KEI Honors Korean American Leaders in Business and Entrepeneurship

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At its seventh annual Korean American Day celebration, KEI honored three Korean American leaders involved in business through innovation and entrepreneurship.

KEI President Manzullo with the 2014 Honorees

You have modeled the way for your peers in the Korean American Community

The Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI) hosted its seventh annual Korean American Day celebration, a high-level gathering of public and private sector leaders from across the United States on January 13, 2014.

As part of the ceremony, KEI recognizes prominent Korean Americans that have made significant contributions to the United States and to the global community. At this year’s celebration, KEI President & CEO Donald Manzullo recognized 2008 Korean American Day Shinae Chun, former Director of the Women’s Bureau at the U.S. Department of Labor, who passed away in October 2013. KC Chun and Toby Chun, husband and son of Shinae, read the congressional resolution marking January 13 as Korean American Day.

This year’s celebration honored leaders in business and entrepreneurship:

Simon Lee, Founder of STG Inc.
Michael Yang, Co-Founder of and
Sarah Paiji, Co-Founder of Snapette

During a panel with ABC7's Kathy Park, the honorees spoke about their background and experience as well as offered advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. While Simon Lee of STG discussed the importance of perseverance, and to "never give up"; all panelists agreed that in order to be truly successful, one must take risks.

The taking of risks was noted by Keynote Speaker Sean Mulvaney of the Export-Import Bank of the United States who stated:

“Each of today’s awardees have taken risks and overcome adversity. Each has demonstrated tremendous business acumen in generating ideas and taking them to market successfully. In short, you have modeled the way for your peers in the Korean American community.”

U.S. Congressman Mike Kelly also congratulated the honorees on their successes and highlighted how the Republic of Korea and the United States are so close not only as nations, but as peoples.

This was echoed by Republic of Korea Ambassador Ahn Ho-young who looked forward to learning from the three honorees and discussed how they are contributing towards the next cycle of the 60 years alliance between the United States and Republic of Korea.

While each of the honorees discussed their plans for the future, they also talked about the challenges that they faced.

After much personal tragedy, Simon Lee emphasized how he was able to draw strength from his hardship. Having lost his parents at an early age, he attributes his achievements to his older brother who provided funding for his early education. Discussing the importance of hard work, Mr. Lee said that when he first moved to the United States, he felt that eight hours a day of work was not giving enough and that is how he began to create STG.

As one of the first Korean Americans to create a successful dot com company, Michael Yang co-founded, later acquired by CNET, and also co-founded, an e-commerce website. Raising the challenges that potential entrepreneurs face, he noted just how difficult it is to succeed as a startup. Some of these challenges include raising capital and finding people with the right skills. Even then, successful startups are unlikely to either go public or be bought out.

Emphasizing how mobile technology and social media are changing the shape of business, Sarah Paiji brought up how she worked to build a company servicing an untapped market. While Yelp and other on-line sources help provide reviews for restaurants or other products, Snapette helps match consumer interests with available products and potential sales.

One interesting insight on how entrepreneurship is evolving is the growing role of social media in venture capitalism. While at Harvard Business School, Ms. Paiji was reached via Twitter by a prominent venture capitalist who had wanted to make her tweet a reality. After making a trip to Silicon Valley to meet with prospective investors, she decided to pursue her passion in what she described as “the best job I could ever have.”

Other attendees of the celebration included: Ambassador Glyn Davies, Deputy Assistant Secretary James Zumwalt and Herndon Council Member Grace Han Wolf.

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Linda Butcher
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