Student Spotlight: My Summer as a Phillips Ambassador in Shanghai, by Will Jarvis

Will Jarvis '16 spent the summer interning at a Shanghai-based startup named Peony Solutions

Will Jarvis '16 spent the summer interning at a Shanghai-based startup named Peony Solutions

Written by Will Jarvis, UNC Class of 2016 


It’s dark in Shanghai, and I can’t see much as I make my way through the rain in the magnolia lined streets of the French Concession. Foreigners have been coming here to try their luck in the Chinese market for 5 generations. Most have failed, but the glimpses I get of huge houses built by merchants of years past remind me that it is possible.

My name is Will Jarvis, and I am a senior English Major from Rocky Mount, North Carolina. This summer I worked at a company called Peony Solutions, in Shanghai, China. Our mission is to transform the way doctors get their questions answered, encouraging collaboration around the world. Our company was founded by a woman with a Ph.D. in molecular medicine, who gave up her 6 figure salary and a life of luxury as a VP in R&D at Glaxosmithkline to change the world. I may have been an intern, but I was the most experienced (read, only one with any startup experience) on the team. I was thrust into the role of building our business model, our recruitment strategy, and with helping our founder proof her concept.

Times weren’t always sunny in China. The venture capitalist Peter Thiel is quick to remark that China is not the best place for innovation; he very well may be right. It is difficult to build the future when your internet only works half the time, and China, despite all the hype, lacks the technical prowess available in the developed nations such as Japan or the United States. Investors may be  is bullish on emerging markets like China, but very few Venture Capitalists (except perhaps Sequoia Capital) have made any money at all.

Despite these challenges, it was  awesome to watch our company grow before my eyes, as I had a direct impact on the company's success. In the beginning the staff consisted of me, the founder, and one other intern; everything we did mattered. The company doubled in size during my time in Shanghai (we hired 5 paid employees), and raised enough money to keep us going until the 1st of the year. The idea went from a figment of our imagination to a working product in three months- it was a wild ride!

During my time in China I learned a lot about doing business there, but more than anything, I learned about myself. The father of the modern MBA, Peter Drucker,  often reiterates that the toughest job for effective humans is find the one thing they are good at, and leverage that skill to make our greatest impact. For me that skill is critical analysis and feedback. Much of my time was spent driving my boss to strengthen her business model, tighten up the recruitment strategy, and not let anyone on our team become passive or intellectually lazy. 

I was in Shanghai for only  two months, but in that time I started out as an intern and progressed to a valuable team member, finally leaving with equity in a company with an estimated valuation of 88 Million dollars.  When I was 10, I wanted to be a venture capitalist after viewing a 60 Minutes spot on Tom Perkins. My time in China did nothing but to solidify that ambition, that building the future is the place I am meant to be .

Special thanks to Ambassador Phillips, his wife Mrs. Phillips, and Janet Walters for the Phillips Ambassadors Scholarship, and to Lauren Willets and John Akin in the Entrepreneurship Minor for making this experience possible.