The WHY of technology entrepreneurship in creating educational economic access

Alison Knill
Mar 11, 2019 · 5 min read

The technology expansion has opened up a plethora of possibilities for innovation, but it also comes with the challenge of learning how to use it. Annee Ngo took on the challenge and is now using technology to support students through learning and economic opportunities as a result.

Annee created Startup League after she completed the StartEd program at New York University, which is the parent company of both Protohack and QUP. Together, Protohack and QUP help Annee achieve her goal of economic access and inspiring innovation. She now runs as Startup League as the CEO with her other two co-founders, Rukshana Hassanali and Matthew Jones, but it was a journey to get there.

Annee initially got into the technology entrepreneurial field when she travelled to San Francisco to learn how to build her own tech company. She didn’t have a background in software engineering or computer science, but she was eager to learn. Opportunities to learn, however, were difficult.

“Every single time I talked to anybody in The Valley about being a tech entrepreneur it was ‘You don’t know how to code? Do you have a co-founder who knows how to code?’ and it was just a very defeating experience,” said Annee of her time in San Francisco.

Shaping Protohack

She did meet the two co-founders of Protohack, who invited her to participate in a hackathon event they were hosting in Seattle, WA later that week. From there, Annee convinced them that they needed to expand their events to Vancouver, B.C. with her becoming one of the city directors and later, a co-founder.

“I was working all hours of the day with entrepreneurs from New Delhi, India all the way to San Paulo, Brazil,” she said.

“The excitement for me wasn’t just about producing these innovation challenges for aspiring tech entrepreneurs, it was introducing the idea of innovation and problem solving to students.”

Protohack is dedicated to empowering individuals with no coding or programming experience to form innovative solutions to challenges. The company hosts events around the world where people work together in small groups with a mentor to design and pitch a tech solution. They’re given 12 hours after which they present their pitch to angel investors and adventure capitalists.

Annee travelled around the world to present the hackathon events and was struck by the issue of economic access for some high school students. The students would conduct fundraising to meet the $10 to $15 participation fee. Annee wanted to find a solution that could help.

Finding her ‘Why’

Helping students around the world achieve greater economic access is a way that Annee gives back to the community and pursues her purpose. She initially came to Canada as a refugee and she experienced firsthand the affordability of participating in school trips and teams.

Annee would sell chocolate around her community as a way to fundraise and she was surprised to the same methods today that she used when she was in high school. Building a tech-based fundraising solution became a part of her Why.

Annee describes her Why as her reason or life’s purpose and her Why drove her when she was finding her business team and expanding the company’s direction.

“Everywhere I went I talked about my Why,” she said. “The importance of economic access and why teaching innovation in schools was so core to my being and my existence and I think at some point you start to become this magnet for people who share the same views, have the same passions or aspire to have the same impact.”

She was able recruit Rukshana Hassanali as her COO and Matthew Jones as the CTO for her solution, QUP.

Anne Ngo and Rukshana Hassanali with one of the students for QUP (Photo courtesy of Annee)

Building QUP

QUP is the second company within Startup League and is a competitive mobile game targeted towards high-school students. The students can compete in groups of four every day at 3:30 p.m. PST and the highest performing team receives a $1000 cash prize.

Annee focused the game to be educational while providing an easy and more accessible fundraising method to students. The three minute game teaches the kids problem solving skills and innovative thinking.

While the majority of kids in North America have access to a smartphone, there’s still those who don’t. Annee and her team want to be able to reach all students, so they built the game to also be accessible through web-based platforms.

“Technology is really on our side in 2019 because Reason and OCaml have made it possible for us to bring the solution for every audience at once,” she said.

QUP is in the beta testing stage, meaning that they’re having students try it out and provide feedback. They’ve worked with schools in Palm Del, CA, New York City and Toronto and are now in Vancouver.

“Over 1800 students to date we’ve engaged with, like one-on-one, showed them all versions of this,” she said.

“Students are involved in every part of the experience from design to the user experience to how we communicate the brand and communicate the tool.”

Annee has encountered challenges in getting QUP ready for testing, but working with the students, parents and teachers have given her a sense of triumph. Getting to see the students pride and happiness after reaching an ‘aha’ moment and receiving feedback that QUP is what people have been waiting for has solidified her purpose and her Why.

Update: In August 2019, Annee and her team launched a Kickstarter campaign to assist with completing the mobile game. In 7 days, the team reached over 200% of their initial funding goal.

Each daily QUP game includes a cash prize, awarded to the most empathetic student. In the daily 3-min competition, students are shown a problem statement and are asked to submit an answer to the questions of ‘who cares?’ and ‘why?’. Responses then go through a series of public votes until a winner is determined. With thousands of dollars up for grabs, QUP is truly bringing fundraising into the 21st century.

Upon a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Startup League team will complete development and launch in September. Over 3000 students from across Canada and the US have pre-registered to play QUP.

“I think it makes all the difference in the world that I’m blessed not only because of the opportunities that I’ve had, being able to come and live in canada with all the access to resources and education, but I’m also so blessed in that I know what my why is,” she said.

“I think that’s what being a successful CEO is about is like selling people not just on A dream but YOUR dream and finding people who believe in it and share that dream with you.”


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