Winning TechCrunch’s Startup Showdown

Nanxi liu techcrunchTechCrunch, AOL, and 4A teamed up to host Startup Showdown in the Beverly Hilton Hotel’s auditorium. There were 15 ad-tech startups selected from around the country. I was impressed by the caliber of the startups and had a great time meeting their CEOs. I think Enplug was one of the youngest companies there so I didn’t expect to win.

The format was a pitch and then Q&A from the four judges. Then, the top three startups were selected to do one more pitch against each other. The three finalists along with us were Brander and Paedae. Both have compelling products. The audience then voted for their favorite and Enplug came in the lead :)

Here were some of the fellow companies that I enjoyed learning about:

  • Stipple: Founded in 2010. Raised $14.4 million. Stipple’s image-based marketing technology stack detects, recognizes, and identifies the content inside images at scale and enables Advertisers and Publishers to apply interactive curated content, accurate native advertising solutions, and connects organically to commerce.
  • TripleLift: Founded in 2012. Raised $4 million. TripleLift’s templating technology uses high-throughput, low-latency to serve ads and relies on computer vision technologies to ensure each brand’s advertising content looks great on each different publisher’s look and feel.
  • Paedae. Founded in 2012. Raised $12 million. Paedae allows publishers to give game players physical and virtual rewards for reaching certain milestones, and for brands to present their ads as part of the rewards.
  • Blippar. Founded in 2010. Raised from Qualcomm Ventures. Blippar’s technology is bringing “lightning-fast image recognition and augmented reality to mobile advertising.”

I’m looking forward to seeing the successes of these fellow startups!

2013 in Review

I definitely think I’m getting old(er) when time flies by so quickly and suddenly, I’m in my mid-twenties (23 now!!). 2013 is going to be one of those years I look back on and say, “that was certainly a year to remember.” The best parts of 2013 were the new friendships I made and the stronger connections I built with old friends. Life is made beautiful by sharing it with people you care about. In addition, here were some of my other highlights:

1. Enplug: My tech startup in LA grew to 30 full time people a year after starting the company. We moved from working and living out of a house to leasing an entire floor of an office building. Our social billboards, AURA, expanded from LA to 30 more cities. Our team had an exciting time doing photoshoots and interviews with Fox News, Wall Street Journal, Inc., Fast Co., LA Business Journal.

2. Nanoly Bioscience: My biotech company in Boulder, Colorado, also added additional teammates on board who in a few short months, generated some awesome results. In September, we won a grant from the Colorado Technology Association.

3. Europe for the first time: I was invited to speak at Monaco’s first major tech conference and had the pleasure of having dinner at the Prime Minister’s house and meeting Prince Albert. I spent a few days in Monaco and then went to Nice, France for another few days.

4. Europe for the 2nd and 3rd time: In June, I was selected as 1 of 100 entrepreneurs/innovators to be part of British Airways’ UnGrounded 11-hour flight event from San Francisco to London. On the flight, teams of 4-6 entrepreneurs competed against each other to come up with ideas to get more young people involved with technology and science. Our team, InIt, was 1 of 3 winners. When we landed in London, we got to attend the G8 Innovation Summit where our team’s proposal was presented to the United Nations. At the summit, we got to meet Prime Minister David Cameron and Sir. Richard Branson. In October, I was a speaker at the Milken Institute London Summit. It was my first time being involved with the Milken Institute and I have to say that it was one of the best experiences that I was fortunate enough to have in 2013. Michael Milken has done an excellent job in establishing Milken Institute as a premier think tank. Following London, I was invited by the CEO of Relativity Media, who is someone I really look up to, to travel with his team to Geneva, Switzerland, and then Cannes, France. It was my first time in both cities!

5. Japan for the first time: From Tokyo to Osaka, I am so thankful for being able to explore Japan for a week. One of the most interesting things was getting to see sumo wrestling practice at a temple.

6. Singapore for the first time: I had the honor of being a speaker at the World Entrepreneurship Forum in Singapore. It was fantastic meeting entrepreneurs from around the world and getting to see some of my entrepreneur friends from the US there too. Singapore is such a stunning city: I visited their Botanical Gardens, went to the top of Marina Bay Hotel to hang out by the huge infinity pool, explored/stayed at 4 different hotels, visited old family friends, and went to Universal Studios.

7.  Viva Las Vegas: I went to Las Vegas in what felt like every other month. Whether it was for industry forums or CES, it was great to see a thriving new tech city. I went on the very fun Zappos HQ tour and of course, (legally) gambled for the first time. One of the cool experiences in Las Vegas is also trying lots of different hotels. I’ve stayed at Circus Circus, Stratosphere, Mandarin Oriental, Rio, Wynn, Palms, and Cosmopolitan.

8. Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation: Being on the Youth Advisory Board for the Born This Way Foundation allowed me the opportunity to work with at-risk youth. One of my favorite activities we organizing donations for the LA Youth Network, which gives housing and support to homeless youth.

9. UNICEF’s Chinese Children’s Initiative: As a Board Member for UNICEF CCI, we organized our first annual fundraiser, which raised over $60,000 in a single night! We are using the funds to build safe housing for children.

10. Infobitt: I’m proud to be an advisory of Infobitt, a crowd-sourced news site founded by Larry Sanger (co-founder of Wikipedia). The site had a very successful beta launch and I know 2014 will bring continued growth to the innovative internet company.

11. Reading: I enjoyed a number of entertaining and thoughtful books in 2013. I hope to continue going through my long reading list in 2014.

  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: Read it!
  • Blink: I was hoping it would be better.
  • Bossypants: I really wanted this book to be funny, but I fell short.
  • 50 Shades of Grey: It makes for a fun, light reading.
  • Lean In: I highly recommend this book to all women.
  • The Fault in Our Stars: I don’t usually read fiction, but I heard so many good reviews of it that I gave it a shot. It was beautiful and heartbreaking, especially for those who had someone close fight cancer.
  • How to Sweet-Talk a Shark: Written by former Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, this was so surprisingly funny and informative. Two thumbs up.

12. Music: My friend Ben and I finally reunited again and produced our 2nd song together. This time, it was a fun classical music + electronic music mix: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCSEspQhmN0

We’re in the Wall Street Journal!

Our team is so excited to be featured in the Wall Street Journal! It was interesting to see how articles are published in the WSJ. We interviewed with the journalist a few weeks ago and had a followup call this weekend. The photographer came to our house yesterday to take photos (and enjoyed a nice BBQ dinner with us!). We’re looking forward to making a team trip to the newsstand to buy every issue of Wednesday, July 31st’s Wall Street Journal! http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324170004578638002403132048.html

I’ve read some of the comments of people saying that it’s a horrible idea etc…, but we’ve been living together for over a year now and I think it’s one of the best decisions we could have possibly made as a small and growing company. If you come by our house, it’s not like a frat party with footballs being thrown around and a keg in the corner. The house is very quiet throughout the day with people working hard at their desks. People are professional with each other and treat each other with respect. We’re a company building a great product, but we think of ourselves as a family first.

Enplug Wall Street Journal

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.

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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