“Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in Hong Kong. And that little girl did something so amazing that it forever changed the way children learned new things.”
A few years from now, such might be the way writers and journalists begin their news story or feature about Hillary Yip. Hillary is a little girl (she’s 10) who lives in Hong Kong and who recently won the Best Business award at the StartmeupHK Venture Forum 2016 event.
Hillary Yip, Founder of MinorMynas
It is not extra-ordinary for children to have a great idea: imagination and creativity are the bastions of the young. It is also not unheard of that a 10-year-old can talk up a storm articulating an idea that holds an audience of adults riveted to their seats. And it is probably not too much of a surprise (in this day and age) for a young child to come up with a good idea that could make a sound business. But it is, in my opinion, a little uncommon to find all this in one child who has a clear worldview and who then takes the idea into execution to build a business.
Hillary is a Year 6 student at Kellett School in Hong Kong, and her intent is to improve the way the adult world goes about teaching languages to children. And so she founded MinorMynas (http://www.minormynas.com), a startup that will focus on creating an environment for learning languages that children may find enjoyable. How did she come up with the idea?
“Over the summer when my mum took my brother and I to Taiwan to learn Chinese, although we learnt quickly because it provided an immersive learning environment, it was expensive, boring and we had frequent tests. So I thought that there must be a better way to get that environment in a cheap, fun and low-pressure way,” says Hillary.
Hillary speaks, reads and writes in five languages: English, Mandarin, Cantonese, French and Spanish. And she believes learning multiple languages is going to matter a lot in coming ages. “It’s important that kids learn more languages since it is well known that at our age, our brains are wired to learn and absorb so it’s best to start early. It is also important that kids learn more languages because due to globalisation the world we now live in is smaller. It’s very likely that our jobs will involve communicating with other people around the world, so by knowing more languages you will have a major advantage.”
And while she thinks about jobs and work environments and creative employees, Hillary’s personal interests at this point seem more inclined towards entrepreneurship. “An entrepreneur is the person who makes decisions to steer their company towards a goal but needs innovative employees to help improve the company as a whole so the entrepreneur makes decisions while the employee creates options,” she says. And like a true entrepreneur she has a vision for a better tomorrow. “If there were one thing I could change in this world I would make sure all kids can easily access education so our next generations will keep on changing to be better than the previous ones.”
Hillary with other contestants at StartmeupHK 2016
Hillary’s ‘MinorMynas’ was one of the many new ideas that took stage at the StartmeupHK Venture Forum 2016 this year in January, but it was her pitch that won first place and Best Business award in the AIA Emerging Entrepreneur Challenge. While the pitch itself had created ripples of excitement at the event due to its energy and format, the central business idea was on equally solid ground and intuitively simple: get children to learn from children, and provide a fun environment for the interaction. In a nutshell, MinorMynas is Human-to-Human, For Kids, By Kids. In her pitch, Hillary identified three critical ingredients that are essential for the success of learning products for children: human interaction with other children, lack of judgement, and fun. While educators and learning designers across the world have the unenviable task of reconstructing curriculums, environments and courses focused on game-elements and interaction to inject fun into learning (albeit in a supervised or prescribed format), Hillary seems to have intuitively zoomed in on what makes learning really fun for children.
You can view Hillary’s pitch at this link: (https://youtu.be/AUrkqhs1sJc).
Since the competition Hillary and her team has been busy creating a landing page to collect emails for market research. “Although I have other pitching opportunities, I will focus on deeper market research, testing the idea further and developing a Minimal Viable Product (MVP).”
Evenings and all spare time are now dedicated to brainstorming for MinorMynas
It did not feel one bit odd asking a 10-year-old whether she had received any financial backing for the startup and the response seemed perfectly natural as well: “No, at this stage, funding is unnecessary. My mentors advised me to focus on developing MinorMynas further before thinking of funding.” As for the future, Hillary says, “ I’m not too sure on how much I need but I’ve learnt that it wouldn’t cost too much to build an MVP. I will carry out the trials, learn on the way and do what I need to help MinorMynas grow.”
An avid reader and hobbyist, Hillary fits in many activities in a typical day. Her father works with the government while her mother is a business woman, and Hillary has a younger brother who is eight years old and studies at the same school as hers. And as of the last few months, everything has been focused on MinorMynas, including night-time meetings.
Queried about the future plans of MinorMynas, Hillary opined: “In the next 2 years, I want MinorMynas to be developed globally, in 5 years, I want to MinorMynas to lead the online language learning industry and in 10 years, who knows? I might be on another venture or pushing MinorMynas to new heights!”
(The interview was conducted over email and Twitter messaging; Photographs courtesy Joey Law)