3 Fabulous Days In London: Hacking at 33,000 feet & Meeting Prime Minister David Cameron

In early May, one of Enplug’s investors, Ben Parr, reached out to me and asked if I was interested in a free trip to London. I said, Of course! Ben was asked to nominate people to be part of the inaugural UnGrounded Initiative trip. I am extremely grateful that he nominated me as this was one of the most rewarding “vacations” I have ever been on. During the 11-hour flight, our goal was to propose new global innovations such as new programs to expand STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education. After we land, everyone attends the United Nations G8 Innovation Summit together and the winning ideas from the flight are presented.

British Airways sponsored this UnGrounded trip for 100 entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers, techies to fly together on one plane for 11 hours from San Francisco to London. They covered our roundtrip flights, 5-star hotel stay in London, food, etc…Thanks BA!

The caliber of people I was with during UnGrounded was phenomenal. I got to hang out and meet everyone from California’s Lieutenant Governor to the founder of Craigslist to Virgin’s founder Richard Branson to the person who created iTunes. Here’s a glimpse of our agenda during these 3 days:

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Day 1: Wednesday, June 12. The Flight Adventure

My day started at 5am since I had to fly from LA to SF in time for the 10am. I was quite exhausted since I had just flown in from Japan (was there for a few days) the day before. Registration started at 10am at the shwanky Clift Hotel in San Francisco. British Airways flight attendants were there to greet us at the hotel door and handed us a bag of goodies including an eco-friendly tote bag, snacks, UnGrounded booklet with everyone’s bios, and British mementors (magnets, pens, notebook). Then, we were all shuffled into a banquet room to hear talks from the organizers.

Opening remarks from the Executive VP of British Airways at Clift Hotel.

Opening remarks from the Executive VP of British Airways to introduce us to UnGrounded.

After remarks from the UnGrounded organizers, we also heard a short talk from California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. After about an hour of talks, we all left for a buffet on the other side of the hotel. During lunch, we split up into four groups. Each group works on one specific “challenge”. My group of 25 people was given the challenge of finding way to expand STEM education.

UnGrounded had a 8-feet poster board with the participants listed on the side. Our group of 25 was asked to find new ways to expand STEM education.

UnGrounded had a 8-feet poster board with the participants listed on the side. Our group of 25 was asked to find new ways to expand STEM education.

We spent the next hour and half with our group of 25 to brainstorm projects or initiatives that can expand STEM education. Some ideas we came up with include:

  • Building a chain of cafes where engineers, entrepreneurs, designers go to hang out
  • Starting an online course that combines games to teach STEM to elementary school kids
  • A music video to inspire STEM learning

Just when things we getting heated and people were getting defensive about their ideas, it was time for us to board the shuttle to the airport. On the shuttle ride alone, I met amazing people such as a math genius woman who started a design firm, a London Business School professor, and a guy who has started half a dozen successful tech companies. When we arrived at San Francisco International Airport, there were welcome banners and dedicated British Airways flight attendants to greet us.

Standing by one of the UnGrounded welcome posters next to our flight check-in counters at San Francisco International Airport.

Standing by one of the UnGrounded welcome posters next to our flight check-in counters at San Francisco International Airport.

British Airways dedicated one full 747 double decker plane for the 130 people participating in the UnGrounded flight. They split the plane into the four Challenge groups (I was in the Expanding STEM group). Luckily, our group occupied the business first class area of the plane. This meant that I also got to do the priority line during security (I love enjoying the little perks we get in life). We still had a few hours before our plane took off so that of course meant one thing: chilling in the British Airways executive airport lounge. There, they had lots of food and an open bar for us to test our limits. During this mingling session, we met our British Airways flight crew, which we learned were hand picked by the airline as the best crew members to assist us during the 11 hours up in the air. After the flight, my standard for what flight attendants are like will never be achieved again-these flight crew were indeed top of the line.

