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In 2016, UNSW graduate and young entrepreneur Christina Chun was given the opportunity to pitch a tech startup for FounderLab UNSW. Over a sleepless night, Christina and her team pulled together an idea for a platform that would be a central hub of skills and study opportunities for students all over Australia. This idea was just the beginning for 1Scope. In 2017, 1Scope secured $1M in funding and Christina was recognised as Female Entrepreneur of the Year.
- The uneven playing field in Australian Education
- The creation of 1Scope
- On being a young entrepreneur
- Overcoming challenges and stress
- The bamboo glass ceiling
Growing up in Western Sydney in a challenging family environment, Christina Chun understands what it’s like to be a young student with ambitions only to be limited by the means to achieve them.
“We’re all born into ‘set’ segments from ethnicity, to SES, gender, postcode and more. From day one, some of us are already born ahead of others,” Christina said in an interview with Anthill Magazine.
The unfortunate truth in Australia’s education system is that there is an uneven playing field when it comes to both high school and university students. Coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, being an international student, or attending comprehensive schools often means that there is a limited pool of resources and opportunities that are being offered or created.
For a large majority of students simply trying to find work experience, build skills, or even undertake further studies can be a struggle in itself.
“I want to, as best as I can, level the playing field to make it easier for students who are struggling to see a way out, and to fight.”
Christina began her university studies in psychology, working with children with learning difficulties and disabilities. Always passionate about education and helping people, she realised the potential of reaching out to more youths and pursued a second degree in commerce focusing on business and running leadership programs.
Inspired by her own firsthand struggles and the realisation of how much underdeveloped young talent there is around the world and their lack of access to quality education, she established the Make a Mark Project (MAMP) – an initiative that connects talented female high school students with industry professionals through leadership programs.
Running MAMP confirmed her beliefs: students wanted to learn and participate in programs and corporations were more than happy (and able) to provide programs. However there lacked an easily accessible and comprehensive marketplace to connect the two together.
“I was running Make a Mark Project (MAMP) to validate that there was high demand for opportunities (from students) and a potential supply of opportunities (from companies),” explains Christina. “We had 1500 students engage in free programs created by organisations such as Suncorp, NAB, Morgan McKinley, OpenLearning and many others.”
“The next step was to create a platform with the core functionality: students are able to search and apply for opportunities; companies are able to post opportunities and review applications.”
With tech not being her background, Christina was dubious as to whether she should proceed with a tech startup. To assuage her concerns, she flew to Silicon Valley and attended the 30 under 30 Forbes as well as an event hosted by GSVLabs.
“The consensus was: do not let not knowing tech stop you from spreading the impact you can have to the rest of Australia, to the rest of the world. You need tech to scale.”
It was coming back from Silicon Valley that she received an email from Joshua Flannery from UNSWInnovations who offered her an opportunity to pitch a tech idea. In a happy coincidence, the winner would receive a lead developer to assist in the development of the prototype for three months.
Born from the outcomes she had derived from MAMP, she pitched an idea for a platform that would later become 1Scope.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Over the past year, 1Scope has grown steadily into a marketplace that collates training programs, workshops, in-school programs and placement for students all for free. It’s an edtech startup for companies, universities and non-profits to share scholarships and opportunities with enthusiastic youths.
Following its FounderLab win, 1Scope was able to secure a $1 million investment from a Chinese investor and has since set up office in Barangaroo.
In conjunction to winning Female Entrepreneur of the Year, Christina was invited as a delegate to the NSW-Guangdong Join Economic Meeting with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Throughout the journey, Christina’s dedication and commitment never faltered and 1Scope saw further success when it received a partnership with Microsoft and won Founder10x, receiving an extra $20k in funding, a funded trip to San Francisco and a 10-week accelerator.
As of today, over 10,000 applications have been processed on the platform.
While her work aims at fostering young talent and potentially cultivating the next generation of successful entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship itself is not for the faint of heart.
“It’s definitely glamorized,” admits Christina. “It’s harder on every part of your limb than people think. Each stage gets harder – you thought coming up with an idea was hard? Possibly pitching in front of people? Building an MVP (minimal viable product)? Getting your first 100 users? It’s another level when it comes to growth, achieving MoM (month over month) revenue, going international, raising more investment. The beginning is the easiest part.”
But while this may be true, those who want to jump straight into entrepreneurship shouldn’t immediately be discouraged. There is no tried and true method of starting up a business.
