Entrepreneur William Zhou inspires students with his success
Inspired by Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, Zhou launches his brainchild Planboard into the world
Third year computer science major William Zhou is living the dream life. The year 2012 proved fruitful for Zhou, who is riding off of his team’s Velocity Venture Fund win for the Planboard platform that revolutionizes teachers’ lives and his recent personal Community Achievement Award (CAA) in Entrepreneurship.
Online student community website, CampusPerks, runs the biannual CAA with the purpose of “recognizing exceptional student leaders in the fields of Art, Media, Philanthropy, and Entrepreneurship.” Students are free to nominate themselves or nominate a worthy candidate. Each candidate, once nominated, must rack up enough support in the form of members of the community clicking the support button on their nomination. Nominees with at least 25 supporters move up to the semi-finalist round where they’re judged by a CampusPerks committee based on their nomination profile.
From there, 16 finalists from the four different fields are selected. An external judging committee, formed by prominent Canadian leaders, selects the winners of the $1,000 scholarship package and national recognition.
Former judges include Alison Lawler-Dean, the senior public relations manager for Joe Fresh; David Vella, the director of board and executive relations of the Toronto International Film Festival; Jeffrey Buttle, world renowned Canadian figure skater and Olympic bronze medalist; Renee Sorese, senior manager of mobile brand marketing at Samsung Canada; and Ryan Smolkin, developer of the student-adored Smoke’s Poutinerie Franchise.
On his CAA win Zhou comments, “CampusPerks is doing some great things. They’re building student communities that want to drive change...I like what they’re doing. I think [as] entrepreneurs or innovators, in any field, students should be recognized and that’s exactly what they’re doing.”
Zhou’s win comes off of his Planboard platform. “Planboard is an online platform that brings engagement between teachers, students, and parents,” he proudly explained.
He credits his fascination with Lego as a child to his success in the computer science field. “The thing that fascinates me is how you build something and computer [science] is like building blocks, Lego to me,” he reveals, adding, “Personally, I want to use technology to help improve education.”
Planboard, in its essence, is a specialized education platform catered specifically towards teachers in order to make more efficient use of their time spent preparing classes. Zhou reminisces on his high school days, back when he would drop by his teacher’s offices. “They’re working on this thing that’s mandatory, they’re working on this thing that they have to do in order to teach better but they’re stuck [using] ’70s technology. And heck, even classrooms are stuck in ’70s technology.”
This notion of education being stuck in the past stayed with Zhou as he transitioned from being a high school student in his native Vancouver to being a university student at UW. He attributes his success to his fellow UW students. “I met people in class and started recruiting people. That’s when I started pitching that idea to these people saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do and we want to, by the end of this, if nothing else happens, at least I hope that we make a little impact in education. I mean, that’s all the hope that we had in the beginning.”
That was back in 2011. He and his team finished coding in early 2012, and then published the service. “Feedback has been phenomenal,” Zhou stated, seeming somewhat in awe at his creation.
As with every successful product, increased demand leads to increased functionality requests. Currently there is no iPad support, although Zhou hints that he and his team have begun development and are expecting to release iPad functionality soon.
Zhou lists the late Steve Jobs and entrepreneur Elon Musk as his inspirations. He visibly lights up when talking about the CEO. “People said he’s crazy, everyone said he’s crazy, NASA said you can’t do this possibly [with] this much budget. But you know what, he launched his rockets, he was successful,” he explained. “He’s really an inspiration to me in terms of solving bigger problems… I want to focus on bigger issues in society, that’s where the term ‘social entrepreneurship’ comes from.”
In the spirit of tackling bigger problems, Zhou has entered into a partnership with Brock University, working with Dr. Camille Rutherford to research how teachers can do better lesson planning. Vetica Interactive offers unlimited use of Planboard to Brock students who are studying to become teachers, free of charge.
To his fellow students looking to walk down the path of entrepreneurship, Zhou offers some heartfelt advice: “Student entrepreneurs…should focus on bigger problems, should focus on things that would really have an impact on society and from there pick a starting point. Obviously, you can’t take over and change the world in one day, you have to focus, find that problem that motivates you, that gets you excited.”
William Zhou is the co-founder of Vetica Interactive Inc., a UW start-up focused on providing educational tools to teachers around the world. He and his team can be contacted at www.vetica.com.