If spending 15 minutes a day could positively change a person’s life forever, would you do it?
Crowell School of Business students Sena Lee, Sarah Hartono and Grace Lea took that question and created The Great Exchange, a project that won the 2021 Biola Startup Competition — an initiative that offers students the opportunity to transform a promising idea into a successful startup business or nonprofit. Lee, who graduated in May 2021, shared the process behind their project.
Tell us about your winning project.
We wanted to create a product that would help children and families process challenging situations. Each kit is full of activities, crafts, little projects and questions for families to work on together, and each has its own theme. For instance, the one that won Startup was a “uniqueness” kit: Welcome to the uniqueverse. You actually have a unique superpower and we want you to embrace it and use it to help the world and help other people uncover their uniqueness. We wanted it to spark deep and meaningful and engaging conversations and be immersive and fun while also educational.
Watch the video presentation from Sena and her team!
Where did the idea for your project come from?
We were inspired by people like C.S. Lewis or Mr. Rogers, who took big concepts and didn't dilute or dumb them down — they just simplified them to be easier for children. There are things we never talk about with children, but they’re still aware of them, and it's our duty as adults to help them navigate and process those things, not to just entertain them and keep them occupied.
It was also very personal for me. I thought about my father. He spent most of his life working and missed a lot of milestone events in my life, but he loved me so much and sacrificed to provide for me. My first memory is him playing with me when I was three years old, playing grocery store with a toy shopping cart and little pretend cereal boxes. Our family wasn’t at all like a TV-perfect-family, and sometimes it was rocky, but I will always have memories of my father playing with me.
We have therapists and counselors and teachers and educators in our extended team who are wiser than us, and they help us design our materials. And we're always looking for wisdom from people we look up to — we tell them Your life is something we want to bottle for the next generation.
Tell us how you put your team together.
My team is very special. Sarah Hartono will be a senior this year — she's a marketing genius — and Grace Lea, who also just graduated, is our brilliant illustrator. Our management style was heavily influenced by Praxis Academy and human design thinking, focusing on things driven by the stories and experiences of our team. In our first meeting, we took three hours sharing our testimonies, just giving space to express who we are — our problems and our victories and how they make each of us unique.
Most of our themes came out of our own conversations and with others, asking, What was the most pivotal thing in your life? From there we do the ideation: How can we make this fun and immersive? What's the message? Do all these activities tie back into that message? Then we do design and illustration, then prototyping, then get feedback and go around again a couple of times.
We had differences to work through. I'm not very organized, and one of my teammates is so organized, so early on we hired a StrengthsFinder coach and learned, Hmm, you're not good at that, but that's okay because I am, and I'm not good at this, but you are. Learning that let us play to our strengths.
Why did you want to do Startup?
After I chose an entrepreneurship concentration, it just seemed natural. I saw the Startup banners, and thought If I'm learning these concepts in class, I want to apply them so that I can really be immersed in it. This is going to help me become a better business student.
Was there a big take-away for you, and where do you go from here?
The biggest lesson we learned as a team was the old Nike slogan, just do it. As funny and sassy as that sounds, we realized that when we are faithful to the yes, and take the small step that God has in front of us, things work out. I sometimes hear a pessimistic, critical voice in my head saying You can’t. Well, that voice lost a lot of its power because, over and over, God said I'm here. You just do it! I've given you enough guardrails and safety. Trust!
So even after winning the competition, I had to pray, God, am I supposed to do this, for real? I'm not a childhood educator; I'm an entrepreneur. But we’re moving forward in the strategizing phase, getting investors and systematizing processes so we can bring in more teammates! We aim to grow this.
We see real needs for this product. For example, if your parents get divorced, you're mandated by the state to watch this video called The Purple Family, about what your family looks like now. What if, instead of just watching a video, our “divorce kit” became that mandated thing? There would be guided exercises where parents would actually talk to each other and their kids about what this new life would look like, emphasizing that they're still safe, still loved. We're also doing a “foster care kit” for the first time a foster child goes into their new home, and there’s icebreakers and activities that can help set the tone.
Any advice for someone contemplating joining Startup this fall?
Just do it! It's a process that takes everything you're learning in class to a whole new level. And you would be doing yourself a disservice to not try because even failure is a beautiful lesson that money can't buy.
The Biola Startup Competition, hosted by the Office of Innovation, is a faith-based business competition designed to help Biola students and alumni launch innovative, kingdom-minded businesses and nonprofits that have the potential to significantly impact the world for Christ. Competitors pitch their concept, develop a business plan, gain valuable real-world insights and compete for capital. Learn more about the Biola Startup Competition here.