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You’re never too young to start an award-winning business.
May 3, 2017
How to Launch a Successful Startup in Grade 12
It was a knee-quivering, butterflies-in-chest and sweaty-palm moment for Branksome’s Alexandra Philp Reeves. She and her business partner, Anna Melnyk (a Ridley College student), were presenting their business model—emojihealth—to four science and medicine innovators at the Exponential Medicine MEDyAwards in San Diego. The annual event recognizes companies designing products and creating healthcare solutions that are industry-changing. “We were both very scared. We were still very new at presenting.”

But they needn’t have been: emojihealth beat 50 other companies for an award, and the two high schoolers got to present the business to 700 potential future clients. “That was when we felt validated. We thought, okay we’re doing something here that people will really appreciate and that will have an impact.”

As if there was any doubt. Emojihealth—a tool that delivers accessible health and wellness information to teens on a messaging platform—fills a major gap. Alexandra had thought about the lack of such health information for teens since Grade 9, when one of her close friends became quite ill. “I googled her disease and the information I came across was really scary. And I thought, if I was scared, imagine how horrified my friend must have been.”

So, in the summer after Grade 11, the entrepreneur at heart—inspired by her dad, a physician who is often involved in health-care startups—decided to develop a solution. “I was thinking about how teens interact with information and how we are always on our phones and messaging people.” After finding a messenger bot (a level of artificial intelligence that converses in a conversational way), and testing out her wellness messages on friends, she and Anna launched the platform.

Word spread like wildfire. Today more than 12,000 teen users engage with emojihealth’s bite-sized education, reminders and tracker messages through any channel they choose, such as FaceBook, KIK, Apple Message, Google Allo or SMS. Revenue is generated by partnering with medical and pharmaceutical companies on relevant content. Emojihealth now supports a staff of seven salaried employees.

Balancing school with the startup wasn’t easy for the young CEO, who is now thinking of taking a gap year instead of going to Stanford where she’s been accepted to study product design engineering, symbolic systems, and science and technology design. Neither is the ongoing battle to be taken seriously by adults in the business world. “It’s definitely hard as a 17-year-old. I have to work much harder to prove I’m doing what I am, especially in the health-care industry.”

Not that she’s going to let that stop her—after all, it is her age that makes her an expert at communicating with teens and, when future clients realize that, they sign up quickly. Alex and Anna recently presented at Austin’s acclaimed SXSW —with much more confidence. “The hospitals were really excited and we’re talking to a few of them about starting up projects,” Alexandra says. “Last June, I would never would have imagined myself here!”

Alexandra was also a speaker at Branksome’s TEDx Youth Conference in April.

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