College Leap: Startup helps students navigate transferring

Jay Zhao of College Leap
Jay Zhao, BS 21, who transferred to Haas as a junior, founded College Leap to help ease the process for other community college students.

Jay Zhao, BS 21, might just be able to add “life changer for transfer students” to his resume.

That’s now a part of his job as a founder of College Leap, where he’s making community college students’ dreams of transferring to four-year colleges come true.

College Leap supports community college students, particularly international students, many who want to transfer to a four-year school but are daunted by the process. The organization provides guidance on everything from course selection to personal essay advice to recommendations for extracurricular and volunteer activities that will help students build a competitive application. With 16 chapters at community colleges in California, New York, and Washington state, Zhao’s goal is to establish 50 chapters.

Carlos Maldonado Vega, who is from Honduras, runs the College Leap chapter at the Community College of San Francisco (CCSF). He plans to apply to Berkeley Haas this fall, a goal he set for himself after taking an Intro to Business course at CCSF.

When a College Leap chapter launched at CCSF, Maldonado Vega said he quickly volunteered to become president, as well as regional manager for College Leap’s upcoming National Business Plan Competition, which will be held in October.

Volunteering has given him leadership experience and enabled him to meet people from all over the world at information sessions he runs. “I’m gaining a lot of experience,” he said, particularly with international students who face unique challenges and need mentors.

A lack of resources

Speaking from his personal experience, Zhao, who is from China, said transfer students face plenty of challenges, including fewer connections and a limited personal network. That’s why he founded the nonprofit. “All of us at some point faced a lack of resources and opportunities.” said Zhao, whose resumé includes working at two startups and studying at the University of Rochester and at Foothill College, a community college in Los Altos Hills, before transferring to Haas as a junior.

College Leap team
UC Berkeley students who are working with College Leap

This month, College Leap is hosting the National Business Plan Competition, a startup pitch competition which is open to all community college students, including those at schools where College Leap doesn’t have a chapter.

Teams must have at least one student enrolled full-time in community college and submit a business plan for a startup idea. The competition’s first round will be held Oct. 8-18, the regional round will be held Oct. 24, and the final round is Nov. 7. Teams who make the final round will be connected to mentors at Berkeley Haas. “Because College Leap is based at UC Berkeley, which has one of the strongest entrepreneurship ecosystems in the country, this competition is an opportunity for community college students to tap into the Berkeley ecosystem,” Zhao said.

To help participants prepare, College Leap is providing a series of nine free virtual workshops taught by community college faculty on a range of business topics including customer acquisition and finance. Participants will present their plans, which must have a section on their startup’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and take questions from the judges.

A message of inclusion

Richard Lyons, UC Berkeley’s chief innovation and entrepreneurship officer and former dean at Berkeley Haas, says that competition participants will develop knowledge and gain hands-on experience. “That’s big by itself, given the terrific diversity of the participants and the competition design,” Lyons wrote in an email. “I especially want to highlight the indirect value: The message here is deeply one of inclusion. Yes, the world of innovation and entrepreneurship includes you, whatever your background. It’s a doubly powerful transition from thinking, ‘they do that’ to thinking, ‘I do that.’ ”

Faculty at both community colleges and Berkeley Haas will serve as competition judges. Teams that advance to the finals will be matched with one of the many programs and incubators at Berkeley that support entrepreneurship.

 

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