Hi, Brendan and Jake. Please introduce yourself!
Brendan: My name is Brendan Wang, aged 21, studying Supply Chain Management at Michigan State University in the United States of America. My parents came from the slums of Beijing in search of a better life for our family. Growing up, I started to fall in love with improving the quality of life for others so I started to explore entrepreneurship as a senior in high school, inventing my first product to help people achieve their goals. I’ve struggled with many hardships but have taken that experience to understand others and find ways to create solutions that solve the world’s greatest problems.
Jake: My name is Jake Roach, a 21-year-old from Canton, Michigan studying Finance at Michigan State University in the United States of America. I’ve always struggled with figuring out exactly what I want to do but if one thing is for certain it’s that I want to change the world with my ideas and innovation and to be my own boss. I started my own company in high school that equipped me with the necessary skills to become a successful entrepreneur in the years to come. I have stuck with this entrepreneurial mindset throughout my college and professional career with the goal to solve problems that impact millions of people around the world.
What three adjectives would people use to describe you?
Brendan: Compassionate, Driven, and Astute
Jake: Ambitious, Intelligent, Well-rounded
What is the challenge your venture seeks to address?
The challenge CAPNOS seeks to address is the global vaping epidemic. In 2019, people began dying from vaping-related illnesses and diseases. It was featured heavily in the news and the FDA began cracking down on JUUL and disposable vapes as a result. However, as time went on, the news gradually stopped covering the issue on a mass scale despite people still dying from vaping-related illnesses and injuries every day. Vaping addiction is the reason for these issues and this is the root cause we seek to address. There are plenty of products on the market that address the physiological addiction to nicotine but none that address the behavioral addiction to the act of vaping itself. This is where CAPNOS comes in—we are helping to address the oral fixation associated with vaping.
Have you been personally affected by this issue? If so, how?
Brendan: Yes. I started vaping as a freshman in high school, having evolved through every iteration of the vape as it gained popularity. I was addicted for years, oftentimes using it in class and whenever I could get a hit. It’s caused my athletic performance to dwindle and it has given me a nasty habit. I have also seen too many friends start vaping and struggle to quit, which pains me to see their struggles as it is one I understand too well.
Jake: I too started vaping from a young age and struggled to quit later into high school. I am still surrounded by friends and roommates that vape every day and struggle to quit.
How is your venture addressing these challenges?
CAPNOS is addressing the issue of vaping addiction by providing the only solution on the market that targets the behavioral addiction to vaping itself. There are plenty of products on the market that address the physiological addiction to nicotine, but none that focus on the behavioral addiction to vaping. This is the product-market fit that CAPNOS seeks to fill. Our product, the CAPNOS Zero, is a flavored air pressurizer designed as a behavioral aid to help people quit vaping. It has Zero Smoke, Zero Nicotine, and Zero Charge. To use the Zero, users inhale through the mouthpiece to pop open a valve that pressurizes the air around them, simulating the deep hit feeling that so many vape users crave. There are also replaceable flavored caps for the Zero with flavors like mint, mango, and strawberry to enhance the experience and replicate the sensation of hitting a normal vape but without the harmful side effects.
What advice would you give other college students who are looking to start their first social venture?
- “When there is a will, there is a way.” Social ventures exist because the founder is motivated to improve other people’s quality of life or solve a social problem. You need to be in it for the right reasons.
- Find mentors. Learn from professionals who have been down a similar path. Knowing what to do and what not to do will save you time, money, and enable you to become more effective.
- Life is not a race. Be kind to yourself. It’s so important to take care of your own health: mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
- Build a network. Surround yourself in every aspect of your life with people that make you better in some way and provide strengths you might not have. This could be family members, your professional network, and even the friends you choose to hang out with.
- Have a vision. Remember why you started. It can get very stressful getting caught up in day-to-day operations when you hit a road bump or something that seems catastrophic to your venture. When you remember why you started and focus on the long-term picture, you will feel better about facing challenges.
- Work-life balance is huge. The beauty of starting a social venture is the journey, not the destination. Make sure you enjoy every step of starting and running your venture and take time to just enjoy life—we’re only here for so long.
What do you love most about your home community?
Brendan: Canton, MI is rather diverse. We have many members from different ethnicities and financial situations. This enabled me to see first-hand what life was like in low-income lifestyles and high-income while adapting to different cultures.
Jake: Growing up in the Plymouth-Canton, Michigan area and going to one of the largest high schools in Michigan with over 6,000 people, I was exposed to people from so many diverse backgrounds and interests which really helped me to develop a unique perspective on the world. I was able to see first-hand how groups of people formulate around similarities and differences and how to influence large groups of people.
What role do young leaders play in the world today?
Young leaders have access to social media platforms that can influence how millions of people think. Whether it’s creating certain trends or promoting certain ideologies around politics, religion, philosophies, and others, these are roles that young leaders can play. We can use social media to both expose inequalities and mobilize people to create change.
Why is it important for young people to focus on social impact?
Humans have evolved to create conditions that foster life—living longer, having bigger families, and a higher standard of living. As we have moved from the industrial revolution into the technological revolution, we have seen an increasing demand for material wealth at the expense of the environment and low-income communities. While conditions may be more prosperous for a few, we are creating larger income gaps while exhausting the resources of the world. Therefore, it is important that young people focus on social impact so that we may foster life for generations to come while still increasing our standard of living.
This month is Pride month. What does that mean to you?
Brendan: Pride for me is all about visibility; that’s the key takeaway. I grew up in fear of expressing my true self, and with first-generation immigrant parents from China, they had never really encountered anyone in the LGBTQ community, much less learned their stories. Pride is a time to see a greater level of activism and community building at this time. To give people—like myself—who haven’t had that voice, a safe space to be expressive and to find others like ourselves.
I attended the 2019 Cincinnati Pride parade and it was one of the most liberating experiences that I’ve had. The feeling of walking through the streets feeling love, no shame; just love, holding hands with my partner, was a fundamental experience that I wish could be the case for so many others looking to proudly express themselves. Providing visibility through education and changing perceptions is key.
From a cultural standpoint, I want to see efforts go beyond just capitalizing on this moment. Many corporations like to make it flashy and say “we’re all about diversity and inclusivity” but the next level is to create workshops and facilitate conversations to better understand what it means to be a member of this community. I challenge organizations and individuals to reassess their beliefs and to continually push toward growing and learning more about what it means to be diverse, yet similar, to one another.