An education nonprofit founded by a recent Penn graduate placed third overall and first in the popular vote in an international business competition hosted by Penn's Graduate School of Education.
2018 College and 2019 School of Social Policy & Practice graduate Tiffany Yau launched Fulphil in 2018 to teach students social entrepreneurship skills to solve local problems and to launch impactful businesses of their own. To date, her startup has reached about 3,000 students in seven school districts spanning four states. Fulphil provides an online curriculum and a dashboard system for teachers to use to teach their students social impact entrepreneurship and measure student progress.
“I wanted to communicate this idea that you can make an impact, and it starts locally,” Yau said. “I really believe that the people closest to the problems are closest to the solutions, so that became the mantra for Fulphil.”
In March, Yau and the Fulphil team applied to the Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition for the second year. The competition encourages people from around the world to propose solutions to solve difficult education challenges and create a corresponding business plan, Executive Director of competition sponsor Catalyst @ Penn GSE L. Michael Golden said.
“We love the fact that we're combining people who want to be entrepreneurs and solve education problems, giving them funding and awards and supporting them in their journeys,” Golden said.
Following three rounds of judging the hundreds of applications, Fulphil was one out of eight teams to reach the finals. Finalists each received $1,000 in cash and $5,000 in Amazon Web Services Promotional credits.
Golden said the finalists, including Fulphil, stood out for their ability to address a significant issue with an innovative solution, demonstrating traction in implementing the solution in practice, and financial viability, among other factors.
“The team, the idea, and the way they're thinking about solving the problem all come together in creating something that's compelling towards having a large impact,” Golden said.
Fulphil ultimately placed third overall on Oct. 6 and also received the $5,000 Osage Venture Partners Audience Choice Prize, selected by the audience during the competition. The finals were attended by a virtual audience from 32 countries spanning six continents, according to Penn GSE News.
“I think especially having applied last year, not getting it and coming back to just hopefully get a step further, it was definitely something that we didn't expect to reach, so we're really grateful,” Yau said. “The fact that we were the only Penn-based company was also really special.”
Yau said Fulphil was able to flesh out its business plan in the past year, which may have contributed to its success in this year’s competition. Through working with high school students across various schools, Fulphil obtained substantial data on its curriculum. Yau said the Fulphil team used the feedback to focus on making the curriculum more tangible, understandable, and user-centered.
Golden said Fulphil’s win as the audience choice winner was especially exciting, as Yau and her team have been extensively involved in other Catalyst programs to support entrepreneurs.
“It’s like one of our own homegrown, like the hometown hero succeeding,” Golden said. “We're really excited that Fulphil had the chance to have an audience with all of these changemakers around the globe and that they were able to pull out a win, and for Fulphil and for Tiffany and her team.”
The Fulphil team plans to use the prize money to support curriculum development, specifically by funding internship opportunities for high school students from marginalized communities to join and work with their team, Yau said.
To date, Fulphil has helped a number of high-school students launch social impact initiatives, including SitterCircle, a babysitting and tutoring app; Twisted Spirit, a haircare brand aiming to empower Black women to embrace natural hair; and Pho Phio Phrock, which creates gender-nonconforming and plus-sized formal wear.