American high school as freshmen and experiencing the exact same struggle that I was going through. I really wanted to give back and help them based on everything I was so fortunate to have learned, and this is how Integrate was founded. I revived the idea at Babson and tried to help my Chinese peers adapt to American college, helping my roommate Chloe learn the culture and then creating courses to teach more students. But I realized that I would be able to make a larger impact based on my own experience by serving the growing number of Chinese middle school students who need help with American high school. Another important pivot I have made is beginning to move my courses online. I ran several successful in-person pilot courses with Chinese students, but in talking with the SVP advisors I realized that teaching the courses with Zoom could reach more students around the world.
What activity or resource from SVP has helped you the most so far?
Pitching in the SVP Hot Seat was really good because it helped me become better at taking constructive criticism. I think that’s one of the most useful skills for entrepreneurs: being able to take criticism and negative comments without getting defensive. Your natural instinct is to defend yourself or explain your reasons, but SVP has really helped me to become a better listener and learn from people with different skill sets and diverse backgrounds.
In what ways have your SVP peers and mentors supported you and your venture?
Coming into SVP as one of the younger entrepreneurs, I have received a ton of personal support and business feedback from the other teams as I develop Integrate. I love that SVP focuses just as much on my personal growth as the growth of my venture. Whenever I face difficult situations, I always feel comfortable going to my mentors in SVP Antonette Ho, Bob Stringer, and Beth Goldstein for advice. Antonette is as an angel; every time I go to her with questions she’s able to empathize with where I’m coming from without me explaining a second time. I sent Beth several emails a day from wording for emails to product development strategies; she replies to all my questions and is always patient and supportive. Bob and Beth have both helped me with a lot of the organizational aspects of my business; I have had to adjust to my co-founder leaving Integrate during SVP. They have taught me how to be a leader given these circumstances and constantly remind me that it’s during those hardest moments I grow the most. For that, I am forever grateful. I would also like to shoutout my friend Sakshi Haria ‘22 for being the most supportive and inspiring friend I could ever ask for throughout my time in SVP.
What major milestones or accomplishments do you hope to achieve during your time in SVP? Or have you reached any already?
Before I pivoted to running courses online and focusing on helping middle school students, my goal for SVP was to develop three curriculums and run three pilots. We ended up running a pilot almost every weekend, gaining insights from the Chinese students who participated. But now that I have pivoted towards online courses, my goal has changed to solidifying that business model and continuing to test my courses with Chinese middle school students.
What is a valuable challenge or learning experience you have faced as a founder?
I have learned that the entrepreneurial journey is filled with many more ups and downs than I had first thought. FME taught me that creating a business has a lot of zig zags, but I did not expect the amount of obstacles and problems I need to deal with everyday. The way FME is structured, you spend a few weeks doing market research, then start developing the product, and then sell. But since I am building Integrate as a venture with a lifespan much longer than a semester of FME, I need to constantly get feedback from customers. Instead of expecting to launch a perfect and ready-to-sell workshop, now I just want to make each new workshop better than the last one. SVP really helped me develop a growth mindset and be better able to deal with failures.
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Never forget why you started your venture in the first place. My mission is to help Chinese students be happier and have a sense of belonging when they are studying in America. Not everyone received as much help as I did in high school, so I always feel this responsibility to give back to younger Chinese students. Both my mission and sense of responsibility guide me through the most difficult and stressful times and keep me grounded.
How can we learn more about Integrate?
If you would like to learn more about Integrate, please email me at Wendi.Kan1021@gmail.com.
If you enjoyed learning about Wendi’s progress building Integrate in SVP, check out some of our other SVP team profile blogs! To meet the entire SVP cohort and celebrate their progress, join us for the Summer Venture Showcase on Thursday, July 25th. RSVP at this link. We can’t wait to see you there!