Michelle Kwok is a born and raised Vancouverite and medical science student-turned social entrepreneur. She is also the co-founder of FLIK (Female Laboratory of Innovative Knowledge), a female-focused apprenticeship portal connecting female founders and leaders to ambitious female students. FLIK’s vision? to facilitate game-changing relationships that lift communities of women.
Michelle has always had a passion for making an impact and discovered her niche after she was selected to Next 36, Canada’s premier program for young entrepreneurs.
She is also one of the founders in the Youth Innovation Showcase Founders Talks Series, on now until June 10th! We’re SO excited to share Michelle’s inspiring business journey and vision.
What is FLIK and what inspired you to create it?
FLIK is a platform that allows female founders/leaders and female apprentices to browse each other, connect and pursue an apprenticeship. Female founders get help with their businesses, early access to ambitious talent, and the chance to connect with a network of strong female leaders. Apprentices train 10 hours a week or less for 3 months in a meaningful project under a founder, gaining valuable skills and experience with mentorship.
FLIK now has students from top universities signing onto the portal, including Forbes 30 Under 30 leaders and other distinguished women across 23+ countries. Each founder and apprentice is verified and approved to retain community integrity. Our ultimate goal is to increase women-led ventures on a global scale. Check out more at weareflik.com!
After struggling to connect with female founders and mentors throughout Next 36, my roommate (Ravina) and I created FLIK. The original plan was to get to know prominent female visionaries and share their inspiring stories on our platform.
We incorporated FLIK and created a website within 48 hours, and soon had the opportunity to interview distinguished women like Samantha Barry, Editor-in-Chief of Glamour Magazine and Genevieve Jurvetson, Co-Founder of Fetcher. We were even invited to cover a talk by Michelle Obama.
Their stories posted on FLIK received responses from young women in 20+ countries across the world, all asking one common question: how could they connect with amazing female leaders themselves? FLIK morphed — we relaunched as a global portal allowing ambitious young women to apprentice under top female leaders.
Applications poured in from beyond North America; women from Rwanda, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Estonia, Germany, and the Netherlands, among others, have come to FLIK to boost their careers and companies. The community has grown to over 2,000 game changers, and we are starting to see the impact we are creating by connecting diverse, talented women with mentorship opportunities that we both had struggled to find not even a year ago.
What were the first few steps you took to launch FLIK?
Launching FLIK was an accident. We meant to just interview and publicize stories of women, especially because women make up less than 25% of the main subjects in news stories today. We started meeting more female founders and hearing from students and founders watching our media. I guess it was inadvertent customer discovery.
We heard the same problems over and over again. Founders needed help scaling their businesses and they also wished someone had told them they could have done this when they were younger or gave them tangible support. Students always needed more career experiences and mentors that they could look up to that looked just like them.
Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
I was meant to be a doctor. Ever since I was 6 years old, my friends and family called me Dr. Kwok. It was just expected of me. I didn’t know entrepreneurship was an option until three years ago. I realized that I just had to say yes to every opportunity that presented itself and believe that I could pull through. It was growing through growing my self-confidence that I got off the traditional path.
What were some of the challenges you faced in the first few months of launching FLIK?
It was really just building a strong, reliable brand that could scale. We wanted people to know that we cared and that this was a cause we are incredibly passionate about. There are a lot of female empowerment platforms out there, which is amazing so for us, so we had to figure out how to differentiate ourselves.
We also had to decide how we could tangibly give support and create meaningful relationships that were different from other similar platforms. Amplifying our message and getting people to believe in our brand was what we worked most towards.
Looking back, has there been anything that has surprised you about running a business?
You really don’t have to know everything. In fact, you will actually never know everything. The best thing to do is just start and figure it out along the way with smart mentors, even smarter colleagues and support from family and friends.
What do you hope young women who participate in an apprenticeship with FLIK take away from their experience?
That they don’t have to look like Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates to be an entrepreneur. There’s nothing wrong with starting small and there’s nothing wrong with having a grand vision. From 0-100, everyone can start somewhere and dream big to create massive change.
I hope they can see that there are incredible female founders of all backgrounds who have created successful businesses in all industries and that by training under these founders, they are preparing themselves to be the next wave of change-makers. Women tend to be more socially-minded so these young women who are future entrepreneurs will quite literally be changing the world.
There are so many young women I speak to before the apprenticeships saying that they don’t know if they could be an entrepreneur and during the apprenticeship, when they’ve seen a badass woman leading a team across disciplines and seeing the inner workings of startup life, they realize they can grow into that role too.
I want these apprentices to have lifelong mentors and real-life role models they can learn from and emulate and realize that they can also shift cultures through their vision and create large-scale social impact.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs, particularly young women, who are dealing with frustration and self-doubt in the early stages of their businesses?
Solidify the root of the problem that you’re trying to solve and ask yourself, “Am I so passionate about this that I would work for free for three years to make this a reality?”
Then go back to those people and have real conversations with them – they only have to be 15 minutes, but if you ask the right questions, you’ll get the information you need. If you’re solving a real problem for these people, they will let you know what they’re looking for and every positive message will reinvigorate you in your mission.
Make sure you know your target audience well. How can you help solve their problems? If your personal mission and your brand mission align, that’s when you’ll have the most drive and determination to create change.
Of course, always reach out to mentors. Women always want to lift up other women, especially if you’re young so don’t be afraid to reach out. What’s the worst that could happen? If she says no, that doesn’t put you backward in any sense, you’re right where you started and you can keep finding a mentor.
I know it’s cliché, but it’s true that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. This is a huge reason why we started FLIK, so women would have a baseline platform to create these relationships that can be hard to foster.
COVID-19 has changed the landscape for entrepreneurs and small business owners everywhere. How are you staying hopeful during this time?
I’ve focused on the positive work that we’re doing despite the terrible circumstances. We are supporting female-founded businesses that are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and students how have lost career opportunities. Despite all of this, the silver lining is that FLIK had the infrastructure in place to create a community to support these two segments in most need.
I get on calls with founders and apprentices on our platform every day to see how we can better support them in any capacity. Beyond professional and business development, we have been trying to spread positivity through free workout classes, meal tutorials and other partnerships with female-led initiatives.
How has COVID-19 impacted your business and how are you staying connected to your community?
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew FLIK could create a rippling impact. My team and I launched an initiative to connect female Medtech founders at the forefront of COVID-19 innovation needing to quickly scale solutions with verified STEM students itching to work on a project that could change global trajectories, many of whom had lost summer opportunities.
One of the female founders in this program is relieving the burden away from healthcare workers through technology that matches patients directly to coronavirus clinical trials, and another is pivoting her medical device to detect COVID-19 within minutes. With FLIK’s connections, these founders are fast-tracking their product timelines for global impact.
We have been busier than ever with so many founders shifting to virtual onboarding and students looking for opportunities to lend their hand to a global cause and work experience.
What are some ways we can support local businesses during this time?
A lot of cities have media publications that have published all the open restaurants during COVID-19; so for example, I’ve been looking up a site in Vancouver and I choose a new local restaurant every few days to order from to support local.
Also, at FLIK we will be featuring businesses within our community to support more female-founded businesses.