Team ReFAIRe story
Hailing from Fountain Valley High School, reFAIRe consists of five upperclassmen. Gavin is on the Varsity Track team, while Jeffrey is on the Golf team and is working on an NFT project. Thu canvasses in the Vietnamese working class community and is President of both the Operation Smile Club and Future Business Leaders of America Club. Emily and Evelyn Tran are menstrual health activists, and they co-host a mental health podcast. This group of accomplished students with a diverse variety of interests came together for a singular focus in the Social Innovation Challenge: to think of ways to support underrepresented minority entrepreneurs and business owners.
When Emily and Evelyn were looking for role models in the professional world as high school seniors, they felt unrepresented in predominantly white, male industries. “When we were trying to network, there was always this fear that people might not want to connect with us because of our identities,” Evelyn said. Emily, Evelyn, and Thu being Asian-American women who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. “It makes you doubt if you have a place in this industry,”
The team relied on personal experience to propel their project. Their initial solution was a 2-week summer course held at diverse colleges in California, where students interested in entrepreneurship would learn business tactics and durable skills — including some skills reFAIRe team members learned during the challenge, such as customer empathy and design thinking. While this idea got them to the final round, their newly assigned Intuit mentors pushed them further and encouraged them to think outside the box. “They started to understand the design process more and more,” said Felix Stekolshcik, Senior Product Designer and mentor of winning team reFAIRe. “Every time we would meet, their grasp of the product and their idea would evolve – and so would their design process.”
Going back to the drawing board led them to their winning idea: Connexcities, a networking and mentoring platform that would serve as a community for BIPOC & LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs. The team was inspired by other forums such as Reddit, but they couldn’t find any specifically focused on BIPOC or LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs. As a result, they made their own.
At Connexcities, minority business owners could connect, share milestones and seek mentorship amongst entrepreneurs that share similar professional experiences and struggles. “As the name suggests, Connexcities quite literally connects cities, bridging diverse groups of entrepreneurs coming from different backgrounds onto one platform,” Emily said. Through their work with Connexcities, Emily was able to connect a student with Farmer Tanaka from Tanaka Farms, who agreed to provide strawberries for her smoothie business. The platform even helped some team members find internship opportunities for themselves.
While the project won the team the first place prize, along with $5000 and an iPad Pro each, the durable skills and new perspectives they gained during the challenge will last a lifetime. “We learned how to handle disagreements and feed off of each other’s ideas,” Gavin said. “That’s something that will help me in the future in a real work environment.”
Thu is looking forward to the differences she can make in her community with what she’s learned. “The biggest thing I’m taking away is inspiration, especially in terms of social impact. I hope to be able to build out this project more permanently, so that we can make a bigger impact.”
While Thu is a senior, the rest of the team members are recent graduates. Emily plans to study economics and product design at Stanford, while Evelyn will study business administration. Jeffrey will study finance in college, and Gavin will also major in business. All of them are using the prize money to help pay for their college tuitions. They all hope to continue to make an impact on their communities and look back at the Social Innovation Challenge as a milestone in their professional journeys. “As seniors, this is the last project we’re working on,” Jeffrey said. “It’s definitely going to be something to look back on as a highlight.”