Children often dream of being professional athletes or firefighters. But just the opposite was true for junior Isabella Liu. Possessing a passion for business, Liu aspired to be an entrepreneur throughout middle school. Then, in 2014, during her freshman year at Redwood, her dream became a reality in the form of the organization “Elix.”
Elix is a social impact incubator for young adults, meaning it guides other young entrepreneurs in the development of their projects that help the environment or people in need. Liu’s goal is to foster ideas from high school students across the San Francisco Bay Area for organizations addressing global issues and transform them into successful social enterprises.
Elix is currently a limited liability company (LLC), which combines the features of corporation with a sole proprietorship. Through partnerships with multiple venture capitalists, Elix can connect the entrepreneurs with the funding, mentors, and similar resources needed for businesses to get off the ground.
The Elix concept was born after Liu joined the Redwood debate team and was inspired by the thoughtful ideas of her peers and opponents, according to Liu.
“I began noticing that teens come up with really good solutions to complex problems and I would attribute that to our optimistic outlook on life, maybe our audacity. Our sheer youth allows us to come up with great solutions, but we don’t really have an outlet in which we can put these solutions into action,” Liu said.
However, the company is still in its infancy.
“We’re really still at square one. We’ve successfully filed all the stuff we need to do legally, financially we are pretty sound, but in terms of creating bold change, we’re just taking that first step now by allowing kids to apply,” Liu said.
Through a thorough online application, Liu aims to create healthy competition among peers to apply for Elix’s services, ultimately providing the chosen incubatees with the support they need to successfully jumpstart their projects.
In November, Elix reviewed its first round of applications for the year, filling in about half of its desired 30 incubatee roster. By partnering with administrators of various Bay Area high schools, Elix was able to reach out to even more local students.
Liu also spread the word to her peers at Redwood inspiring many, including junior Jake Hanssen, to apply.
“I joined because I want to make a change and I am expanding my boundaries and learning new skills that only can be acquired in real life business situations,” said Hanssen.
Currently, all six ventures at Elix are in the initial design phase. They deal with relevant issues ranging from revolutionary eco-friendly car washes to technological equity and support in disaster zones.
One such venture Elix is culturing known as “A-G” aims to promote educational equity by developing a mobile application to help guide students in underprivileged communities through high school and ultimately prepare them to be college-ready.
“Most kids, while they’re on track to graduate from high school, don’t necessarily meet all their “A-G” requirements and Redwood’s really lucky because we do have counselors that guide us in that but some schools don’t,” Liu said.
The program would help students build schedules and join classes that they are interested in and would be beneficial come the college application.
“Smart Paint” is another venture that is searching for another form of residential alternative energy by combining the unique properties of nanotechnology with chemistry to develop an innovative house paint meant to boost energy efficiency of homes. Certain nanoparticles contain systems capable of producing heat and steam; they could be very useful in developing a new fossil-fuel-free energy source.
Hanssen has joined the team of “Savvy” in an effort to fight political apathy. Recognizing the disengagement of many in local elections, Savvy hopes to simplify the voting process with time trackers and other available resources to clearly outline voting day. They also plan to partner with Uber and other services to provide transportation and encourage voters to go to the polls.
Elix’s team has accepted applications from across the Bay Area, but still hopes to expand its reach and impact to students of lower socioeconomic status. The Elix team wants to spread access to entrepreneurship, not just reinforce it where it already exists. Partnerships with community organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of the North Bay, which fosters relationships with students of low socioeconomic level and extends educational opportunities to local students facing adversity, will allow them to more effectively reach this base.
Within the next decade, Liu hopes to catapult Elix onto a larger stage, transforming her small Bay Area project into a leading social impact incubator for teenage entrepreneurs.
However, Liu has faced many regulatory hurdles due to her age.
“The trick with starting a company like [Elix] is that it’s not exactly a nonprofit, and it’s not exactly a traditional business,” Liu said. “There were a lot of legal hoops I had to jump through.”
Seeking more help in spearheading Elix and recognizing other students’ commitment and willingness to contribute, Liu has added thirteen other Redwood students to Elix’s volunteer team since its inception.
Director of Operations and Development at Elix and Redwood junior Andrew Yates was hooked as soon as Liu revealed the concept of Elix.
“She pitched her idea especially towards my interest of research and I’ve always had an interest in business,” Yates said.
While the team continues to expand Elix, it has also been impacted by the project.
“Starting and then running a company has given us a greater sense of responsibility and dedication to improving the world through entrepreneurship. Also, it has given us a deep sense of empowerment because we have realized how much teens are capable of,” Liu said.
*A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Elix was a sole proprietorship