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 Anh Tran, Founder and Managing Partner at SageMint Wealth. In her role, Anh utilizes her extensive financial planning experience to provide her clients with thoughtful advice, proven financial strategies, and personalized wealth plans that reflect their unique values, goals, and aspirations. Before founding SageMint Wealth, Anh worked at Goldman Sachs, first as an attorney in their private wealth division and later as Vice President of Financial Counseling. This gave her the opportunity to advise a variety of high-net-worth families and senior executives of Fortune 500 companies and better understand their wealth planning objectives and needs. 

Anh holds the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification, which is widely considered the standard of excellence in financial planning due to the rigorous education, training, and ethical standards required to receive this credential. In addition, she’s been recognized by numerous industry publications and media, including Forbes Top Women Wealth Advisors, Forbes Top Next Generation Wealth Advisors, Forbes Best-In-State Wealth Advisors for California, and Working Mother Top Wealth Adviser Moms.

Anh received her Juris Doctor from Santa Clara University School of Law and her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) where she majored in international studies and minored in business management. 

To offer her professional insights and invaluable advice to UCI student entrepreneurs, Anh recently sat down with Ryan Foland, Director of the ANTrepreneur Center, to share her story.

Ryan: Welcome Anh, it’s great to see you again! Can you get us started by sharing a little about your background and what led you to become an entrepreneur? 

Anh: Hi Ryan, it’s good to see you too! My journey to becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t necessarily a clear-cut one. After I graduated from law school, I practiced law for a business litigation firm. I quickly realized that I did not enjoy litigation and the hostile environment that often comes with litigation. A friend told me that Goldman Sachs was looking for attorneys to work with corporate executives at Fortune 500 companies. I have always been interested in finance and investments, so I took a leap of faith and applied. It was a great learning experience, and I realized I really enjoyed working with clients to create a financial plan and help them achieve their goals. It was rewarding work, and I felt like I was making an impact.

However, after the 2008 recession, the big banks—along with the entire financial services industry—changed drastically. They were more focused on sales and their bottom line, which I felt took away from us truly servicing our clients and doing what was right. In 2010, I decided to start my own independent wealth management firm. I wanted to create a firm where I could stand by the core values and provide the highest level of service to clients. The life of an entrepreneur can be lonely at times, but it can also be very rewarding. Looking back 13 years later, starting my own firm was the best decision I ever made. I have a thriving wealth management firm and estate planning law practice. Our firm is consistently ranked as one of the Top Forbes Financial Advisors in the country, and I am proud of my business and the value we offer our clients.

Ryan: I think it’s really exciting to see how your professional journey evolved into becoming an entrepreneur. It’s a good reminder that not all successful entrepreneurs start out planning to launch a business—sometimes it takes years of experience to recognize a need that they feel passionate about meeting. In founding your firm, are there any memories that stand out as important learning experiences?  

Anh: One entrepreneurial experience that I still remember to this day was when I fired my first client. When you are first starting a business, you usually take on any client that comes your way because you need to make money. I soon realized that in order to succeed in the financial services industry, I needed to narrow my focus and find my niche of clients. I was trying to be all things to everyone, and that doesn’t usually bode well. I identified my ideal client profile and started focusing my marketing efforts on a few target groups. This was when I really started to see my business grow. I realized that to be successful, I needed to let go of some of the clients that didn’t fit my ideal profile. 

I think this experience can serve as a lesson to student entrepreneurs as well. When developing your business, focus on your target market and don’t get distracted by clients who are not a good fit. It’s better to bring high value to a smaller number of customers than compromise your product or services to appeal to a larger audience. Once you find your niche, double down on it, and solve their problems in a way that makes them want to stay customers. Building a reputation for exceptional service is critical—in fact, it’s a key part of what makes my business successful. 

Ryan: This is a great lesson that a lot of our student entrepreneurs should really think about. Pivoting to talk about students, you’re a UCI alum, right? Would you say that your time as a student impacted your entrepreneurial journey?

Anh: I graduated from UCI in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in international studies, and I also minored in management. I’ve built some great relationships from my time at UCI and also have deeply rooted connections in the community. My affiliation with UCI has impacted my business greatly because I have received a lot of referrals from my UCI network. 

Ryan: Did these community ties also influence your decision to become one of our ACE Committee members?

Anh: Yes. I became more involved with UCI through my work with Impact Giving, which is a women’s collective giving group that pools their money together to make grants to different charities. UCI was offering a philanthropy class in 2020 that followed a similar model to Impact Giving. The course allowed students to research different nonprofits around Orange County and determine where they wanted to grant funds. I came to speak to the class, and this is how I really reconnected with UCI. 

I eventually learned about the ANTrepreneur Center and all the great things they were doing, and I wanted to get more involved. When I heard about the ACE Committee, I jumped at the chance to join. I wanted to share my own personal experiences as an entrepreneur and offer guidance and mentorship to students. Being a financial advisor, I can also help educate students on financial topics that an entrepreneur needs to think about when starting a business, such as funding, business loans, credit, keeping track of their books, and reviewing their balance sheets. Entrepreneurs need to have a clear understanding of their revenue, expenses, and profitability, and I’m happy to help them on that front.

Ryan: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge that student entrepreneurs face today, and what can they do to overcome it?

Anh: I think the biggest challenge students think they face is having limited financial resources. While you don’t necessarily need money to get started with a business idea, securing funding is instrumental to growing a business. The reality is that a lot of students don’t know where to ask about funding or what opportunities are available to them. Fortunately, the ANTrepreneur Center can help students with this and introduce them to grants, contests, scholarships, and many other sources of funding. I would encourage all UCI student entrepreneurs to visit the Center and take advantage of the free resources it has to offer. 

It’s been fun to watch the various Innovation Challenges and hackathons that the Center hosts because they provide a supportive environment for students to pitch their business ideas while also providing the opportunity to win prize money to bring their ideas to life. These types of opportunities often make a huge difference in helping students advance their entrepreneurial journeys.

Ryan: Thanks for the shout out! On a more general note, what advice would you give to aspiring student entrepreneurs? 

Anh: Building a successful business is messy and unpredictable but very rewarding. There are many routes that you can take to achieve your goals, so forge a path that works for you. Building a business is not always a direct path and you will face obstacles. But be prepared to get derailed from your plans and learn how to pivot.

I would also advise you to take advantage of the resources and support network available at the ANTrepreneur Center. The chance to meet with other entrepreneurs, work with mentors, and receive professional guidance will go a long way in your development. 

Ryan: Thank you so much for sitting down with me, Anh! To close out this interview, what message would you like to convey to the UCI community about the importance of supporting student entrepreneurs?  

Anh: Student entrepreneurs are our future, and we need to embrace and support their ideas. It is so important for students to have the right mentors, financial support, and opportunities to take them to the next level, and we should all try to make a difference on this front. The ANTrepreneur Center is always looking for individuals who share their passion for supporting student entrepreneurs, and there are many ways to get involved. My advice for the UCI community is to find a way to start supporting student startups—an investment in young entrepreneurs is an investment in our future. 

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, including programming, speaker series, Micro-Internships, funding, and more, visit our website. You can also learn more about our valuable collaborations with Blackstone LaunchPad, Tech Coast Angels, Tech Coast Venture Network, OC Startup Council, SoCal Celebrates Entrepreneurship, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even Threads