Courtesy of Jeffrey Zhang '20

Zhang aims to inspire and encourage Asian entrepreneurs through his new program, SpeakUp Ventures.

May 13, 2021

From Telehealth to Restaurants: Cornell Alum Launches Support Program for Startups by Asian Students

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In late March, Jeffrey Zhang ’20 launched SpeakUp Ventures, a program that provides mentorship, workshops and a $300 stipend for Asian entrepreneurs to develop their business ideas.

Aiming to empower aspiring student entrepreneurs, the program will be tailored to the needs of each student and their startup. Zhang plans on hosting 10 teams with about two to three students each to start.

“I have decided to fund startups that harness the power of communities to address a particular need in the world or leverage technology to empower the Asian community,” Zhang said.

According to Zhang, his decision to start SpeakUp Ventures came in response to the recent rise in anti-Asian violence. The Atlanta shooting, which left Asian students and the AAPI community as a whole in mourning, devastated Zhang and motivated him to bring about change in his field.

“Honestly, I felt so powerless because I felt that my community was under attack,” Zhang said. “As an engineer, I’ve always been taught that there’s no problem that’s unsolvable.”

In addition, Zhang believes there is inequality in the workforce, citing the fact that Asians are the least likely minority group to be promoted into management positions. He hopes that SpeakUp Ventures can help young entrepreneurs to overcome these inequities.

“These barriers that serve to exclude Asians and Asian Americans from executive positions cannot be explained by job performance or qualifications,” Zhang said. 

Chendan Luo ’22, a project manager for SpeakUp Ventures this summer, found that the program mission aligns with her values of inclusivity and diversity. 

“I’m an international student. I’m female and I’m Asian,” Luo said. “I’m kind of like a minority in [various] aspects.”

Luo believes that SpeakUp Ventures can empower minorities from these kinds of intersectional backgrounds.

Tiffany Yu, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, expressed her hope to be selected by SpeakUp Ventures and develop her company Modem. The startup provides free telehealth services for Asian Americans.  

“Our mission is to improve mental health and wellness in the Asian American community by creating engaging content on these topics and [increase] access to Asian American care providers,” Yu said.

Warren Wang, a student at the University of Kansas, hopes that applying for SpeakUp’s program will guide him to the successful creation and launch of a delivery-only food court project. He aims to build an application that could handle the logistics and operations of running a restaurant for aspiring Asian immigrant cooks. 

“What I look forward to most with SpeakUp Ventures is the community and network that will be formed,” Wang wrote to The Sun. “I believe that finding a great community made up of mentors and peers that could relate to you and understand the problems you are facing is very important for long term success.”

Zhang is self-funding the first cohort of SpeakUp Ventures and plans on funding future cohorts by raising a venture fund and through a GoFundMe Campaign

He hopes SpeakUp Ventures can serve to inspire future Asian leaders to speak out against inequality and spark change. 

“I really want to empower [my community] to speak up for their opinions and to be heard,” Zhang said.