Beedie entrepreneur marks launch of social venture with award

Jul 12, 2012

A Beedie School of Business alumna has parlayed an initial $30,000 advance from a prestigious entrepreneurial leadership program into a new business venture – and 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 off 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, California from 12-13 June. Penyo Pal was not only the sole Canadian venture selected to present at the conference, but was also the youngest company presenting, and boasted the youngest company founders 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 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 over 1000 students to join the second cohort of The Next 36 and has spent the time since working with cohorts at Queens University, The University of Waterloo and the 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.

“The Next 36 program constantly pushes us beyond our comfort zones. Our mentors, Sarah Prevette and Alex Moorhead, have provided us with amazing support and down-to-earth perspectives. We’ve pitched to venture capitalists and CEOs and met some of Canada’s most influential business leaders. The Next 36 has given me opportunities that I wouldn’t have dreamed of getting as a new graduate. This year’s cohort is full of incredible people and I’m very proud to represent SFU in the program.”

Fan recently graduated from SFU with a joint major in Interaction Design and Business. Passionate about social change, she is responsible for creating the Burnaby Hospital Bedside Arts program and used her time as co-president of the SFU Engineers Without Borders chapter to support development initiatives in Africa while promoting fair trade and foreign aid transparency in Canada.