17-Year-Old Drops Out of High School to Help Teens Launch Startups

17-Year-Old Drops Out of High School to Help Teens Launch Startups17-Year-Old Drops Out of High School to Help Teens Launch Startups
Waylae Gregoire
February 9, 2015
Eddie Zhong, a young entrepreneur we spoke to a while back about his launch of tech startup Blanc while he was still in high school, is now ditching school completely to devote time to his latest venture, Leangap, which provides summer entrepreneurial classes for students that doubles as an accelerator.
Zhong is still involved in Blanc — which recently fulfilled goals for their Spark watch from a Kickstarter campaign — but after juggling two companies and high school classes, he decided that those classes, and even the thought of college, were the least important of his priorities.

“We’ve had major traction, so it’s definitely a viable business, enough to put school on hold and basically get a GED and still have the option to go to college if I want to.”

But even with the option, it’s unlikely he will find success in college.

“At this point, it’s debatable whether I want to spend four years, and a lot of money at the end, to put my company on hold.”

At face value, Zhong’s path is unorthodox to say the least, but he’s got a great point — when you have at least one viable business under your feet and another one growing, what is the point of school? More and more aspiring entrepreneurs find that college is the best place to network and find talent, but not for learning applicable skills, gaining experience or finding a great job afterward. That’s probably why Zhong’s parents didn’t tell him no.

“I told them like I’m telling you right now, but if I said they were happy about it or supporting it, I‘d be lying … They could have easily said no since I’m still a minor, but they didn’t, so I appreciate that.”

Now, at 17, Eddy Zhong is busy building the early foundations of an entrepreneur college. Leangap, this year being its first, offers a six-week course for high school students to learn how to start their own companies.

“With Leangap, what we are doing is taking high school students for six weeks over the summer and we are helping them start their own companies. There is no classroom experience at all and it’s completely hands-on and practical … By the end of the six weeks, we expect these kids to get to at least a prototype to a minimally viable product stage.”

Leangap’s first session will take place at Boston-area university where students will be housed and fed, and affiliate lessons will be conducted at nearby universities as well.
So how much does a session cost? Tuition for Leangap is $6,000 for six weeks, which might not be a bad deal when you consider what you could really get out of it.
There are six main categories of resources that Leangap provides students: 3D printing, networking strategies, brainstorming tactics, market research, programming lessons and hands-on prototype building. By the end of the course, most if not all students are expected to have a solid foundation for their company as well as a prototype of their product along with the beginnings of a business network and the kind of experience no other school can offer a young entrepreneur.
“The goal of the program is to really empower a small group of students so that they can inspire others throughout the year,” Zhong tells us.
There’s also another bonus: Leangap offers fun scholarships, so many students won’t even have to pay in full for the classes. The scholarships, which can be found on their homepage, include writing one to two paragraphs about why you are passionate about entrepreneurship; another requires you to simply start a Kickstarter campaign and demonstrate that you know about crowdfunding.
While this is only Leangap’s first year, their ambitions are great. Leangap’s other two co-founders, who are nearly twice Zhong’s age, are former capital manager Joe Thornton, who doubles as COO and CFO, and former Harvard molecular biologist Tim Peterson, Ph.D., who serves as CTO. Leangap, which is currently self-funded but has already caught the eyes of potential investors, hopes to expand each year, hopefully reaching national recognition within five years.
With the online college industry and digital degrees on the rise, Leangap, which is accepting applications until April, has the chance to hit a sweet spot for students who aspire to become business owners and entrepreneurs who don’t want to go through an expensive four-year university only to emerge with plenty of student debt.
Renowned billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who in the past has been an advocate for students dropping out of college to create startups, is somewhat of an idol to Zhong, who had the chance to meet him at an Harvard Business School event.

“A lot of his views are controversial, but they definitely have their supporting points. It’s not worth it for everyone to go through college. There’s not a ton of value in a four year education. His entire approach on disrupting the education system is really something we need here in the States.”

And so, a 17-year-old will most likely prove that you can actually find success without college and without high school, and his plan is only going to further that lesson for future generations of young entrepreneurs. How accomplished is your life feeling now?
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