The Road to Entrepreneurship - With or Without A Degree

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By Anne Raith

Does school prepare students for life?

Not necessarily, young entrepreneur Andrew Hsu might say.

“At Stanford, I took every business course I could get my hands on. But I’ve actually found interestingly, that they weren’t that useful,” says the 20-year-old, who holds three college degrees in in Neurobiology, Biochemistry and Chemistry. “There was tons of stuff that I had to learn on the fly.”

After having left grad school, Hsu launched his own startup, Airy Labs, where he develops social learning games for kids. Last week, Airy Labs secured $1.5 million in seed funding. Hsu is what you would call a wunderkind, and one of the Thiel Fellows who received $100,000 from Paypal founder Peter Thiel, to launch a startup. “My background isn’t normal,” he admits, “but starting a start-up very young is quite common in Silicon Valley.”

Teens in Tech, located in Palo Alto, not far away from Hsu’s office, seems to prove this. The Teens in Tech Incubator Program helps teenagers launch their own startup. Over the course of eight weeks, young entrepreneurs learn all they have to know about economics, marketing and fundraising. At his ripe old age, Hsu is now a mentor involved with this group, helping to prepare teenagers for this competitive and fast-moving industry.


“When I started my first company when I was 14, I had nobody who helped me, nobody who held my hand. I had to learn everything the hard way,” says Daniel Brusilovsky, the founder of Teens in Tech, explaining why launched the organization. “These young entrepreneurs have to learn all these skills now, not when they’re 20,” the 18-year-old says.

On Friday the Incubator Program ended with a conference at which Hsu gave a speech, as did veterans like Michael Simmons. Simmons worked as a developer for Apple for more than 10 years before he had the courage to launch his own company.

“It’s incredible. I look back and wonder if, had I started the company then, would it be the same as now?” he says. “And of course I’ll never know the answer. But I do know one thing: All the experience I got working at Apple and all the other companies helped me build my knowledge.” He told his audience that entrepreneurship can certainly be fun, but it’s also a combination of hard work, luck and passion.

Matt Linton is one of the teens that attended the Incubator Program. The past eight weeks he and two others worked on their Project Zombie Survival, a computer game that will be available as a free app soon.

“The mentors helped us in all aspects: business, marketing, how to make money…everything. It was great talking to them,” Linton said. The 15-year-old hopes that his still-small company will be well-known one day.

Regardless of Hsu’s opinions of the value of college, Linton has no doubt he’ll attend.

“Definitely! College is fantastic. I hope that this will give me a bonus over the other kids,” he said. Although one degree might be enough.

Anne Raith works as a host and editor with German Public Radio "Deutschlandfunk." She's stationed at KQED during her Arthur F. Burns fellowship.