“It’s about having the right mindset and approach. Experience is another form of knowledge – it requires people to mould what they know and what they have gone through to certain contexts and time periods.
For young students with business aspirations who want to follow in Christina’s footsteps, exposure and familiarisation with business environments is a strong first step.
“When I share this with others, they always think I’m just joking – that when my little girl turns of age (say, four?), we’ll be setting up a simple lemonade stand to learn all about supply chain, customer service, accounting, marketing and the rest. It’s like reading a Harry Potter book to a one year old – they might not yet understand it, they might not be able to reply with anything, but at that moment, their brain is a sponge, absorbing everything in their environment. The potential positive correlations with a healthy adulthood and impact is unfathomable.”
On lessons she’s learnt in her experience that she wishes she had learnt earlier, Christina offers the following advice:
- Focus on metrics and be military in achieving monthly goals.
- Collaborating with other companies and people is always more pleasant and find those who have common goals and combine your resources to expand the pie.
- Don’t raise money until you really need it or until you can account for how you’re going to spend every dollar.
- Prioritise time and health. There’ll always be more work and more opportunities, but don’t take time for granted.
- Fire fast when you know someone is not good for the team – it can get very bad, very quickly.
Behind the exterior of every incredible entrepreneur is a human being that has to deal with the same problems of stress, lack of motivation, impossible deadlines, and the unpredictable nature of family emergencies and team conflicts as everyone else. Even successful entrepreneurs like Christina have times when they feel like they are only an impostor.
“Just like every other human – I have my fears. Things that cause my anxiety levels to spike, things I don’t naturally feel comfortable doing. But sometimes what has to be done, just has to be done.”
From securing investments, dealing with staff retention to keeping up staff motivation to prevent burnout, Christina has encountered all the problems of a growing business. On top of this, she has also had to face these issues with the added stress of being pregnant.
In situations like these, Christina shares her go-to strategy:
- Map it out on paper objectively, removing the emotions, and do an analysis of possible solutions and consequences.
- Gather insights from other founders and my partner to get a third perspective.
- Gather insights from my advisors and reference board (I had James Myint from Herbert Smith Freehills; Jens Schumacher from Atlassian; and Vanessa Harding-Farrenberg from Morgan McKinley – my three go-to people).
Sometimes it’s also good just to take a step back and develop positive self-talk and self-awareness.
“To be in this situation is my choice. I can always choose to leave or do something else. But the fact that I’m sticking with this means I need to stick it out. In the grander scheme of things, my problems aren’t problems. A lot more could go wrong.
“I also have an emotional bank account with hundreds of thank you notes, comments, letters from students and people who we’ve helped. That one always works.”
Whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, taking care of mental health is as important as taking care of your physical health. Taking some time for yourself to de-stress is both easy and effective.
“Meditation works!” says Christina. “Reading a book, watching Friends, taking Teddy, my dog, for a play in the park. Also writing down all my thoughts and feelings onto a piece of paper, and then scrunching it up before throwing it in the bin.”
As a woman of Asian descent, Christina is outnumbered in a western industry that is typically dominated by males and often has to deal with people not taking her position or expertise seriously due to her gender or ethnicity.
“In an industry where there isn’t much gender, let alone cultural diversity, empathy and openness isn’t abundant.”
In an age when social justice is very much a prominent topic, the so-called ‘glass ceiling’ is not the only metaphorical obstacle in the way of fighting for fair treatment when it comes to positions of power. The term ‘bamboo ceiling’, coined in 2005 by Jane Hyun, describes the barriers and the biases towards individuals of Asian descent.
“I think the best way to illustrate my dealings is sharing stories that I would have once not believed could happen,” she admits. “For instance, going into a meeting with a colleague (who is white) while only he received handshakes and business cards despite those present in the meeting knowing that I was the CEO.”
But despite these instances, some which manifested in more subtle ways such as being left out of discussions and conversations or having to deal with ‘mansplaining’, Christina sees these obstacles as merely more challenges to overcome in reaching her goal.
“As a woman, a few thoughts come into mind. One, respect: it’s harder and longer to earn, but it’s always a nice challenge to have. Two, risk: getting pregnant in particular – it’s been a toll on my body and mind, but has also affected confidence levels of the team, business partners and investors. The tip here is just military planning to ensure goals will be met with accountability and reporting.”