Ryan Li, Serial Entrepreneur & Innovative App Developer

Our April Leader in the Spotlight features our Regional Ambassador, Ryan Li. Ryan is an accomplished high school student at the Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts, with a keen interest in entrepreneurship and volunteerism. Ryan has founded several organizations, including uNyte, PeaceofMind, Complaints to Solutions, and Project Sigma, which strives to share opportunities with youth. In addition, Ryan is an avid volunteer  and serves as a literacy tutor with the Toronto Public Library’s Leading to Reading program, and has assisted with the integration of Pokemon Go at the Fairview branch. Within Cardinal Carter, Ryan serves as a peer tutor, a Duke of Edinburgh Student Leader, and a Vice President at DECA. In our interview, Ryan discusses his experiences in founding Project Sigma, shares insights on starting up your own business, and provides the advice he would give to his younger self.

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1. Tell us about your experiences in founding Project Sigma. What difficulties did you encounter? What was the most rewarding experience?

Founding Project Sigma was one of the best experiences in my life, despite the many ups and downs. When I first had the idea for Project Sigma, I was lying in bed thinking to myself, “It would be really good if I could access many opportunities in diverse fields on a huge database. Also, it would be great to include like-minded, future-oriented students.” I was already collecting opportunities for myself, and storing all the information in a giant google drive document.  Then, I thought, “Hey, why don’t I share them with everyone?” and, so I did.

The concept grew larger, so I made the organization a non-profit. I took on executives and ambassadors, and soon, Project Sigma blossomed.

However, I hit several roadblocks and obstacles along the way. First, founding the organization took a lot of work, because I had to organize and data collect for every single opportunity. This categorizing took up two weeks of solid work in the summer.  Second, managing the team was difficult, because of meeting scheduling conflicts.  Lastly, it is challenging to keep all the opportunities up to date. Once I overcame those roadblocks, the organization operated more smoothly.

It has been extremely rewarding to meet many like-minded, ambitious high school students, network with business professionals and hear their advice on how to expand and develop Project Sigma, as well as take on new challenges such as becoming a webmaster. 

2. You’ve founded many organizations, including Project Sigma, Complaints to Solutions, uNyte, and PeaceofMind. What advice do you have for students aspiring to start up their own organization? What resources have you found helpful?

The advice that I would give students interested in starting their own organization is very simple: determine what you are passionate about, find the applications for it, and existing problems.  For example, if you were passionate about computer science, find applications for it such as web or hardware development, and then find a key problem. Problems come in all shapes and forms, and they can be simple to big.

One thing that I have noticed with many startups, is that their product are focused on one thing. One example is re-usable ice cubes for beer; a company developed a cold-rock to keep beers cold, and the rock could be re-used. When they launched a simple crowd-funding campaign, the company obtained the funding they needed to make the product, and they were extremely successful. Finding a problem and solving it with an unconventional method is the best way to go about starting up a new organization, because the idea is usually fresh, and new, which the market loves.

Resources that I have found helpful include mentors at networking events, and TKS, Toronto’s most prestigious innovation program. Mentors at events are often more experienced than you are, and asking them questions or questions as to their work, can get you many insights to the business world. You will get helpful tips on how you can further your own career.

The Knowledge Society (TKS) is an amazing resource, because TKS imparted “boss mentality” in me, and taught me the startup, tech, and business concepts needed to become an entrepreneur. Through TKS, I was able to attend numerous conferences, tour businesses offices, meet with leading experts in diverse fields such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality/ virtual reality, genomics, cryptocurrency, health tech. For more information, TKS can be found here.

3. You’re designing apps for uNyte, and PeaceofMind. What motivated you to start designing apps?

My initial motivation to start designing apps stems from my participation in a UX/UI design workshop. I came to understand the complexity of designing apps that optimize consumer experiences. Creating an easy-to-use app that allows the user to find things quickly and get connected easily is crucial in many app development processes, as it determines whether the consumer will use the app again. From this experience, I have learnt many things regarding consumer needs, what consumers want, and how to plan for the phases of app development.

4. What has been your most formative experience so far? 

My most formative experience is attending the TKS organized visit of Pivotal Labs in downtown Toronto. Pivotal Labs is an international software development firm.  At the event, we had a tour of the office, where we saw many of the actual hardware they used. The most crucial part of the night was when we learned about the lean methodology; this method has stuck with me for my subsequent startups.

The learn methodology is giving customers more value using fewer resources, so you have to solve problems with simple and easy solutions. Pivotal Labs also gave us the chance to talk to many software developers. To this day, I am in contact with them, and they give me helpful advice on my app development projects.

5. What would you tell the younger Ryan Li who’s about to enter high school?

If I were to give advice to the younger Ryan Li entering high school right now, I would tell him to study hard, and be more ambitious. By studying hard, the younger Ryan Li would be able to achieve more since new knowledge and grades open doors. Ultimately right now, my job is a student, and to be a good student is to understand concepts and learn more things. Meanwhile, telling the younger Ryan Li to be more ambitious would allow him to earlier explore my interests in startups and business.  

Another piece of advice would be to make the most of the time you have. When we are young, we have a lot of time, and a lot of it is wasted. I would highly advise the younger Ryan Li to not waste all the time that he did on entertainment and social media, but rather focus on things that he liked. This way, he will be able to grow further and expand his potential.

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