Cracked screen? This Harvard student has a solution
AnhPhu Nguyen wins entrepreneurship award for phone repair business
AnhPhu Nguyen broadcast his college acceptance video on Instagram on May 1, 2021. The post began with his rejection from another school, Nguyen dropping his face into his hands and muttering, “This is so sad, dude.”
Then he opened the email from Harvard. He was in, and he could barely contain himself, nearly jumping out of his chair, repeating “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God” until he was almost out of breath.
A first-generation college student from Omaha, Nebraska, Nguyen knew that his acceptance would be truly life-changing.
“I was so incredibly surprised,” said Nguyen, who plans to study computer science at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “I couldn’t believe it, and I couldn’t feel my hands for like a minute after that. I called my parents, and my dad was like, ‘OK, good job,’ and then he just ended the call. But my mom was so excited. She was crying a lot.”
Nguyen’s first semester at Harvard ended with a major accolade. He was named Tech College Student of the Year at the AIM Tech Awards in November, having risen through the Upward Bound program at the Omaha-based AIM institute, which helps first-generation, low-income students apply to college and achieve academic success.
“They helped me with ACT prep, FAFSA, and what kind of scholarships I could apply to,” he said. “It was really, really helpful.”
The AIM Tech Award recognized his success founding Phu’s Phone Emporium in June 2019, his phone-repair business priced for lower-income families. Nguyen got the idea after building a bicycle mount for his phone out of Legos, only to have the phone come loose, break and require an expensive repair.
“It’s hundreds of dollars just to fix a screen if you accidentally crack it, and I just found that really annoying,” Nguyen said. “My parents already work so hard and can barely afford for us to live. My company is really focused on making repairs accessible and affordable.”
Nguyen’s family and community have always been a big part of his life. His parents moved the family from Vietnam to Omaha when he was six years old. Getting into Harvard was proof his parents’ decision was a good one.
“I personally didn’t think about college until senior year,” Nguyen said. “My parents never went to college, but they did want me to go to college. That’s partially the reason why they brought us to the United States. There’s a lot better education here. It’s a lot safer. It’s a lot easier to find a good education system here.”
Nguyen and his Emporium also won the Lily Pabilona Emerging Entrepreneur Scholarship from Against the Grain Productions, which promotes leadership development and awareness in Asian American Communities. He’s since turned his business into a small franchise — his brother and sister run the original shop back in Omaha and he runs another in Cambridge.
Even though the company is expanding, the goal is still to provide an affordable service to lower-income communities. Nguyen speaks English, Spanish and Vietnamese, making it much easier to help people from these communities.
“It makes tech more easily accessible, especially in the United States. Everyone needs tech, and not everyone knows English,” he said.
Nguyen came to Harvard planning to study CS and economics, but is considering switching to mechanical or electrical engineering. He developed a passion for building things as a young boy playing with Legos.
“I actually got my first Lego set when I was 3, and it never stopped,” he said. “You can prototype things so quickly and then take them apart. Metalworking is expensive, and it might take some time to put together. But Legos, five seconds and it’s all together.”
That passion for building will serve Nguyen well at SEAS.
“I thought high school was great, but when I got here it was a whole other level,” he said. “They have so many resources here. In the Science and Engineering Complex, they have so many makerspaces and 3D printers. It’s like a more advanced form of Legos here. I have no Legos here, but I like making stuff, and there’s a lot of stuff here that I can use.”
Matt Goisman | firstname.lastname@example.org