Justin Lee creates welcoming environment for international entrepreneurs

Justin Lee

Justin Lee is taking the entrepreneurial space at Syracuse University to another level. In many ways, Lee is a triple threat of an entrepreneur: he is a multilingual industrial designer, a well-known connector of fellow international students and a lover of creating new and exciting experiences for his fellow entrepreneurs.

After arriving in the United States from Korea in the seventh grade, Lee found himself adjusting very slowly to his new homogenous community of De Moines, Iowa. After moving to Chicago, Illinois for high school, Lee knew that his much improved English would probably be single most important asset towards his success in college. Combined with his creative genius touch, Lee enrolled in Syracuse University’s Industrial and Interaction Design program in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, with a minor in ceramics.

Like many international students, Lee arrived on campus and was immediately drawn to students who shared the same cultural identity he does. This is an issue that many international students face, unable to break out of particular comfort zones inside their cultural circles. In their four years away from their home country, many of these students struggle to fully embrace not only the culture on campus but also American culture as a whole, because they are unable to cross over language barriers. More often than not, these international students are even more unable to create their own businesses because of this obvious but many times unspoken barrier.

Lee describes being an international student in the entrepreneurial space as an honor and a challenge. Before joining the Blackstone LaunchPad community, Lee and fellow Korean students started Candle, a network of Korean student entrepreneurs who set out to break the common rules of Korean society. They came together and realized that they were becoming more and more attached to Korean culture, and not growing within the American culture that surrounded them. They wanted to build a community of like-minded Korean students and begin ideating solutions to the problem of international students becoming too comfortable with only fellow international students.

WeDesign is one of the first ideas to come into fruition from the Candle network. Lee and his team recognized that as aspiring professional designers, there was a giant roadblock after graduation. Many design students find themselves either joining a company in order to build on design skills, or creating their own experience and struggling to engage customers. WeDesign is a future oriented design business idea that provides a market place that is beneficial to both designers and consumers. WeDesign elevates the 3D experience, by developing a catalog of designs and optimizing the experience of 3D printing.

However, while they were expanding into different international student groups, Lee realized that he needed more resources here on campus to support his endeavor. He quickly set up meetings in the Blackstone LaunchPad after his entrepreneurship course and started expanding his network.

Soon, Candle grew into Pan-Global Entrepreneurs Association (PanGEA), a collaborative effort that now consists of student entrepreneurs coming from France, China, America, India and Korea. PanGEA is hoping to expand nationalities soon. Through working with the LaunchPad, PanGEA is now well connected throughout campus, with the Law School, VPA, the Office of External Affairs and the Maxwell School. The organization is now building a fund hoping to start running business plan competitions catered towards international students here in Syracuse University.

“Language barriers keep international students from being able to achieve success in competitions that domestic students are also competing within,” Lee explains. “We hope that we are creating an opportunity that is more welcoming for international students. Ultimately, we want to be more inviting because there are so many international students here who are entrepreneurs but need a better platform to explore their ideas.”

There are entrepreneurs and innovators from 47 countries currently participating in the LaunchPad.  If you are interested in joining PanGEA or WeDesign, please stop by the LaunchPad or contact Lee directly at dlee51@syr.edu.

Story by Amanda Chou ‘18, Blackstone LaunchPad Global Media Fellow.

Photo by LaunchPad staff.