In this series, E Co-op Coordinator and BET 300 instructor Wayne Chang catches up with alumni from our undergraduate programs who are now running their startups full-time.
I would like to introduce you to Ian Tao, co-founder of Sesame, a startup in the digital education technology (edtech) sector. This alumnus created his startup in the fourth year of his mechatronics engineering degree at UWaterloo. He was part of The Next 36 Cohort 2013 and concurrently developed his business in Conrad’s BET 300: Foundations of Venture Creation course.
Since his graduation in 2013, Ian has continued to give generously to the entrepreneurial ecosystem at Waterloo, sharing his experiences as a BET 300 invited speaker and mentoring many startups in Conrad courses and Velocity programs. He and Sesame also just completed a 4 month program in San Francisco in Fall 2015 at one of the premier edtech accelerators called Imagine K12 (http://www.imaginek12.com/).
What are you working on these days?
Ian: I'm working at Sesame, an education technology startup that makes it easy to visually document student competencies.
Our world is becoming noticeably more skill-based, where what you can actually do matters more than how well you test. We help teachers capture student performance—for example, knife technique for culinary students or bedside manner for nursing students—and give immediate assessment and feedback so students walk away with more than just grades.
What was memorable for you at UWaterloo that impacted your later entrepreneurial perspectives?
Ian: I didn't realize how fortunate it was to build my network in UWaterloo until school was almost over. Looking back to when I started Sesame, it's humbling how much help I've received from the brilliant and genuinely curious individuals that I call friends. I've never been very proactive at networking, but the UWaterloo's talent density is so high that I was able to form long-lasting bonds by building things with others with similar passion.
What would you like to share with aspiring entrepreneurs at Waterloo?
Ian: Realize that it is a privilege to freely pursue our passions. Entrepreneurship was not a choice, but a last resort to my parents because they had no other employment option as new immigrants. Often our failure plan is "I'll just get a job at <insert established company here>," and that is an unprecedented luxury.
Enjoy the ride, be immensely passionate, but most importantly keep perspective of what real success and failure is.