City Weekend

Student mentor wanted from elite US university? Hong Kong start-up has you covered

IvySpace seeks to link up students from Hong Kong and mainland China with Western counterparts for tutoring and advice

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 August, 2017, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 August, 2017, 4:00pm

On the other side of an unassuming doorway in Hong Kong’s busy downtown district of Sheung Wan, a team of people work tirelessly to bring together young people from different corners of the world.

Founded by two Yale University alumni who met during their time on campus, IvySpace is an online tutoring platform that provides students with a mentor from an elite American university.

“We want to bring academic subject tutoring, exam guidance and university application advice to the fingertips of students in Hong Kong and China in an affordable, accessible manner,” said co-founder Timothy Amson Kau. “You shouldn’t have to be in the top 1 per cent to get top-flight tutoring from respectable teachers.”

Initially, the start-up focused on mentoring students in Hong Kong and the mainland, but with the upcoming launch of IvySpace 2.0 – a revamped website and new mobile app – the company is going global.

“There’s this perfect storm within China in terms of opacity and need,” said co-founder Christopher Chau Lyong-hwa. “There’s this idea in China right now about being a global citizen, and we are the vehicle to help make this aspiration come to fruition.”

After investigating the state of tutoring services in mainland China, Chau and Kau quit their respective jobs in finance. They were inspired by both the inaccessibility of reliable tutorial and advice platforms, and by the “bizarreness” of the fact that people were being taught by teachers who lacked first-hand exposure or even native English abilities.

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“Our core ideology is that there’s no point in learning something from someone who hasn’t personally experienced and lived through what they are teaching,” Chau said.

Since its founding in 2015, over 10,000 students have been taught by the 200-plus active online tutors. The mentors represent more than 97 different majors and 60 different minor subjects.

“Any kind of interest can be met with our level of diversity,” said IvySpace chief executive Terence Wong Yeuk-hang. “If I wanted my daughter to have a female mentor who matched her interests academically and extracurricularly, the odds are we already have the perfect mentor for her.”

IvySpace not only aims to generate academic guidance for its users, but also bridge the cultural gap between its East Asian users and their Western counterparts.

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“The kids who do make it overseas are often faced with a huge cultural gap both in terms of day-to-day life, and in their approach to academics,” said founding partner Caroline Hsiao Van. “We want our students and mentors to form unforgettable friendships and bonds, and through that, aid our students in comprehending the cultural disparity.”

“It’s not just about tutoring, or even mentoring,” Kau said. “It’s about finding someone the student relates to, who they look up to and who can guide them – like an older brother or sister.”