Photo of Chee Yang, a UWSP at Wausau MBA student who has started multiple businesses and speaks at conferences and competitions about her success.

Chee Yang is a UWSP at Wausau MBA student who has started multiple businesses and speaks at conferences and competitions about her success.

University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point at Wausau student Chee Yang has learned to overcome difficulties and form her own identity to make her impact in Central Wisconsin.

From being a member of a first-generation Hmong American family to graduating with her MBA from the UWSP at Wausau campus this May, she has paved her way by starting multiple businesses, speaking at conferences and competing in business pitch competitions.

Although Yang is a Wausau-born native, her parents were originally from Laos and fled to Thailand after the Vietnam War before moving to the United States. Coming from a lineage of farmers, her family started a ginseng farm in Wausau and Yang helped throughout her childhood.

“I grew up in a very traditional household, where gender roles were expected,” said Yang. “Growing up, I’ve had to struggle with balancing cultural and American society expectations.”

Always knowing she aspired to be an entrepreneur and holding a degree in accounting, Yang and her husband, Kong Yang, decided to branch out with their own small ginseng farming business, K&C Ginseng, LLC. Knowing how much can go into a business, Yang knew she wanted to continue her education.

When the MBA program at UW-Stevens Point initially launched in 2019, she was introduced to the idea by an acquaintance, but decided not to pursue it at the time. Years later, Yang decided to revisit the prospect after hearing positive stories from close community members who were graduates of the program. “Their experiences were my turning point to where I said I just have to do this,” said Yang. “My major regret is not making that decision to commit sooner.”

As part of the MBA program, she had the opportunity to complete the UWSP Impact Fellowship, which sparked the creation of her embroidery business, Emspired.

Photo of Yang promoting Hmong culture through her embroidery business, Emspired.

Yang promotes Hmong culture through her embroidery business, Emspired.

“I really wanted my fellowship to be based on a business that was meaningful to me,” she said. “Since I already had experience in the business world, I thought my background was a solid foundation to pursue my interest.”

She saw a generational gap between the younger and older generations within her Hmong community. “It seems that the culture is fading, so I wanted to base my business on promoting and preserving the culture through the designs.”

Through her business, she had the opportunity to collaborate and create products for businesses in the area.

“The number of people, ideas and responsibilities that Chee skillfully coordinated during her fellowship leaves me smiling and shaking my head in wonder,” said her faculty fellowship mentor Associate Professor Lyna Matesi. “I had a blast extending Chee’s capacity for more work into building a new business and her entrepreneurial capacity.”

Yang’s ventures propelled her into a new world of opportunities. In 2023, Yang was invited to speak on a panel at the UWSP Women’s Trailblazers and Entrepreneurs Conference, an event conference showcasing and developing women entrepreneurs from all sectors.

Photo of Yang speaking at the Women’s Trailblazers and Entrepreneurs Conference to speak on her entrepreneurial experience.

Yang spoke at the Women’s Trailblazers and Entrepreneurs Conference to speak on her entrepreneurial experience.

Seeing panelists from CEOs to executive directors, “I thought the whole experience was inspiring,” she said. “I saw it as a great opportunity as a minority woman in the industry to be able to speak on my entrepreneurial experience.”

Yang has also participated in events such as the CREATE Portage County SURGE Pitch, a competition to pitch their business for panelists while refining their business model, gaining business exposure and building confidence.

“From the beginning, I did not know what I was getting myself into, but I was trying to accept every challenge put in front of me,” Yang said. “I’m not a public speaker, but throughout this experience, I didn’t realize how much self-development I would have gained because it forced me to put myself out there.”

Yang and her husband also completed UW-Stevens Point’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Entrepreneurial Training program to solidify her business plan for Emspired, but also start the groundwork for her and her husband’s next business venture, an autobody collision repair shop.

“The SBDC counselors who commit themselves to the program and general public are impactful,” she said.

The MBA program has exposed Yang to new paths and opportunities that she never would have thought to pursue otherwise. “Her commitment to developing, launching and marketing her business is unparalleled,” said MBA Director Adam Olson. “We are thrilled to be able to offer emerging leaders like Chee a chance to grow professionally, earn an applied MBA and significantly impact our region.”

After she graduates in May, she plans to continue her full-time career with JARP Industries and put more time into Emspired to scale the business.

“When I look back within the last year and a half, so much has happened. I’ve developed so much as a person,” Yang said.

“Chee is a determined leader. She embodies resilience, gracefulness and learning agility,” said Matesi. “I can’t wait to see what she does next.”

Written by UW-Stevens Point

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