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Annee Ngo is co-founder and CEO of Startup League in Vancouver, B.C. (Photo courtesy of Annee Ngo)

The popular belief may be that gaming and e-sports can serve to distract kids from focusing on what’s “really important,” but at Startup League in Vancouver, B.C., co-founder and CEO Annee Ngo believes a mobile game can serve to empower students through access to education and economic opportunities.

Ngo, our latest Geek of the Week, established Startup League in 2017. The company is currently developing QUP (pronounced Q-UP), a game that rewards students for practicing curiosity and empathy with real cash. A Kickstarter for QUP was funded in less than a day and there are still six days left to get in on the action.

According to Startup League, each QUP game includes a cash prize, awarded to the most empathetic student. In the daily, 3-minute competition, students are shown a problem statement and are asked to submit an answer to the questions of “who cares?” and “why?” Responses go through a series of public votes until a winner is determined.

(Startup League Image)

Startup League bills the exercise as more substantial than a car wash or bake sale, for instance, because students can access fundraising dollars beyond their community.

“Opportunity is when an education is met with economic access,” Ngo said. “QUP is just the beginning. The games we develop will continue to encourage and reward students for their critical thinking and creativity.”

Before working on what she calls “educational e-sports,” Ngo was co-founder and president of ProtoHack, a code-free hackathon that reached 20,000 members from 30 cities across 12 countries. She also helped scale GH Nutrition from one retail shop to 12 across B.C. She’s the recipient of the Women Tech Founder’s Award for Gaming/AR/VR and BC Business’ 30 Under 30.

Away from work, Ngo loves to hike, indulge in chocolate croissants, play “Heads Up” and spend quality time with family. She used to have two dogs, one named Theodore (after President Roosevelt himself) and another named Ali (abbreviated for Alibaba, which was founded by Jack Ma).

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Annee Ngo:

What do you do, and why do you do it? As a proud immigrant and refugee, I know first hand just how lucky and random it is that I was born into the opportunities in front of me. I’ve dedicated my life to removing as much of luck from the opportunity equation as possible. In order to do that, I’m building solutions that connect education to economic access. I truly believe that real opportunities are only possible when education meets economic access. That’s why at Startup League, we build solutions that prepare students for the future of education (creative problem solving through empathy and curiosity) and reward them with real money (so they can afford to do things out in the world that they love).

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? You do NOT have to be an education company to transform education. You do NOT have to be a gaming company to evolve gaming. We can do it from the outside-in. It’s a bit oversimplified, but education can and should be about having fun; while gaming can and should be about knowledge. Educational e-sports will have the kind of longevity and scalability of competitive athletics if it is both educational and entertaining, competitive and collaborative, enjoyable to view and to participate.

Where do you find your inspiration? The students we work with. It’s bewildering to me how thoughtful, mindful, and self-aware they are. I am in constant awe of their ability to articulate and express themselves. They’re driven by passion but also consideration. They are so authentically and uniquely human. THEY remind me that this is what the future of education and work should be designed around. Empowering more of these creatures.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? Headphones. From music to podcasts, sound is my most appreciated medium of content. I meditate, exercise, dance, cook, unwind, get amped up — all to sounds. Enjoying that on my own accord and in my own space is something incredibly magical.

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? I work everywhere, from our co-working space in Gastown to my makeshift kitchen-counter desk. My favourite place to work is out in the “real world” with our community partners and users. I’ve included a photo of me while hosting a workshop on Curiosity & Empathy for Innovation & Technology at our local Microsoft. It’s where I’m most energized and feel like I’m doing the most meaningful work.

(Photo courtesy of Annee Ngo)

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) In the order of things:

  • Sleep hygiene — every body has different needs in this arena, so listen to your own body.
  • Enjoy getting your heart rate up through exercise — be it a walk, yoga, boxing, or a nice aggressive hike.
  • Remind yourself that you’re only gonna get done what you’re gonna get done. As a founder, your to-do list never ends, so accepting that you’re “done” for the day is quintessential.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Kirk, duh.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Time machine.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Do exactly what I’m doing today.

I once waited in line for … Sushi. It was worth it.

Your role models: My community of fellow founders whom have also dedicated their lives to solving an important problem for the world. They’re resilient, resourceful, and dedicated. Whether they’re further along than I am or just getting started, I’m grateful to have them in my company and truly admire them. Like, Shelley Chen at Edvisor.io or Jamie Buesca of Battlefy.

Greatest game in history: Poker.

Best gadget ever: My sassy Apple Watch that reminds me “by this time of day, I’ve reached more of my Move goals.”

First computer: Some HP that we saved up for and bought from a nearby Futureshop

Current phone: iphone X (I’m so basic)

Favorite app: Notion.so.

Favorite cause: Access to education

Most important technology of 2019: AirPods.

Most important technology of 2021: Self-driving cars.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: You do you, Boo. There is no one that’s better at being you than you, so do the damn thing you were put on this Earth to do In doing you, make the effort to listen to yourself and uncover your big why. What, how, when we do it won’t matter nearly as much as why we do the things we do.

Website: Startup League

Twitter: @anneengo

LinkedIn: Annee Ngo

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