5pm quickly rolled around and we began boarding this historical flight. I was seated in their business class, where the seat extends into a bed and they give you a nice little toiletry bag with socks, eyemask, lotions, and toothbrush kit. Now, what happens when you put 130 of the most techie people you can find onto a flight together? Well, you certainly don’t expect them to turn off their smartphones, laptops, or iPads. In fact, we were all standing up, walking around talking with one another, when the plane began moving towards the runway. At takeoff, I look to my neighbor who is CEO of a mobile-ad tech company and he is typing away on his laptop. Rules clearly do not apply today.

Maximizing our time on the flight, the UnGrounded organizers immediately had us working on the first challenge on the flight: a tech crossword puzzle/trivia game. We were to form groups of 3 and race against the other 40 teams in completing the crossword puzzle. This geeky crossword included trivia like: 1) The state that you can type on one line of a QWERTY keyboard. Answer: Alaska. 2) ______-pi : desktop : laptop : computer Answer: raspberry. (I was proud to get that one for my team). 3) The most STEM focused country. Answer: South Korea. My team consisted of a partner at Google Ventures and the head of Google Campus. Together, we placed in the top 5 in the crossword challenge. I’m still waiting to receive our prize though :P

Next on the agenda for the flight is the main challenge. We were told to form groups based on ideas. I sat next to my friend Brian Wong, CEO of Kiip. He already had an idea that I thought was great. We formed a team of 6 by just getting the people sitting around us. While everyone else was pitching ideas to each other and trying to finalize the idea to work on, our team got right down to business in drafting a business plan around our idea. I love designing things so I proposed drawing a series of mini-posters and then printing them out (most people on the flight didn’t know that there were printers. We made sure to know all the resources we had and maximized it.).

Our proposal is called INIT (like In It). INIT is a label that reveals the STEM technologies that live in products from clothes to consumer electronics; acts as a “nutritional panel” for what’s inside. By celebrating these less visible aspects of the product, INIT piques curiosity about STEM, teaches about the technology under the hood, and attracts more STEM participation. You can see more about it here: http://ungroundedthinking.com/post/53138240006/overview-init-is-a-label-that-reveals-the-stem

Some additional articles pulished about INIT:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kay-koplovitz/ungrounded-unleashes-dynamic-innovation_b_3455636.html?utm_hp_ref=girls-in-stem

http://www.dailycomet.com/article/20130620/WIRE/130629988/1214?p=3&tc=pg

Our INIT printed out presentation that we hung from the overhead bins

Our INIT printed out presentation that we hung from the overhead bins

The 6 people of INIT: Chris Redlitz (Partner at Transmedia Capital), Brian Wong (CEO of Kiip), Peter Hinssen (Chairman of London Business School), Tom Serres (CEo of Rally.org), and Bettina Warburg-Johnson (Program Manager at Institute of the Future)

The 6 people of INIT: Chris Redlitz (Partner at Transmedia Capital), Brian Wong (CEO of Kiip), Peter Hinssen (Chairman of London Business School), Tom Serres (CEo of Rally.org), and Bettina Warburg-Johnson (Program Manager at Institute of the Future)

My private area on the plane in business first class

My private area on the plane in business first class

 

Our slogan was “INIT to Win It.” The prize for the winning team is Gold Status on British Airways, which includes perks like:

  • Complimentary spa treatments
  • First class lounge access
  • Automatic upgrades
  • Priority check-in

The crew handed out five red stickers for each person. We get to vote on the ideas. The winning idea from each four category will get Gold Status. Our team was probably the loundest-yelling “Are you INIT?? Cuz we’re INIT!! INIT to Win It!!” Thank you everyone for putting up with our cheesy lines. Everyone walked up and down the aisles to hear the 25 teams pitch their ideas. Even during strong turbulence, we were never asked to sit in our seat and “buckle up.” As I said before, the usual flight rules did not apply.

After an hour or so of harassing people for stickers, it was time for our 2.5 hour nap. The crew lowered the lights and suddenly, the inside of the plane (still splattered with posters, red stickers, and post-it notes), felt like a normal international flight. I was starving for sleep so I knocked out quickly.

