Nanxi Liu isn’t ashamed to admit that she was a terrible student. She rarely went to class and usually fell asleep during lectures. She instead spent all her time and energy building companies, raising capital and making valuable business connections. Her efforts certainly paid off in more ways than one.
Still in her early 20s, Nanxi is the co-founder and CEO of Enplug, a leading digital signage software company used in stadiums, offices, universities and malls. Enplug enables social media sharing on digital displays and was named one of Inc. magazine’s “7 Most Innovative Startups in LA.” Enplug is already up and running in 12 countries and is the only digital signage software system with a built-in app platform.
Nanxi also serves as co-founder of Nanoly Bioscience, which develops polymers that eliminate the need for refrigeration of vaccines. It has received funding from Intel, Applied Materials and Airbus. Nanxi started both companies as a student at UC Berkeley, where she double majored in business and political economy. In one of the best lectures ever at LMU’s College of Business Administration, Nanxi shared candid (and oftentimes humorous) stories of how she became one of the top entrepreneurs of her generation and offered tips on how to build a company from scratch in a single semester. This event was co-hosted by the Center for Asian Business and the Fred Kiesner Center for Entrepreneurship.
To understand how she’s become such a savvy businesswoman, you first need to know a little about her backstory. Nanxi was born in China and grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado. She didn’t grow up around entrepreneurship and admits the concept of creating a business was completely foreign to her. One thing she did learn how to do at an early age was make money. Leveraging her talents at the piano, Nanxi applied for scholarships, taught piano lessons and even competed in local pageants. If there was a way to make a buck, Nanxi was all over it. “I have no shame,” she says, “which I think is a big part of my success. You can’t be afraid of failing or embarrassing yourself.”
During her freshman year at UC Berkeley, Nanxi developed a product that the university bought for $10K. Her sophomore year, she created a medical device that sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Nanoly Bioscience was actually formed during her winter break. She partnered with a PhD student, applied for numerous grants and participated in competitions to get funding. The company has won numerous awards and is considered one of the top social innovations in the world.
Enplug was another company that took off quickly as a result of bringing the right people together at the right time. The founders started out living in a cramped one bedroom apartment in Koreatown, installing digital displays in the neighborhood. None of them knew much about the digital signage industry but the software they created was adopted because it provided a whole new way of looking at digital displays. It wasn’t long before the founders moved into a mansion in Bel Air.
Sure, Nanxi is extremely ambitious, personable and tenacious. When people tell her no it gives her more fuel to succeed. One of the biggest lessons she’s learned as an entrepreneur is to surround yourself with amazing people.
“I don’t have to be the smartest person in the room,” says Nanxi. “In fact, I want my team to be smarter than me. My job is to sell the idea and bring the right people together. You really have to love sales to be an entrepreneur and be passionate about what you do. Don’t ever give up.” Liu was named Forbes “30 Under 30” and Fortune’s “Most Promising Female Entrepreneur of 2015.”