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Two John Carroll seniors advance in Diamond Challenge competition

As Chinese students spending their second year at The John Carroll School in Bel Air, William Du and Sunny Lu know how it feels to wait weeks to get mail from home or to miss their families.

So, for their senior project, the two came up with a care package delivery service aimed specifically at the more than 235,000 Chinese students studying in the United States.

Their business plan won Sunny and William $500 each after they placed first in the semi-final round of the Diamond Challenge for High School Entrepreneurs, beating out 11 other high-school teams.

Sunny and William's company, Love Delivery, would let parents send items such as dumplings and "red packet" money gifts for holidays like the Chinese New Year. They could also watch video of the students' excited responses as they receive the care packages.

Perhaps more importantly, the company would partner with low-cost carriers to make shipping cheaper and faster.

"My mom sent me a couple of books for SAT prep. They took two to three weeks [to ship] and it was ridiculously expensive," William said, adding that "every student is, like, homesick."

"We are trying to build emotional connections with parents and students," William said. "We are Chinese students, so it's kind of easier for us to get more trust from the Chinese market."

What makes the idea stand out from more general carriers like FedEx?

"We think it's love," William said.

Their mentor, athletics coach Larry Dukes, said the two worked many weeks on the project and were surprised to learn they won.

Sunny thought they would place third or fourth, but "when they announced, 'First place: Love Delivery,' it was, like, 'Yes!'" she said with a wide grin.

"I was really surprised about getting to first place," she said.

William was likewise "totally surprised" to have done so well.

It was also their first time winning anything, Dukes pointed out, as Chinese students are not constantly receiving trophies and certificates like many Americans do.

As for the business concept, Dukes noted they knew how it felt to spend a lot of money on delivery from China and wonder what to do with their belongings during summer vacation.

"On top of that, they also appreciate when they get gifts from home," Dukes said.

Sunny, 17, from Zhongshan, and William, 19, from Shenzhen, thought the company should initially be based in China and California, where the majority of Chinese students arrive.

Their report also targets a growing market, as they estimated 28.7 percent of international students in the 2012-2013 school year were from China.

The number of international students grew by 7.2 percent that year, to a record high of 819,644 students, according to a report by the Institute of International Education.

Students like Sunny and William "love to get reinforcement that the decision they made, which is a huge one for a high school kid, is supported back home," Dukes added about the need behind their business concept.

Sunny and William have been staying with host families for the past two years they have been studying at The John Carroll School.

They both hope to continue their education in the U.S. and both have been accepted to three colleges. William isn't sure what he wants to study but is considering fields like business administration and economics.

"I think this contest will help me to figure out what I really want to study," he said.

Sunny said she is more interested in math and technology related to business.

"I know I am going to do something related to business," she said.

Both are now gearing up for the Diamond Challenge finals, to be held at the University of Delaware in late April. Sponsors of the Diamond Challenge include Delaware Technical Community College, the Delaware Department of Education, Junior Achievement and the University of Delaware. The preliminary rounds were held at six locations in the U.S in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey and in Kenya and Moldova.

The grand prize is $7,500, which can go toward college scholarships – unless, of course, Sunny and William decide to just go into business for themselves, and then the money can be used toward the start-up.

"A couple of teachers said to me, 'You could just start this company,'" William said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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