The following interview and links to resources are about Jason Li, a college entrepreneur that's founded companies worth millions, pitched on Sharktank, and can count Mark Cuban as one of his person mentors. His GiveGetWin Deal, "How to Get Mark Cuban as a Mentor" will be 60 minutes including a class and Q&A designed to make you better at what he calls "everyday entrepreneurship" of seeing opportunities in your life, seizing them and being able to live your life fully.
Jason immigrated to the US from China at age four, not knowing anyone or even English. Early on, that experience taught him the importance of being open to opportunity:
"Ever been told that 'it's not what you know, by who you know?' I have problems with that... I moved to America at age 4 from age China, and we knew no one. And it wasn't about who we know, but about who we don't know yet"
Raised in the heart of Silicon Valley, Jason developed a strong passion for environmental impact and entrepreneurship. After learning about the e-waste crisis, he wanted not only to do his part, but to turn ‘"going green" into a rewarding effort, rather than a burdensome task. With an initial loan of $2,000 from his father and $43,000 dollars won from various competitions, Jason decided to address the e-waste crisis and founded iReTron.com, a social enterprise that buys back, refurbishes, resells, and donates used electronics.
After working on that company for two years, Jason was able to gain an appearance on the popular ABC show Sharktank. He pitched the company well enough to gain investment from notable investors Barbara Cochran and Mark Cuban. While you may be saying to yourself, well sure the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world can just walk on stage and win these laurels. But that's not true -- in Jason's case, he is the first to admit that while he's been blessed with these opportunities in life, they don't come without strategic hard work.
Prior to going on Sharktank, Jason says
"I knew how vicious they would be. I watched literally every episode to prepare, wrote down every question they would ask, formulated answers to all of them. Negotiation wise I was well prepared for the pitch; however, after I flew to LA I was still practicing in the hotel and rewriting it"
Early on the same day that his Sharktank episode premiered, Jason learned that he was admitted to the University of Chicago, his dream school for years, and was able to reflect with his friends and family,
"I watched the show with my parents because they're my biggest supporters. I live in a small apartment home, so I invited just a few friends and then we watched the episode together. It was an incredibly natural high — stress on natural — and truly one of the happiest moments of my life"
Life isn't always about hard work -- sometimes one should be cold and objective about reality, but sometimes one should recognize the magnitude of opportunity that you have received. For someone like Jason, you may imagine him as an inflated character capable of doing anything. But for anyone that's talked to Jason, you will recognize he is endlessly humble of what he's done, his place in the world, and those that have been given less or more opportunity than him.
Quickly after arriving at Chicago, Jason and best friend Raymond Han (along with a friend at Columbia) realized the inefficiencies and difficulties in the college admissions process, and started UProspie, which aims to disrupt the traditional college tour. UProspie connects prospective students with mentors who have had similar experiences as them to give them a real sense of what college is like -- no business students showing off to art students.
As he says, "Schools are more than stereotypes, and they are more than a rankings or an admissions number". They've expanded to more than 30 schools since founding less than a year ago.
In the near future, they are hoping to expand their programming to include initiatives for many low-income and less privileged students who often lack contacts at colleges and universities and don't feel comfortable at these campuses. As evidence of the possibility, Jason points towards a recent pairing they were able to make of a dyslexic high school student with a current college student that also had a learning disability, who could speak to the disability resources on campus.
Rather than follow the tradition Silicon Valley path to immediately raise money from outside investors, Jason and his team at UProspie decided to focus on gaining funding via pitch competitions:
"Most serious investors wouldn’t give two college freshmen with just an idea and smiles on their faces $50,000 so going the competition route was the best way for us to earn money and gain experience at the same time. But really the biggest reason is because UProspie is a very student-centered product, so in addition to winning money, it was great to be able to talk to students on a lot of different campuses"
On his strategy for pitch competitions,