We were awaken by the sweet smell of bread. The crew was serving our breakfast. More exciting than the food was the announcement of the four winners. Yup, we got Gold Status :)

Following our landing, we were shuttled to the famous Langham Hotel. It looks like a gorgeous castle. The 5-star hotel was decadently decorated and felt like I was walking in a palace.

My hotel room in the Langham

My hotel room in the Langham

That night, we visited the House of Lords and met British politicians. I just wanted to sleep. But no, I can’t. This is my first time in London. Must-Make-The-Most-Out-Of-It.

I met up with a friend working in London and we went out for dinner, drinks, and sight-seeing in the middle of the night. The Langham is in City Center so we were walking distance from many famous streets. I was impressed by how many people were walking around at night. The streets were as lively as ever.

Can't go to London without taking a picture with one of these!

Can’t go to London without taking a picture with one of these!

Love the architecture here!

Love the architecture here!

Arriving back at my hotel at 2am-ish, I had about 5 hours to crash. No time to waste! Finally, the 1st day was over. Technically, it was 2 days because sometime on the plane, we crossed over to Thursday, but it all merged into one day.

Day 2: Friday, June 14. The G8 Innovation Summit. Prime Minister David Cameron. Partying.

Today was filled with networking, attending the G8 Innovation Summit where the winning ideas of the flight would be presented, and meeting tech celebrities. The hotel room came with free breakfast so of course I was going to take full advantage of free food at this luxurious hotel. The elite dining room had a buffet style breakfast and the server gave me options to have basically anything I wanted to be cooked to order. Well, in that case, I ordered: two eggs sunny-side up, bacon, more bacon, sausage, toast, and some more bacon.

Embarrassingly, I missed the shuttle to the main event. I asked the concierge if they knew where the conference was being held. The response: No, sorry Madam. The agenda we were given also didn’t say where the conference was being held. A search online didn’t reveal the location either-probably because they didn’t want people to crash it. Well, what to do? I vaguely remembered that British Airways gave us a magazine during the trip and one of the articles talked about the G8 Innovation Summit. I dashed up to my room, dug through my suitcase, and flipped through the magazine until I found the article. Aha! It said the event was held at “The Crystal.” I immediately Googled “The Crystal London.” Apparently, there are a lot of crystals in London. There was one that stood out: it was a beautiful center by Siemens. It looks like this:

The Crystal by Siemens

The Crystal by Siemens

I suppose if they’re going to host the G8 Innovation Summit, they’d find the most beautiful and modern venue. This certainly fit the bill, but who knows if it was THE Crystal. I took the chance and called a cab. He said it would be a 40-minute long trip. That means it would probably cost 50 or so pounds = $75. To lessen the disappointment that I might be spending $75 and not get to the right place, I reasoned with myself that if this wasn’t the right place, I would be taking a nice little tour of London.

When I arrived, there were a lot of security. Score! This must be the right place. And so the conference begins. The architecture and design of The Crystal is just as distinct as from the outside. I’d like my future house to look like this…

The coolest thing about this conference is that it was tiny. There were maybe 200 people there-all distinguished folks that I would die to meet. All of whom were now sitting next to me. I got to meet so many inspiration people.

I'm named in the magazine they handed out at the conference!

I’m named in the magazine they handed out at the conference!

The conference agenda. Amazing speakers!

The conference agenda. Amazing speakers!

Prime Minister David Cameron speaking

Prime Minister David Cameron speaking. He’s very charismatic. 

The Secretary-General of United Nations ITU talked about INIT!

The Secretary-General of United Nations ITU talked about INIT!

McLaren is a sponsor of the summit so they had a nice McLaren showcased in the lobby

McLaren is a sponsor of the summit so they had a nice McLaren showcased in the lobby

After meeting everyone from Olympic gold medalists to Nobel Prize winners, we went to hang out some more at the Royal Academy of Arts. There, we met many members of the UK Trade and Investment Department. After less than an hour, people were a little networked-out, including myself. I left for the hotel to head to dinner and for another night out!

