That Uber you called, the match you made on a dating app, and even the smartphone you use to call and text every day—these innovations started as ideas and came to life because someone believed in the person who created them.
When Wei Xiong ’15 applied to the Entrepreneurial Fellowship at Gettysburg in 2014, he too had an innovation that began as an idea. Xiong wanted to build a website that would make it easier to trade textbooks. The idea came to life when he became the inaugural recipient of the $10,000 fellowship, and with the help of mentors Bob Allen ’89, P’21 and Nick Johnson ’90, his idea turned into a website: Scholar Oasis.
“I took an idea and ran with it to build something that's very tangible and people used the website to trade books on campus,” said Xiong. “That was one experience where I had the idea in my head and eventually realized it through hard work.”
Since 2014, the Entrepreneurial Fellows program has inspired Gettysburg students to bring their innovative ideas into the world by providing mentors and funding to recipients, who gain the skills to launch a Beta version of their ventures. The opportunity served as a valuable precursor to Xiong’s career in software engineering.
“The finish line, in my mind, was delivering the product and [having] people actually be able to use it,” he said. “With software, there's no finish line. It's always evolving. Just launching the product is a milestone.”
Now an accomplished alum who’s worked in software for companies like Uber, Snapchat, and Google, Xiong gives back to Gettysburg’s budding entrepreneurs by mentoring through the Entrepreneurial Fellowship. His website is no longer running, but he uses his expertise to guide current fellows.
“I know how valuable it is to get that mentorship, to get the information from people who have progressed well in their careers, so I try to provide that to students who are in school,” he said. “Those alumni connections were infinitely more valuable than the $10,000.”
“My career is about aligning my passion and aligning my value with what I do. I want to do things that I believe in. I believe in the value we're adding to society.”
Although his day job is senior software engineer at Uber, Xiong continues to feed his entrepreneurial spirit. After Scholar Oasis, he was recruited in 2016 to be the technical co-founder of a startup formerly known as Borderwise that digitizes green card applications for immigrants. He enjoyed the entrepreneurial work on top of his career in software development.
“Even if you're not the co-founder, if you bring that kind of ownership, that energy to work, it will also work out in your favor to get recognized,” said Xiong. “The beauty of technology is it's about empowering the end-users, giving end-users the ability to do things they weren't able to do before.”
During his time at Gettysburg, Xiong fed his intellectual curiosity and prepared himself for a future career in tech by majoring in computer science and minoring in economics. He also learned valuable skills in verbal and written communication outside of his major.
“I'm a big advocate for the liberal arts education,” he said. “I took lots of courses outside of computer science and economics. I learned how you can't just make claims—you have to always reason and support your answers with evidence.”
Xiong, who is originally from China, chose Gettysburg because of the support he felt both financially and professionally. He made close connections with professors both in and outside his major, including his advisor and Computer Science Prof. Ivaylo Ilinkin, and became exposed to a variety of academic subjects, from a First-Year Seminar on the Vietnam War to courses in psychology and environmental science.
“Gettysburg gave me the chance to come here to study and have a career,” he said. “I received [support] from the College in all aspects, most notably the Center for Career Development. I [felt like] everyone wanted me to succeed, and they were really on my side.”
Once he launched his career at Deloitte, moved on to Google, then Snap Inc., and now Uber, some of the biggest-known companies in accounting and tech, he learned about the valuable application of skills, career preparedness, and confidence.
“There are a lot of opportunities in this field,” Xiong said. “I think people should just try to be a little open-minded about this. Don't undersell yourself. I think everyone is capable.”
When Xiong mentors Gettysburg students—whether it be for career advice or Entrepreneurial Fellowship guidance—he brings the lessons he’s learned about melding passion and professional aspirations to the table.
“My career is about aligning my passion and aligning my value with what I do. I don't want to do a startup for the sake of being involved in a startup. I want to do things that I believe in. I believe in the value we're adding to society.”
By Phoebe Doscher ’22 Photo courtesy of Wei Xiong ’15