In this special interview series, we are proud to highlight the incredible members of the ANTrepreneur Center External Committee (ACE) and discuss their entrepreneurial experiences, their reasons for joining the ACE, and their best advice for burgeoning student entrepreneurs. 

This article’s featured ACE member is Kevin Tsao, Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer for the premium jewelry manufacturing company ENO Brands. In addition to expertise working in the luxury goods and jewelry industries, Kevin has extensive experience in event management, media relations, fundraising, and business management. He is also a UCI alum and holds bachelor’s degrees in business economics and political science.

To share some of his professional experiences and offer advice to UCI student entrepreneurs, Kevin recently sat down with Ryan Foland, Director of the ANTrepreneur Center, for an informative interview.

Ryan: It’s great to see you, Kevin! Thanks for meeting with me and sharing more about yourself. To start out, can you explain how you got involved with entrepreneurship?

Kevin: Thanks for having me, Ryan. My pathway to entrepreneurship was a little unconventional. My passion and interest has always been in history and politics. As such, when I graduated from UCI, I decided to pursue those passions and worked for the California State Controller, John Chiang. In that position, I was given the opportunity to build and conduct small business seminars to share the tools and resources available from the State. It was through those events that I met many small business owners, entrepreneurs, and family businesses.

When I spoke with them, it was clear how much passion and thought they put into their businesses and how they genuinely wanted to create decent companies. From this experience and my experience with joining my own family’s business, I became more interested in supporting entrepreneurs.

Ryan: Do you have a particularly memorable experience from working in your family business?

Kevin: Historically, our business has been focused on manufacturing and supply chain management for our accounts. To expand our sales channels, one of the initiatives that we embarked upon was the launch of our own in-house brand, which was under my purview.

At the time, my expectation was that the launch of most brands was possible as long as you had enough capital. I learned the hard way that this was not accurate. While we had allocated a large budget, we quickly realized that capital was one of three core needs for a successful brand—capital, market/distribution, and branding. The brand struggled to get out of the gate because we were still developing the two other components. Fortunately, once we took the time to really work on those other aspects, we started to see the brand move in the right direction. But this was an important learning experience that I will carry with me moving forward.

Ryan: That is a really important lesson that I think a lot of our student entrepreneurs will benefit from as well. Speaking of our students, what made you interested in partnering with us at the ANTrepreneur Center as an ACE member?

Kevin: UCI is my alma mater—Class of 2010! Having seen the campus before and after its more recent renovations, I’ve had the unique opportunity to truly see how much the campus has continued to be an innovative institution not only in the SoCal area, but around the country. 

When I heard about the ANTrepreneur Center, I thought it was such a great resource for students on campus. Given my own involvement in a family business, I am particularly interested in contributing where I can to help individuals who might be interested in family businesses. By serving as an ACE committee member, I hope to provide assistance on existing programming and, where possible, find opportunities to add a family business perspective to the conversation. Because family business needs tend to differ from corporate business needs, I would love to help the ANTreprenuer Center develop programming focused on helping students navigate these dynamics, especially for those who are considering joining a family business or thinking of starting one in the future.

Ryan: I look forward to your support on our programming, and I know our students will too. What advice would you give to students looking to start their own small or family business?

Kevin: I would advise them to value every connection that they build. Invest in these relationships, nurture them, and make a committed effort to cultivate them. The key ingredient is to ensure they are meaningful and authentic. Show that you care by following up on the connections you make and provide support wherever and whenever possible. It’s often the most unexpected contacts that make the biggest impact on your career. 

Ryan: That’s great advice; making connections is a key component of success that many entrepreneurs forget about. Thank you again for sitting down with me and sharing your story and insights. To close this out, what message would you like to convey to the UCI community about the importance of entrepreneurship and supporting student entrepreneurs?

Kevin: Entrepreneurship is such an important aspect of a strong, vibrant community, both on and off campus. Supporting student entrepreneurs and encouraging them to pursue their passions is valuable because they are the ones bringing new ideas and innovations to the table. Without entrepreneurs, we would be missing out on so many great new approaches and perspectives.

Additionally, supporting students who are interested in family businesses will help them see this as a viable future path. This, in turn, will foster a more robust family business ecosystem, which I believe will result in more meaningful, authentic, and impactful services to the community overall.

Want to learn more about our ACE members? Stay tuned for the next installment of the “Meet the ANTrepreneur Center External Committee” interview series. For more information about the UCI ANTrepreneur Center and how it can support your entrepreneurial journey, visit our website or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.