The original version of this article and the photo caption accompanying it contained multiple errors and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for more information.
After founding their online marketplace Enrou in 2013, two UCLA alumnae are well on their way to further success after winning $400,000 in the Forbes Under 30 Summit last week.
UCLA communications studies alumna Jessica Willison and international development studies alumna Ann Wang won after presenting their company Enrou to a board of judges. Enrou is an online marketplace similar to Amazon that facilitates trade between first world markets and top-quality products made in developing communities. By going to the website, customers can buy stylish fashion items while also supporting the economic growth of people in developing communities.
Forbes hosts its annual Under 30 Summit as a way of connecting startup entrepreneurs and inspiring collaborations.
The conference took place Oct. 19-22 in Philadelphia and featured keynote speakers, mentorship workshops and, finally, a “Shark-Tank” style pitch contest. Nearly all participants in attendance qualified by being featured on one of Forbes 30 Under 30 lists or by submitting an application. The $400,000 prize is awarded to one of five startup company finalists.
Though the partners said they believed in their company, they didn’t expect what came at Forbes Under 30 Summit.
“It was kind of a serendipitous whirlwind of events. We weren’t even sure we qualified but decided to apply anyway,” Willison said. “We heard back that we were in the top five Thursday and were on a plane that Saturday night to make our pitch on Tuesday.”
Willison and Wang combined their interests in global accountability and fashion with their startup company Enrou. Wang said that with Enrou, she wanted to create an easy way for people to make a difference in their everyday lives.
“I wanted to find a way for people to make impact in their daily lives and be the best versions of themselves while also draw in the greater global citizens of the world, and that’s really what Enrou was born out of,” Wang said.
Director of Startup UCLA Accelerator Robert Jadon, who specializes in working with recent graduates to get their startup companies off the ground, said he noticed Enrou early on when working with Wang and Willison this summer in the Startup UCLA Summer Accelerator program.
“(Wang) and (Willison) were a great team right off the bat. They definitely had a great dynamic and they were both so committed to the company and its cause and its mission,” Jadon said.
From here, the two said they are more invested in Enrou than ever. With the recent win, they said their timeline has been expedited significantly now that they are expanding their market to match the demand that has come out of their recent publicity. But regardless, they said they are grateful for the opportunity.
“There are so many good startups out there, but it’s hard to start a company and the stats are crazy. It boils down to a lot of luck,” Wang said. “Our brand has more credibility with that Forbes stamp of approval and that’s huge, but it only changes the fact that we have a lot more work to do and a lot more opportunities to capitalize on.”
Correction: Enrou connects first world markets with products from developing communities. Willison and Wang are the founders of Enrou.