Myself and about half a dozen other conference attendees went to find a place to eat. We walked through the “Red light district” and hung out a very cool restaurant/bar called Sketch. It was extremely interesting. The entire restaurant is like an artshow. When you first enter, there are the red sniper dots moving around every where (thus the name, Sketch, I think). The bathrooms are probably the coolest stalls I have ever seen. Each individual stall is a big egg and you have to walk in the egg for the toilet. Inside, there is an electronic voice that talks to you.

The egg bathroom stall

The egg bathroom stall

Next on the lineup is eating. Many restaurants were closed and we didn’t want any bar food so we ate at the first place we found a thai restaurant called Tum Tum in the SoHo district. It’ actually quite well known in the area. The food was great and very affordable (average entree was about $8). I met up with some more of my friends later. We went to a few bars before ending the night dancing at a club called Verve. 3am return to the hotel. Day 2 complete.

Day 3: Saturday, June 15. Being a homebody.

I literally spent the entire day being a homebody: emails, work, reading. In the evening, my friend from South Africa, who is working in London, hosted a dinner for me. I got to meet 5 other awesome South Africans who he went to school with. They were extremely kind and a lot of fun to eat with. It was certainly a wonderful way to conclude my trip in London: in the company of good food and great friends.

Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

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I had to experience what all the hype was about for myself so I bought it. The summary of the story is basically this: an average, innocent (aka virgin), college student named Ana meets a billionaire hottie named Christian. They fall for each other. Then, Ana discovers that Christian has a fetish for S&M. He also doesn’t want to have a girlfriend so she is torn on whether she is ok with being one of his playthings. Christian showers Ana with gifts like a new car and takes her on private jet rides. Suddenly, he realizes that he is actually starting to be emotionally into her, unlike how he felt about his previous friends-with-benefit girls (like we didn’t see that one coming). The rest of the book goes into explicit detail of their behind-closed-doors rendezvous. The author spares us no minute literally illustrations of the taboo sex scenes so much so that this novel can be easily categorized in the “erotic literature” genre.

I imagine the book is appealing to many woman because we want to live vicariously through a young woman who is the love interest of a billionaire hottie who has “problems.” We think we can be the one to fix him. The author smartly fulfills our desire for helping Christian by indulging us details on how Ana is changing Christian’s perspective on relationships.

Be prepared for a cliff-hanger ending that encourages you to read the next book in the series, Fifty Shades Darker: Book Two of the Fifty Shades Trilogy

I read the book on my flight from London to Washington DC. It certainly kept my attention and made the time go by. Would I read it again? No. Am I glad I read it? Yes, because I feel a little more in tune with today’s pop culture now.

Pros: Fast read. Entertaining. Makes for a great bathroom book. You corrupt your mind with kinky fetishes that people have in this world.
Cons: There’s no substance.

Eating breakfast the weird way

Everyday, I want to do something new. So today, I decided to start the day a little more unusual than others. Instead of using a bowl to eat cereal, I cut the top of my milk carton and ate cereal out of the carton. It saved me the dish washing :) Cheers to a healthy breakfast.

nanxi liu breakfast

Dinner with the Prime Minister of Monaco

I was selected as 1 of 5 entrepreneurs from around the world for an all-expense paid trip to present at The Edge Monaco, Monaco’s new tech conference. The conference was incredibly well put on with speakers including Prince Albert.This was my first time to Europe-I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction!

I also felt incredibly lucky to have been able to hang out and explore the city with the founders of Innocent Drinks (the leading smoothie seller in Europe), who recently sold their company to Coca Cola. At the conference, I got to meet with the founder and CEO of EasyJet (the largest UK airline) who is a very funny and inspiring man.

Many thanks to the Monaco Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (MVCA) and the International University of Monaco for this incredible conference.

Dinner with the Prime Minister of Monaco at his house/mansion/palace

Dinner with the Prime Minister of Monaco at his house/mansion/palace

The incredible view from the balcony in my hotel room

The incredible view from the balcony in my hotel room

Fireworks playing at night right outside our hotel on the water!

Fireworks playing at night right outside our hotel on the water!

Standing on the balcony of the Prime Minister's home with a great view of Monaco behind me.

