Alyssa Chen is the Head of Accelerator at AppWorks Accelerator — “a factory that helps startups build their own rockets,” as she puts it. She interned at AppWorks for a year during university. After graduation, Chen started her career running business development and public relations for emerging artists and designers at Huashan 1914, Taiwan’s pioneering cultural creative park. In 2016, she returned to AppWorks as an analyst and later became the head of accelerator in 2019.
Note to Ally: To Jamie, thank you for having trust in me, and for the consistent work that you’ve put in to help build the team and the ecosystem. You’re truly an inspiration, and keep up the good work!
“What is a startup?”
This was the first question Alyssa asked her friend back in her university days, and one that will eventually alter her path as a communications student. Back then in 2012, the startup concept was not popular in Taiwan, but she happened to stumble upon it thanks to a friend that was working for a startup. Expressing her interest in the startup ecosystem, she was introduced by her friend to an internship at startup accelerator AppWorks. It was also there where Alyssa would meet Jamie Lin, her boss and mentor who would challenge her to develop her skills.
“On the very first day of my internship, I got to meet Jamie, the Founder of AppWorks,” she recalls. “It was a very cool experience, because I’ve actually known him way before the internship. As a communications student, I was very interested in reading blogs and news about digital and social media, which was the emerging trend in Taiwan then. Jamie was one of the bloggers in Taiwan that I absolutely loved reading on.”
The internship was a great experience, which eventually paved the way for her full time position at AppWorks after being in the arts scene for a while, she said. Curious to know why she felt Jamie was her biggest ally, I asked her how Jamie has impacted her career-wise.
“He believed in me,” Alyssa said. “That was very important to me, because back then, I was a rookie at AppWorks. However, just after one year, he decided to give me a huge challenge by asking me to lead the accelerator team and work with founders. I used to ask him why he chose to put such a huge responsibility on me despite my lack of experience, but all he said was that he saw that I had potential, and believed I could do it,” she added.
I smiled at that with a total understanding of how she felt. Oftentimes, we feel that we are not competent enough, but all it takes is for someone to believe in us for amazing things to happen. For Alyssa, that opportunity was something that allowed her to grow exponentially, even though the process was difficult.
“As a young woman, having to lead the team and work alongside the founders was hard. Most of them had a lot more work and life experience than me, so when I spoke to them, I could see that they just wouldn’t buy into what I said. This was really frustrating for me as a lead, because after all that is being said, all they wanted was for me to find another experienced person or to help connect them to other people. That was the toughest part because I felt that I couldn’t value-add to anything.”
I nodded, asking how she dealt with that in the end. She continued, “I decided to face the situation head on and did two things. One, I stopped trying to give advice to the founders, but started to be in deep conversations with them. This allowed me to understand the common problems startup founders or early-stage startups face, and helped me to learn through observation. Two, I started to write my thoughts with the encouragement from Jamie. I had totally no experience in writing tech and entrepreneurship pieces, and could only share articles that I thought were interesting at the start. However, with practice, I’ve managed to write summaries and even share my own thoughts on subjects. This built up my confidence because more founders caught up on the thoughts I’ve shared, and would be open to having discussions with me.”
That’s something I admire Alyssa for. She had the courage and determination to face the obstacles up front, and tried to connect with people on a personal level. She took action, and she was able to learn from it and emerge victorious.
When asked about what Jamie was like as a boss, Alyssa said that he was someone who constantly challenged her thought process. ‘Start with the why’, was something he always said when she proposed a plan. There were constant rejections, but that was how she learnt to think deeper whenever she approached a new idea, she told me.
Despite Jamie being harsh with Alyssa when it comes to thought processes, she explained that he was also very generous with everyone in terms of resources.
“If he has any opportunities, he would always share it with the team and allow them an opportunity to shine. There were many times where I was recommended by him to go for huge meetings with officials, or media interviews to gain exposure. One of the biggest opportunities I’ve ever gotten was the chance to host AppWorks Demo Day, where I had to speak on a stage with more than 1000 people present. That had really boosted my confidence, and made me realise what I could achieve. This has influenced me a lot, because now that I have opportunities, I would also share them with the founders I meet, or my co-workers who might need a chance to show themselves more than I do.”
I agreed with her that having a workplace culture where everyone is willing to share and uplift each other in times of need is something that is hard to come by.
Other than that, I was also curious about the gender landscape of the Taiwan startup ecosystem. Alyssa mentioned only about only 20% of the startup founders during the accelerator’s 10 years of operations were females. She rationalized that this was probably due to past gender stereotypes in the tech space in Taiwan, but the situation is changing, she said.
For example, they had seen an increase of female founders to 33% in their most recent batch of new founders. To Alyssa, this is a huge change, and she’s sure that they will continue to see more female founders breaking into the tech industry in the near future.
“I think we need to share more stories from female leaders so that we can learn from their growth and advice. It doesn’t necessarily have to be top level executives, but anyone who stands out and shines in their field. Other than that, we also need to start by being role models ourselves, so that we can share these insights that we’ve gotten through our experience with the younger generation, just like how Jamie had taught me,” Alyssa said.
Speaking to Alyssa has made me recall all the times I’ve received help from mentors to grow. Many times, our success comes from the wisdom of others who stand before us. It is indeed the willingness to share knowledge that will ultimately inspire new generations to come.