Waterford graduate launches Career Rocket to answer questions about college, careers
Jul 03, 2019 04:56PM
● By Julie Slama
Waterford School graduate William Cheng poses by his Career Rocket, a high school career counseling platform, at the recent High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
This summer, as many high school graduates enroll in college courses, a few of them will have a better idea of which ones to take, thanks to recent Waterford School graduate William Cheng.
At the High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, sponsored by the University of Utah Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute and Zions Bank, Cheng’s idea of a Career Rocket blasted away from the others, giving him a second place finish and $5,000 to continue with his project — and those first four students who tested his concept are a step ahead of their peers.
Career Rocket is a counseling platform where students call and are connected with industry experts who mentor them about possible future careers and college courses needed. The cost is $10 for a 30-minute call.
“Teenagers don’t like to reach out to people, some don’t know how, most just want to avoid contact, so Career Rocket is the middle man, a way to simplify the process,” Cheng said.
Cheng said he got the idea about one year ago when he attended an entrepreneurship camp in San Francisco. His group brainstormed and realized many were disappointed in their high school counseling experience and had wanted to talk to professionals in the industry, but their counselors didn’t have those connections.
Cheng, who transferred to Waterford from a Brookfield, Wisconsin school, realized his counselors were overworked and underfunded and didn’t have the time nor resources to help him with career decisions and making contacts.
“We realized that we were the ones who knew what was wanted and needed and this idea could make an impact for all of us in high school,” he said.
However, after that summer, it was hard to continue developing the idea with his peers, who had attended from across the United States. With their blessing, Cheng continued Career Rocket and test marketed four students with calls to an art engineer, computer scientist, financial writer and a health care professional.
“Most of what I was learning, I did it on my own. I read books, searched online libraries and created a business plan that I think will survive long term,” he said.
Upon the recommendation of his economics teacher, Cheng submitted his idea to the Utah Entrepreneur High School Challenge.
“My economics teacher said this is a cool idea and the perfect thing for the competition,” he said.
The 2019 High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge received almost 300 student business-idea submissions from high school students throughout the state. The top 20 teams advanced to the final round, where they got the chance to pitch their ideas to judges, made up of many influential community leaders.
High School Utah Entrepreneur Challenge student director Kearsa Hodgson was impressed with the finalists.
“The teams this year showed exemplary drive and passion throughout all their ideas,” she said. “They identified problems in the community around them and were proactive in developing innovative solutions. It is amazing to see what students can accomplish.”
Cheng was named one of the top 20 finalists, for which he received $100. At the spring showcase, he presented his idea in front of judges as well as to the public.
“It was good practice for me, as I want to own my own business, to pitch in front of nice, tough judges and market myself. I’ve debated for four years, but this is a different sort of animal. These judges are entrepreneurs and influential in the field,” he said. “I see this as a stepping stone for my own company, probably something in technology. I’m looking for the right opportunity and may not know it until it’s right in front of me.”
In the meantime, Cheng, who plans to study business at University of Pennsylvania this fall, will reinvest his winnings into Career Rocket and slowly unveil it across the country.
“In time, I’d like to offer free calls to some low-income students and build up both our contacts and our students,” he said. “It was my idea and I’ve spent a lot of time on it, so I’d like to keep it running and expand to help students make those contacts to help them in their careers.”