Standing on the balcony of the Prime Minister’s home with a great view of Monaco behind me.

Listening to Prince Albert speak at the conference.

Listening to Prince Albert speak at the conference.

The main conference room where the speakers presented

The main conference room where the speakers presented

Speaking on stage

Speaking on stage

Kairos 50 Award and Dance Party on the NYSE

It’s an honor to have Nanoly Bioscience be named in Kairo’s Top 50 companies started in college.

As part of the Kairos 50, we all got to present our companies on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange! Attendees included the Prince of Jordan, the CEO of AutoDesk, founder of Vonage, CEO of Forbes, and CEO of Johnson & Johnson. I feel so lucky to be able to connect with these people!

My friend Julia from Spain and I have dinner at our hotel

My friend Julia from Spain and I have dinner at our hotel

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My friends from UC Berkeley and I take a photo together on Day 1

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Officially part of the first rave on the NYSE. Live performance by European DJ, Madeon

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Ringing the NYSE opening bell

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With a fellow attendee, who dressed glamorously in orange, having a drink on the NYSE.

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Presenting my company on the NYSE floor

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The personalized trophy they gave to the Kairos 50 companies

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On the Front Page of Fast Company

Our team was so thrilled when we saw that we were featured on the front of the Fast Company‘s website. Fast is one of my favorite magazines so it was truly an honor to be written about on their site. Thank you to Lisa Nicole Bell and Fast Tech Co-Editor Chris Dannen for the great article! Check it out here: www.fastcompany.com/3005041/startup-slumber-party-how-living-your-cofounders-can-save-your-company

Fast Company Article Front Page screenshot

Volunteering at Lady Gaga’s Born Brave Bus Tour

As one of the youth advisory board members of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, we get to help out with her genius Born Brave Bus tour program. Before each Lady Gaga concert, there is an area set up outside for young people in the community to learn about clubs, activities, and mentoring groups nearby. I admire how much Lady Gaga cares about getting her fans involved with their community. This Born Brave Bus program features tents that showcase community organizations, a fun tour bus that people get to go inside and sign their names on the wall, and free food! Afterwards, the other advisory board members and I went to the concert!

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Winner at CES’s LaunchFest Startup Pitch Competition

Enplug won the Consumer Electronics Show’s LaunchFest Startup Pitch Competition! Thank you Angel Launch for hosting this fun event. We competed against 8 other great startups ranging from a kickstarter for films to a carsharing company. I really enjoyed meeting the founders of these companies, who came from all parts of the US.

AngelLaunch Logo

Family Vacation to Catalina Islands and Mexico!

I was so excited when my family came to see me in Los Angeles for the winter holidays! We had a blast with all the quality time we spent together. It’s times like these when we wish my mom was with us, but we know that she’s watching us :)

Dinner on the cruise

Dinner on the cruise

We just boarded the cruise!

We just boarded the cruise!

My sister and I goofing off as usual

My sister and I goofing off as usual

At Universal Studios in LA!

At Universal Studios in LA!

Riding on horses by the beach in Ensenada, Mexico

Riding on horses by the beach in Ensenada, Mexico

My dad!

My dad!

Book Review: God Never Blinks

God Never Blinks

Over the Christmas holiday, I went with my sister and dad on a cruise to Mexico. For anyone who has been on a cruise, you will know that there is a lot of downtime. Because I spent about 5 minutes packing, I forgot to bring a book. As a result, I spent my downtime on the cruise reading the Bible since there was one in each cruise cabin. (My goal for 2011 and 2012 was to finish reading the Old and New Testament. I’m still working on it.) On the second day, I noticed that my dad had a book sitting on his bed. Elated, I asked him where he got the book. He told me his boss, Tim, gave him the book as a Christmas gift.

Tim asked my dad what kind of book my dad likes. My dad responded, “Books about life. Books for middle-aged people.” I chuckled when my dad told me his response. I told my dad that I’ve actually heard of God Never Blinks. To confirm my suspicion, the book cover states that it is a New York Times Bestseller. I started reading the book at about 4pm. I spent the next 4 straight hours reading the entire book, cover to cover.

