Taking Action: Introducing Elsa Sze of Agora

CRV recently announced systematic help to support immigrant entrepreneurs who are building the startups that are tomorrow’s leaders. In many ways, our announcement began to take shape while supporting Elsa, who came to the U.S. from Hong Kong, and her company Agora, which we funded earlier this year. We are ecstatic to publicly support more immigrant entrepreneurs who are creating jobs and opportunities in America. If you are interesting in learning more, feel free to email us at visas@crv.com

Elsa of Agora

Hello. My name is Elsa. I founded a technology company to democratize the world — one idea at a time. But I’m not supposed to be doing this.

I grew up in Hong Kong, where unlike in the US, speaking up to influence your community is not a right, but a privilege. You can imagine what has become my obsession since I arrived in this country: volunteering in election campaigns, serving on student government, organizing my co-workers to have our ideas heard.

My obsession turned into an entrepreneurial dream. And my dream could never have come to fruition in Hong Kong — not just because speaking up there is challenging, but because in Hong Kong, success in life usually means you’re a lawyer, a doctor, or a banker. Entrepreneur is in the failure category, unless you’ve made it to the cover of Forbes.

Just four years ago, I was driving an elderly woman in Ohio, named Rochelle, to vote on election day. Her oxygen tank suddenly stopped working. But she insisted that I take her to vote before the hospital. Luckily, someone at the polling place knew how to fix it, so she was fine.

I know exactly why Rochelle risked her life that day. Because that’s the only day she has a voice. Sadly, that’s also the only day you, I, and most of us really have a voice. The truth is, we all live in a democracy that’s not actually democratic. It’s a yuge pain point.

As a millennial, I turn to technology to see what solutions are out there. Social media as we know it has only given us the illusion of a voice, when in fact, it’s just noise. As anybody can broadcast to everybody, we end up trudging through a mosh pit of cat videos, 140-character political manifestos, and what our middle school friend had for brunch. We have lots of great ideas that deserve to be considered, yet most of them never see the light of day.

That’s why I founded Agora, where we can have conversations that matter, with people who matter. Our mission is to flatten the way we, as voters, employees, or consumers, interact with stakeholders in our communities — one idea at a time.

On Agora, conversations are curated around ideas, because we reject the accepted M.O. where online discussions are just a bunch of disjointed monologues dressed in a series of comment bubbles that are going nowhere. Drawing upon cognitive science and AI, Agora separates signal from noise, allowing decision makers from communities to corner offices to act upon the best ideas that surface to the top.

Technology inspires us with the audacity to do what we’re not supposed to do, to stop asking why and start asking why not, to fix profound problems that have no obvious solutions. And being backed by a phenomenal group of investors and advisors who believe in our mission has given me the capacity to make this American dream come true.

Daring to defy the odds is what entrepreneurs do. It’s what immigrants do. It’s a spirit that is quintessentially American.

Elsa Sze is the Founder & CEO of Agora

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