Three local teens teamed up and won an international entrepreneurship competition and they’re celebrating their contributions to improving the workforce community.
Brett Kim, a La Jolla resident and 18-year-old junior at Francis Parker School, said he realized he was passionate about entrepreneurship after attending a UC San Diego business class during his school’s Interim Week in March 2019. “It’s really fun,” he said, and after the class, he searched on his own for related competitions.
Kim found the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) World Series of Innovation, an international competition dedicated to entrepreneurship for social causes. Intrigued, he approached fellow Francis Parker juniors Lena Luostarinen, a 16- year old resident of Pacific Beach and 16-year-old Caeden Mujahed of La Jolla, with the idea to enter the contest, and the three teens began to formulate their plan.
“You enter a business idea in a series of categories,” Kim explained. There are eight categories in the NFTE World Series, from Gender Equality to Climate Action.
“Our specific challenge was the Belonging Challenge,” he continued, which seeks to make communities, governments and companies more inclusive so individuals feel a sense of belonging.
“We felt like we resonated with that category the most,” Kim recalled. “All three of us met just a year ago, and connected over a book we’d read, and it felt like an appropriate topic to explore.”
Together they came up with an app they called Oikku.
“It’s a community-building and event-planning app,” Kim explained. “It’s meant to bring people together by connecting them with others who share similar, unique interests.”
Oikku includes group chats called communities, which are designed for inclusion.
Kim said the team created Oikku out of an understanding that “entering the workforce can be a difficult time for young adults who come from school clubs and other organizations into an office where the only thing that matters is job performance. The current get-together apps, like Nextdoor and Facebook, are targeted more toward middle-aged adults and limited to forum posts.
“Oikku is a solution for people like us, who are going into a work environment, post-college.”
Entering Oikku into the NFTE contest involved three stages.
The first round, which took place September 2019, “is your business pitch,” Mujahed explained.
“It’s a three-page write-up explaining your idea. The judges receive the entries and boil things down to a group of entrants who then advance to the next round. Our pitch involved answering questions about the type of customers we’d want to design the app for, the details about it, and such.
“From there, the finalists selected submit a one-minute video that goes more in-depth, like an infomercial.”
Mujahed added that he, Kim and Luostarinen entered their recorded video pitch in February 2020 after being notified in December 2019. In March 2020, the team learned the results: They won first place.
The team took home $1,800 in prize money, meant to help them take Oikku from concept to development.
“We have the concept and the graphics designed by Lena,” Kim said, “and we hope to work on it over the summer and launch Oikku in winter 2021. However, as Oikku is a live community get-together app, we’re not sure when we could launch it, given the current climate.”
Nonetheless, the team is using the win to fuel their future aspirations.
“I’d like to major in engineering and law,” Mujahed offered, and “I think the concept of entrepreneurship is really cool.”
Luostarinen added: “Both my parents run their own company together. I’ve always seen the behind-the-scenes of running a company and it’s always seemed very interesting. I’m not sure what I’m going to do in college, but doing something business-related is not out of the question.”
Kim said he hopes to “use college to get enough knowledge to start a tech company of my own.” For him, it circles back to the passion for entrepreneurship he discovered a year ago.
“We want to encourage people to get into entrepreneurship,” he asserted. “It’s been a really great experience for us. It all just starts with noticing things in everyday life that can be improved.
“We want other people to know their ideas are valid and really interesting. Anyone can turn theirs into a cool concept.”
— Budding entrepreneurs can learn more about the World Series of Innovation at innovation.nfte.com.