The book is a collection of 50 lessons that the author, Regina Brett, shares from her experiences in life. Each chapter is a life lesson. These lessons include “When in doubt, just take the next right step” (Lesson 2/Chapter 2), “Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple” (Lesson 23), and “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” (Lesson 48).

Regina wrote many of these lessons as part of a newspaper column. She then saw how popular they became for the readers to share with friends. So, she decided to compile all of them, add a few new lessons in, and create the lessons into a book.

God Never Blinks is a book I’d recommend to anyone, young or old. It’s an easy read-you’ll be flipping through the pages quickly. The title is slightly misleading-it’s not a religious book although the author does include many words about faith in the book. It’s simply a book of little lessons of life that the author had learned in her 50+ years.

What I love about Regina is that she’s not someone with a PhD in psychology from Harvard telling us how best to approach life in order to be happy because she’s done 10 years of research on the topic. She’s not someone who became a millionaire at 23 and is telling us how to lead a successful life. She is a woman who was 1 of 11 kids in her family, who became pregnant at 21, who got married at 40, who got cancer at 41, and who survived to be 50+ years old to publish her first book.

Her stories talk about how she struggled to be a single mother at 21 and making only $7,500 per year. She’s honest with the reader and exposes us to the wounds she has from broken relationships, deaths, and failures. Regina shares the intimate details of her life from celebrating her mothers’ 75th birthday to her first dates with her husband, Bruce.

Several of the chapters are repetitive in what they are trying to teach us, but the anecdotes are unique and keep us interested. The resounding theme of the book is to appreciate what life gives you, even if it is very little. It made me reflect on many of my attitudes towards certain aspects of life including friendships and work. There is one chapter where the author asks us to write out the 20 things in life that we’re most appreciative of. I actually stopped reading, got out my laptop, and jotted down things I am thankful for. Maybe I’ll share them in a future blogpost.

My dad told me that he actually read the book out of order. He browsed through the Table of Contents and picked out the chapters/lessons he wanted to read about. I thought that was really cool since I have a very “must get things done” mentality. If I start something, I have to finish it. There are many pros and cons to that habit.

The book was a great way for me to pause and reflect. That sounds cheesy, but now that I am at the wrinkly old age of 22, it’s time for me to add some wisdom. So, here are some things I am going to change/add in my life because of the book:

  1. Meditate. In Lesson 47, the author talks about a group of women in a Harvard Medical School professor’s research group who thought they were infertile. After several months of meditating daily, these women were able to get pregnant. I’m not planning to have any kids anytime soon, but I realize that the author is telling us that the mind and our mental state have a large impact on our physical wellbeing.
  2. Spend more time with friends. I’ll be sending out Skype invites!
  3. Do the best-today. One of the lessons in the book talks about how writers sometimes save their “good stuff” for another article or work. Instead, the author asks us to use our best material today because it will force you to come up with even better stuff tomorrow. I love that!

Named in “130 Young Entrepreneurs to Watch”

Woke up this morning with an email saying “Congratulations” from a friend. I had no idea what he was talking about so it was a nice surprise to learn about this list Under30CEO.com put out! This was really exciting! I don’t know if I really deserve this yet, but I’ll take it :)

Under30CEO

Hollywood Christmas Parade

My friend and her husband graciously invited me as a VIP guest to the Hollywood Christmas Parade. It was such a fun experience! The entire parade was very well put together. As a VIP, we got to hang out in the “Green Room,” where all the celebrities/performers relax and eat together. I met Kimberley Locke (who sings one of my favorite songs, Eighth World Wonder), the dog from The Artist, and Big Time Rush. The CEO of Associated Television International also took us on a personal tour and drove us up and down the red carpet in his golf cart. It was such an interesting experience to see how the “made for TV” parade was put together!

holiday parade

 

The cameras shooting the parade were right in front of us!

The cameras shooting the parade were right in front of us!

The dog from The Artist

The dog from The Artist

Taking a tour down the red carpet

Taking a tour down the red carpet