Philadelphia-based Fulphil team after class photo.
A series of interviews with entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations serving underprivileged communities: Tiffany Yau, the 22-year-old founder that’s making social entrepreneurship education accessible and affordable.
While studying at Penn during her senior year, Tiffany was unsettled by the lack of entrepreneurship education accessible for students in under-resourced neighborhoods. She also realized it’s an issue not a lot of organizations are tackling in her home city Philadelphia.
Motivated to bring entrepreneurship education to all students regardless of their socioeconomic background, she set out to launch Fulphil, a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching high school students social entrepreneurship. What started as a dorm-room side hustle now has 15 employees and 30+ renowned change-makers serving high schools in Philadelphia, inspiring 500+ startup ideas to impact their local community.
Khai Tran: How did you get the idea for Fulphil?
Tiffany Yau: While searching for job opportunities during my senior year, I noticed most of my peers were applying for jobs in every other city except for Philadelphia. The idea of abandoning the city that paved the way for your education without giving back bothered me. So, I wanted to do something about it.
Philadelphia is recognized as the nation’s poorest large city where over 25% of the population are living in poverty. I wanted to begin with students who knew that social entrepreneurship can be a catalyst for enabling economic growth and encouraging a sense of social responsibilities in resilient cities.
In our initial “brain drain”, we decided to target college students. However, I realized that the youth closest to the problems will likely be closer to the solutions. We pivoted towards high school students because they’re going through a developmental phase and may have more capacity to be involved in our programs.
I was also involved with and inspired by the Hult Prize Foundation’s mission to empower social entrepreneurs globally. They began with the idea of exposing students to the concept of social entrepreneurship and that one idea could make a difference. Giving people exposure to know their options is important. I knew that was where I wanted to make my impact.
Fulphil changemakers and students
Tell me a little bit about your company and what it does.
High schools usually put in great efforts to integrate programs in STEM, financial literacy, and performing arts as part of their curriculum. But unfortunately, entrepreneurship often gets left out.
Did you know over 72% of students want to start their own business? In Philly, that number is over 80%. However, over 62% of students don’t have access or can’t afford entrepreneurship education. This presents an opportunity for teaching social entrepreneurship to instill global citizenship, especially since some of the world’s greatest social challenges are actually found in their cities.
Fulphil provides affordable and accessible social entrepreneurship education to high school students. We created an accelerator program called the Fulphil Impact Accelerator. It’s a five-week program where we bring 30+ speakers from different backgrounds and industries to work with our students and help them build a framework for solving problems in their community. We also work on-the-ground in schools to bring our programs to those who need access most through a series of workshops facilitated throughout the school year. Additionally, we are now pushing out our curriculum to provide access to schools from coast-to-coast.
The purpose of the program isn’t to push students to go and become entrepreneurs afterward. We want to make the education widely available so students can choose for themselves after they graduate. And should they decide to pursue their dreams, they’re more equipped.
How do you generate revenue?
For our Impact Accelerator, we charge the families a sliding-scale enrollment fee based on their level of income. This makes our program more accessible to students of all financial backgrounds. In some areas of Philly, we partner with the schools to cover the cost entirely. For school partnerships, the schools pay us to teach their students or train their teachers. To date, we’ve worked with schools ranging from those in Philadelphia to the East Bay Area in California. However, our primary revenue comes from sponsors, donors, and grants.
What’s been your biggest accomplishments?
We won the Greater Philadelphia Social Innovations Award as the youngest recipient ever. We were also nominated for the Sustained PHL impact award. We won these awards based on our program’s youth empowerment.
What kind of impact have you made? And how do you measure impact?
We measure our impact and success based on 3 metrics. The first metric is their overall exposure to social entrepreneurship.
The second metric is their increased potential to accomplish change, specifically their understanding that they are capable of making an impact. Social impact doesn’t always mean investing huge efforts to uplift third world countries. We instill the idea that change can be created through a small-scale efforts locally.
The third metric is their overall confidence and persistence. We want our students to believe in themselves to create tangible impact with a sense of purpose through their creativity, compassion, and problem-solving capabilities. Our program has reached thousands of students in Philly and the Bay Area. Over 500+ startup ideas have been created as a result of our program.
How many employees did you start out with and what does your staffing look like now?
I started this in college with just myself. In our first year, we had four employees, including me. Today our team is at 15 strong and still growing.
Where you currently headquartered and why did you choose that location?
We’re working out of Cambridge Innovation Center. We chose CIC because of its strategic location being accessible to students, being located in the heart of University City next to the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University, while also housing many of the city’s top startups and organizations. It also has a lot of available resources, a warm environment, and the innovative space that is conducive to our student’s growth.
If someone were to replace you one day, what advice would you give them?
I’m personally big on empathy and kindness. The person replacing me should remember why they’re doing what they’re doing at the end of the day. You have to remember the lives that you touch, and those you’ve helped along the way. And also be grateful for those who have supported you along the way. It’s not just about those who you are set to make an impact on but it’s also about the people who you help and have helped you along the way.
Thank you Tiffany.