Earlier this year, we launched the “Next Teen Tycoon” video contest – our search for the country’s future business leaders. We gave away lots of cool prizes, including thousands of dollars in cash and a trip to New York to attend TEDxTeen. We also secured great publicity for the winners, such as press coverage on The Huffington PostFOX Business, the San Francisco Chronicle and the ABC affiliate KITV-TV evening news – they were all super professional and did great on the phone and in front of the camera!

Four months later, what are they doing now? We sat down (virtually) with two of our winners, Jason Li of iReTron and Jack Uesugi of a1000x, and asked them to update us on what they’ve been up to and how the contest helped their budding companies.


Grand-prize winner Jason Li, founder of iReTron


Li’s company, iReTron, encourages people to turn in their old cellphones and other electronic devices for cash; the devices are then sold abroad, where there is still a demand.

How has the company changed/grown since you won the contest?

Jason: We have grown so much since April and a huge factor was the contest. Not only did it provide us with seed money to expand our financial bases, more media noticed us and published articles about iReTron.

We have come to be an official corporation, featured on world-renowned publications including Inc. and The Huffington Post, invited to more events and expos to speak such as the National CleanTech Conference Expo, and much more. We were even approached by ABC Television to be featured on a show.

Team iReTron and I are preparing for the SAGE Global International championships at the end of July. A few months ago, iReTron was named the No. 1 social enterprise business in the nation and we are actually going to be representing the U.S. for the competition at the end of July. Since Next Teen Tycoon, we have also won other awards such as first place in the International Young Eco-Hero Championships.

How did you use the contest prize money?

Jason: We used the prize money ($4,000) to improve our website and optimization, attend more events, and pay for basic transaction fees. We have still not paid a single dollar for advertisements and we are very proud of it.

It has been a thrilling adventure these last few months and a huge catalyst would be the Next Teen Tycoon contest. In the near future, we plan on hiring employees, expand advertising and marketing, add new features to the website, and much more.

Tell us about your experience in New York at TEDxTeen and what you learned.

Jason: I had a fantastic time in NYC. It was not my first time, but I definitely enjoyed it much more knowing that I earned the trip across the country. TEDxTeen was truly an unforgettable event and I was very inspired by all the speakers, especially Sujay Tyle, who pioneered his own career in medicine at such a young age. Although he pursued a very different field than me, he is one of my true inspirations for taking such daring risks to follow his passion. Overall, I had a fantastic experience and it was a very memorable weekend.

I learned that there’s always someone out there that’s smarter or stronger; humility is the most important characteristic anyone can have when trying to build a project (or a business, in my case). The event was filled with amazing people and people with accomplishments out of this world. It was a great experience to meet new people and share my story, but listening to theirs motivated me tremendously.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to another teen who wants to start his/her own business?

Jason: The most important advice I can give is to keep humble but never give up. When it comes to world-changing projects, impacts, results and sales may take time to see, but as long as you do what you love, you will never fail. Put in the effort necessary and success will always be ahead.

Also, when starting a business, you need to realize your goal, and this goal shouldn’t just be about making millions. With iReTron, serving the community and the environment is first priority while the sales come second. It is a passion, and with all passions, as long as you are doing something to benefit others, the money will come in naturally. In the end, you shouldn’t worry about the sales or breaking even. Be sensible, have fun, do what you love, and the numbers will figure themselves out.


Second-place winner Jack Uesugi, founder of a1000x


Jack’s company, a1000x, partners with local artists and prints, sells and promotes clothing and other merchandise featuring their designs, with a portion of all profits going toward social causes.

What have you been up to this summer so far?

Jack: Besides a1000x, I’m getting some prep work done for college applications. The end of the school year was rough on the business as I had SATs, AP exams and finals. It’s been hard to juggle everything.

How has the company changed/grown since you won the contest?

Jack: We are formalizing a different incorporation structure for the company. Some of the contest money has gone to that. There has been really great coverage in the media about a1000x. With my school load we stopped marketing as much, but I did work on a new marketing plan that we are implementing this summer. It will incorporate a lot of social media but also direct email and mail campaigns. The [prize] money ($2,000) is being used mainly for this marketing plan – for Google Adwords campaigns, Facebook ads and direct mail.

What are your plans for the rest of the year? Anything new on the horizon?

Jack: There are a lot of new plans. I have new artists lined up to work with and we have a few collaborations in the works, too. One will be to design and print the official takeaway items for a big art event in Hawaii. I’m also working on my own Art Centered event, where top artists will do live artwork and mentor student artists. We’re going to look at starting a scholarship associated with this event that would honor a top student artist through a jury competition, judged by artists. The winner would be announced at the event.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to another teen who wants to start his/her own business?

Jack: My big piece of advice to any teen starting a business is to take action. It doesn’t matter what you do as much as doing something. You’ll make mistakes but don’t let that stop you from even starting. Just keep going. And it will be hard as a student – finals, college prep, school work, extracurricular activities will all eat up your time. But stay committed and you’ll see progress.

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