Founded by Ivy Xu and Yifan Zhou, BETA Camp is a six-week online summer program for young students who want to understand the workings of entrepreneurship and business dynamics. Ivy started off her career at Silicon Valley working at various startups before she moved on to an entrepreneurial path and founded a health tech startup, an escape room, and a career-coaching business before BETA Camp.
“Because of Covid-19, there were a lot of teen enrichment programs that had been cancelled or hadn’t shifted online yet. My younger sister, then 16, was confused about summer programs and her path after high school. A lot of teenagers have this confusion,” Ivy began.
These motivations were what pushed Ivy and Yifan to begin BETA Camp, an enrichment program for teens focusing on business technology and entrepreneurship. The seasonal camp drives high school students to learn about the mechanics of business, technology, and entrepreneurship through startup pitches. By inviting mentors and speakers from a range of innovative careers and companies—including Google and Goldman Sachs—students are able to get exposure to some people they could look up to and hopefully strive to become.
Ivy and Yifan’s friendship goes a long way back. They went to the same middle school, high school, and university before heading down different career paths. Ivy transitioned into the tech industry with a business degree, while Yifan went on to pursue a MBA.
When I asked Ivy how it was starting a business with such a long-time friend, she definitely had more pros than cons to list. “With our paths after university, we bring in different skill sets into BETA Camp. After having helped Fortune 500 companies drive profitability, Yifan is focused on operational efficiencies. I have shifted towards marketing and business development.” More than that, though, there’s a level of trust that’s already been built. Ivy goes on to explain, “She’s my best friend. There’s a good understanding of what we do and don’t need to talk about. Things get done much faster because there’s inherent trust and communication that’s already built.”
For fresh graduates, shifting fields can feel like a daunting experience. Without studies or experience in the relevant field, applying for jobs outside of your comfort zone can be overwhelming. Having shifted into tech with a business degree, Ivy brings in a fresh perspective: “Every company—even if it’s a tech company—is still a business. With a business degree, you can create value and contribute across different companies. Traditionally, business graduates go into traditional services like investment banking, accounting, and the likes. But every company in the world needs business talents in-house.”
As someone who started out as a young entrepreneur herself, I was curious if there were any challenges she had faced in the earlier days of her career.
One challenge that she’s always faced is with regards to having consistent customers. The initial batch of customers wanting to engage with BETA Camp or any other product should not be difficult to get, as long as you understand your industry. “Eventually, though,” Ivy continues, “you exhaust those people. That’s when you need to upgrade your messaging to reach more people. We’re investing a lot in marketing to get customers in a sustainable manner.”
On this note, she points out that she’s not a fan of the term “young entrepreneur.”
She clarifies, “The term gives less credibility to someone who’s young solely because of their age. If one stops thinking of themselves as a young entrepreneur, and instead just as an entrepreneur trying to add value into the world, then they aim for the big guns. The concept of young is relative, anyways.”
Accomplishing tasks under the notion of a “young” entrepreneur could also come with imposter syndrome. Ivy acknowledges that everyone is prone to having imposter syndrome, but her approach to work has made her less susceptible to it. She is one to take the first step before evaluating herself too much. It’s about starting the process without analysing whether or not you’re deserving, and then once the momentum builds, you start to feel more confident.
Ivy’s philosophy comes from her experience after graduation. As a fresh graduate, she had been laid off her jobs thrice, because it’s tough to be in Silicon Valley as a fresh graduate with a business degree. The perseverance it took to get through that experience has transformed Ivy into a driven and enthusiastic entrepreneur of today. “I had to constantly remind myself that I was capable of accomplishing difficult tasks. There has to be a core belief that you’re not below average. The motivation comes from understanding that I deserve a spot if I work hard and am willing to deliver. When you know what you want, you have clarity in perspective. The drive comes from wanting to succeed so you can build the life you want.”
Ivy’s journey has made her into an admirable entrepreneur. Her consistent ambition in learning from life and growing from experiences is something that we can all take away from.
Before we end the interview, Ivy leaves behind some advice for budding entrepreneurs: “Entrepreneurship usually comes with a lot of sacrifices. But there are other types of entrepreneurship as well. There are side-hustles and smaller businesses. As an entrepreneur, you have a lot of control over your own life. You get to create value in the way that you want to. On the business end, think of a niche. A successful business is not necessarily one that has a lot of customers. Your product may not have to be affordable for everyone. The more niche you go, the easier it will be to build a specific product that targets your desired audience.”