ENTREPRENEURSHIP ECOSYSTEM STORIES
At the 2022 thinkBIG! Summit, Maggie Chen won the grand prize in the small business track of the thinkBIG! Challenge with her business El Puente; a Spanish-English language exchange program.
In our interview, Maggie told us more about her journey as an entrepreneur and managing her business while attending Laurel School.
Tell us a little about your journey to entrepreneurship.
I began dabbling in entrepreneurship as a freshman when I entered a few pitch contests and worked with my school’s coffee company, One Coffee Circle. While I had little success with my entries, they taught me how to identify issues and solutions as well as effectively communicate them. Being a part of the One Coffee Circle team also showed me the behind the scenes of a business, which was much more complicated than I expected. I had been interested in learning Spanish as well, and after freshman year, I realized I could combine my love for language learning with my interest in business. I had struggled to find ways to practice outside of the classroom, and when I discovered that there was a need for a Spanish-English exchange program, El Puente was born.
Who helped you get started as an entrepreneur?
The head of entrepreneurship at Laurel School, Mr. Corsaro, has been a great help from the very start. He runs One Coffee Circle, oversaw my pitch contest entries, and helped me prepare El Puente for the ThinkBIG! Challenge this year. My Spanish teacher, Señora Hardy, has also been incredibly supportive of my idea.
What are you currently doing and what is the future of the business?
I am currently adding team members to help me run El Puente, and we are preparing for our second round. I also recently partnered with a school district and have spoken with students to see how the program can best accommodate them. In the next few months, we plan on running a second round, building a website, and creating an Instagram account. The end goal is to garner enough interest to run rounds back to back and have students start practicing their target language.
What takeaways did you have from participating in the thinkBIG! Challenge?
Participating in ThinkBIG! definitely strengthened my confidence in El Puente and its potential for success. Prior to participating, El Puente was only brought up with some educators and participants, and getting positive feedback, advancing, and sharing my idea with over a hundred people was very validating. Preparing for ThinkBIG! also helped me consolidate my idea, identify potential holes, and think through aspects of its operation. Now, if anyone asks me to describe my program in 30 seconds, I can give them a clear and concise elevator pitch. Detailing every little detail for my entry has helped me tie up loose ends and preemptively solve problems that can come up. Overall, entering ThinkBIG! has helped El Puente grow immensely.
How will you use the funds that you won in the thinkBIG! Challenge?
First and foremost, I plan on taking my team out to lunch! I would not have had success in running El Puente or in my pitch had Pedro and Caitlin not helped with translations or created a logo. I will be saving a portion of funds for personal endeavors, and the remainder will be saved for any costs that come up, such as web space, graphic design tools, or wifi hotspots for participants. Because El Puente is a nonprofit, there are no immediate costs, but we will have funds set aside just in case.
Do you find value in using an entrepreneurial mindset in other settings besides your business?
Absolutely. Being willing to ask questions and reach out to others has helped me immensely in academic settings. To start El Puente, I had to email or cold call strangers and ask for their time or help. This terrified me at first but ultimately taught me that in order to get better at anything, I can’t be afraid of asking for help.
What advice do you have for other students who are interested in starting a business or developing an idea?
Do not be afraid to email or call people asking for advice, a chat over Zoom, resources, etc… The worst that can happen is they say no, but if they say yes, you just gained a connection and are one step closer to achieving your goal. Asking for something can be nerve wracking, but your business/idea is important, and chances are whoever you reach out to will be interested in helping. Talk with as many people as possible as well. Speak with the teachers and students at your school, alumni, and other teens that have started similar projects. If someone is unable to help you, ask them if they know anyone that can. Finally, get other students or people involved in your business. I wish I learned this early on because one person can’t possibly do everything alone. Things will move faster and you will have much more fun when you are supported!
How can people find out more about your business?
To find out more about El Puente, visit our website https://www.elpuenteexchange.org/. If you are interested in participating or have any questions, our team can be reached at ElPuenteExchange@gmail.com.