In the United States, the month of May is recognized as Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and this year we are proud to showcase three Lauder alumni who are Asian-American founders and entrepreneurs: Ming Khor, Sarah Guo, and Olivia Chen. Although the scope of their ventures are wide-ranging, from social impact education, to AI and venture capital, to food and consumer goods, their entrepreneurial stories are all deeply inspired by their cultural heritage.
All three alumni were raised in the United States by parents who immigrated from East or Southeast Asia. This upbringing helped shape their global mindset, which they continued to expand through their international travels and education at Lauder. Ming, Sarah, and Olivia are graduates of Lauder’s East & Southeast Asia (Mandarin) program. Read about their journeys below:
Ming Khor (G’16, WG’16)
Ming is the Founder of Keru, a youth organization focused on social impact education, based in Shanghai, China. Keru’s goal is to address issues of sustainability through innovative experiential learning programs which bring together high school students and professionals from various industries to explore and solve problems for local mission-driven organizations. Together, these groups implement sustainable development initiatives that benefit the local community in areas related to the environment, economic development, and education. Keru’s field programs not only give high school students an opportunity to make a real impact, they allow them to develop critical-thinking and problem solving-skills under the guidance of professional mentors.
Ming, whose parents immigrated to the US from Malaysia and Singapore, grew up in Washington, DC. His entrepreneurial journey started with a high school service trip to rural China where, he says, “I discovered my love for teaching, interest in cross-cultural exchange, and passion for social impact.”
Before attending Penn and graduating from Lauder’s Mandarin Chinese Program, Ming worked for Teach for China. He credits his experience at Wharton/Lauder as an “invaluable opportunity to test out (entrepreneurial) ideas.” He goes on to say that “Keru emerged as the culmination of these experiences and the embodiment of my values. In 2016, the summer of my graduation, we led our first trip of 8 students to a rural village in China to learn about water safety, and have continued growing the company in Asia ever since.”
Sarah Guo (G’12, WG’12)
Sarah Guo is the Founder and Managing Partner at Conviction, a venture capital firm founded in 2022 to invest in intelligent software, or ‘Software 3.0′. The fund backs founders in the AI space, often getting involved at the formation stage and continuing its support as the startups scale. Prior to Conviction, Sarah was one of the first female general partners at venture capital firm, Greylock Partners. She has been an early investor or advisor to 40+ companies in software, fintech, security, infrastructure, and AI-native applications.
Sarah’s parents, engineers turned business-owners, immigrated from China to Wisconsin shortly before she was born. Their journey of adapting to a new country, learning English, and launching their own business deeply inspired Sarah’s own entrepreneurial spirit. “They are two of the bravest people I know,” she says. Before attending Penn and earning four degrees (BA/BS, MBA/MA), Sarah says she “grew up inside (her parents’) tech company.” She recalls helping build their first website at the age of 14 as “type II fun.” However, also seeing firsthand the struggles of being a founder gave her, she says, “the deepest respect for the courage and resilience required to build an enduring company.”
Beyond running Conviction, Sarah co-hosts No Priors, a podcast which interviews the world’s leading AI engineers, researchers, and founders about new models and applications of AI, particularly as it relates to markets, investment, and commerce.
Olivia Chen (G’05, WG’05)
Olivia Chen is the Co-Founder and CMO of Twrl Milk Tea. The company’s award winning plant-based and cafe-style Milk Tea cans and Boba Topping packets, inspired by traditional boba tea flavors, provide a healthier and ‘on-the-go’ version of the quintessential Asian milk tea Olivia grew up drinking. Raised in Northern California, Olivia’s Taiwanese parents often used food as a way to connect with their cultural heritage: “Our Thanksgiving holidays did not quite look like those on TV. We had turkey, mashed potatoes, egg rolls and always tea,” says Olivia.
A graduate of Lauder’s Mandarin Chinese Program, Olivia led global and domestic product marketing teams at Estee Lauder and its associated brands, including Clinique in China, prior to launching Twrl Milk Tea with co-founder, Pauline Ang, in 2021.
Olivia and Pauline note that Twrl Milk Tea’s founding was inspired by the values of community and hard work that were such an intrinsic part of their upbringing. “Our perseverance in creating our own small business is a direct result of seeing our own parents bravely forge ahead to create a new life in a foreign country.” With community and sustainability in mind, the co-founders focused on sourcing organic and non-GMO tea from multi-generational small family tea farms. The brand has grown to secure placement in more than 250 retailers nationwide and internationally. Olivia says, “we’re part of a new generation of founders that are incorporating our own heritage with values of sustainability and diversity. We want Twrl Milk Tea to be among the brands that reflect the diverse cultural landscape in America.” ■