Jeffery Gao, a sophomore pursuing a dual degree in Wharton and the College, strives to be at the forefront of using technology to promote social welfare. For him, understanding public policy—the political environment within which innovation occurs—is a key component of that larger aspiration.
Politically engaged since high school, Jeffery founded a politics club at his high school in British Columbia, giving students a forty-minute weekly forum to discuss issues on a local, provincial, and national level. Jeffery also participated in the Model United Nations, serving as president his senior year. Through the simulated dialogues, Jeff developed an understanding of how international regulations affect the sovereignty of various countries, as well as their interactions with other nations.
As a prospective international relations major at Penn, Jeffery is intrigued by trade issues and spent the summer of 2016 interning with the US-ASEAN Business Council. Created in 1984, the Council is the leading advocacy group promoting trade ties and economic growth between the United States and ASEAN member nations, which together constitute the seventh-largest economy in the world. Throughout the summer, Jeffery conducted research on a variety of elements that would become part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an eleven-nation trade agreement brokered between North America and Southeast Asia. The deal became a political hot potato during the 2016 election and President Trump ultimately pulled the US out of it, which was “very disheartening,” Jeffery states, “considering all the work that went into it, the negotiations and concessions that many countries made, and the positive implications it might have had on the US economic and political role globally.”
Jeffery has pursued his interests in international affairs alongside other endeavors within technology entrepreneurship. While still in high school, Jeffery founded IonicTechnology.ca, an e-commerce and wholesaling business for mobile data transfer technology. The company utilized search engine optimization and targeted marketing to generate thousands of sales across six countries. At Penn, Jeffery joined YouthHack, an organization that aims to empower high school and college students to create new, marketable technologies for the social good. As the head of YouthHack’s Freshstart Program, Jeff has worked with young entrepreneurs to best develop their ideas, including apps for services such as pet adoption and college mentoring, as well as one technology offering a new method for water purification. Given his background with tech startups, Jeffery currently works as an intern with the Wharton Alumni Angel Network, a group that fosters the entrepreneurial aspirations of Wharton alums. As part of the Network, Jeffery screens early-stage startups to evaluate their investment attractiveness and conducts market research and financial and competition analysis for new brands.
Jeffery’s long-term goal is to pursue socially beneficial innovations by merging his policy and technology interests. “Because I’m not a programmer,” Jeffery tells us, “I felt that gaining a better understanding of the policy environment would allow me to work in the industry I want, but in a more unconventional way.” This goal led Jeffery to join the Public Policy Research Scholars (PPRS), a certificate program run by the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative. Since joining PPRS, he has become all the more aware of the importance that policy plays on encouraging technological innovation, as well as more attuned to the way some of the most innovative companies in the United States actively pursue their objectives in relation to the policy climate. “I think as an entrepreneur, in the tech field specifically,” Jeffery states, “there is a necessity of knowing the current regulatory landscape.” That is a piece of the innovation puzzle that no aspiring tech entrepreneur can afford to ignore.