2020 Best & Brightest: Jessica Tao, Cornell (Dyson)

Jessica Tao

Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management (Dyson School), SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

“I’m an empath and entrepreneur; I strive to live authentically and always empower others.”

Fun fact about yourself: I started a company (PediCure) in elderly foot-care. We’re patenting a toenail trimmer for people who can’t reach their toes. We’ve been funded by the National Science Foundation, NY State Department of Health, and Cornell University’s startup accelerator.

Hometown: Carmel, Indiana

High School: Carmel High School

Major: Applied Economics and Management

Favorite Business Course: Women, Leadership, and Entrepreneurship (AEM 3340)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles During College:

  • Extracurriculars:
    • LGBTQ+ professional organizations (President of Dyson Pride ; renamed to “Queer Professional Community”)
    • Cornell startup accelerator (eLab)
    • Hip-hop dance team (Assorted Aces)
    • Professional business fraternity (Phi Chi Theta)
  • Community Work:
    • 2017: Volunteering in a dementia adult day care center (Wise & Healthy Aging in Santa Monica, California)
  • Leadership Roles:
    • 2017: Teaching Assistant in the Dyson school (for a mandatory management communication course)
    • 2018: Treasurer of Assorted Aces dance team (80-person Cornell hip-hop team)
    • 2019: Founder + President of Dyson Pride (Cornell’s first LGBTQ+ affinity group in the undergraduate business school, now named “Queer Professional Community”); Treasurer of Phi Chi Theta fraternity (a professional business fraternity on campus)
  • School Awards + Honors:
    • 2018 Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Global Fellow: I was selected to represent Cornell in this highly competitive scholarship to intern abroad in Bangkok, Thailand. Thanks to this fellowship, I was able to pitch blockchain solutions for 8 weeks at a blockchain startup (Bitkub Blockchain Technology).
    • 2019 Big Idea Competition – 3rd Place: Our startup placed in the top 3 out of 60+ Cornell student-run businesses and won $500. We designed and 3D-printed a medical device that empowers women to take birth control pills accurately and carry condoms discreetly.

Where have you interned during your college career?

  • J.P. Morgan (New York, NY) — Wealth Management Summer Analyst
  • Emzingo (Johannesburg, South Africa) — Strategy Consultant
  • Bitkub Blockchain Technology (Bangkok, Thailand) — Blockchain Sales Analyst
  • Blackstone LaunchPad (Ithaca, NY) — Community Relations Director
  • Zipstory (Los Angeles, CA) — Content Specialist
  • Jimmy John’s (Carmel, IN) — In-shop employee

Where will you be working after graduation? Google — Associate Account Strategist

What company do you admire the most? I admire Starbucks. Although I do not buy their drinks, I respect the way they treat and train their employees. The company offers meaningful benefits, such as healthcare, for full-time and part-time employees, which speaks volumes to their dedication to a people-oriented business.

What did you enjoy most about your business school? I enjoyed the camaraderie my peers and I developed in business school; this is especially true of the transfer community in Dyson. We faced similar struggles upon entering Cornell as sophomores (imposter syndrome, a social divide between students accepted in year 1 versus year 2) and we grew from this shared experience.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from studying business? Being a strategic “giver,” rather than a “taker,” is always the way to go. It is very obvious to others who only aims to derive value from others, rather than contributing.

What advice would you give to a student looking to major in a business-related field? Be ready to build your empathy muscle.

What has surprised you most about majoring in business? I was most surprised about the importance of human connection. Over the years, I have realized my classmates and co-workers are the most successful when they are humble and treat others well.

Which academic, extracurricular or personal achievement are you most proud of? I am proud of my startup (PediCure) and all the milestones my co-founders (Jialin Ke, Joshua Zhu, Jonathan Pao) and I have achieved. We have grown from a crazy idea, just on PDFs and paper, to having a working prototype and gaining the support of the National Science Foundation, NY State Department of Health, and Cornell University. Our company has pitched at the NYC World Trade Center and we’ve interviewed with venture capitalists at the age of 21. I love to reflect on these milestones, but I also appreciate the messy middle; from being belittled by lawyers who didn’t take my female co-founder and I seriously, or stressful late nights to meet a patent deadline, entrepreneurship has taught me to embrace uncertainty and be fearless.

Which classmate do you most admire? I admire Jalil Evans (Cornell Info Sci ‘21). I’ve had the amazing opportunity to dance with him for 3 years, and I’ve watched him grow from a confident freshman to a campus leader in the dance, design, and POC community. We share the same entrepreneurial dreams and support each other in Cornell’s startup accelerator. Overall, he is consistently an authentic “giver” in a cutthroat environment. I am a better version of myself thanks to his friendship.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My mom (Ling Liu) — My mom studied relentlessly to go from being a poor 16-year-old girl in China, to one of five women at her university, to discovering a psoriasis drug (Taltz) that’s launched in the U.S. and Europe. It took over 15 years from her initial lab discovery to her drug being prescribed to patients; this has taught me the importance of patience and resilience in the entrepreneurship journey. I grew up watching her perfect her English, build a Chinese-American community in Indiana, and going the extra mile to make others happy. She is my inspiration to innovate and treat others with kindness. I love her so much.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  • Build a company in the gerontechnology space that employs 100+ people; I want to create a positive impact for future aging generations and contribute to society’s livelihood.
  • Start a nonprofit focused on supporting LGBTQ+ Asian American youth. I feel that mentorship or visibility would have greatly improved my teenage years.

What are your hobbies? In my free time, I dance with my hip-hop team and read self-help books. I really enjoy meal prep. On relaxed days, I watch WWE, Bojack Horseman, or stand-up comedy (especially Bo Burnham).

What made Jessica such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?  

“Jessica served as a teaching assistant with distinction. She brings enthusiasm to every student interaction and was particularly good at showing students the impact their communication skills would have on their career.  I could count on Jessica for creative ideas about how to make the course better. She grew into a respected leader among her peers.”

David Lennox
Director of Undergraduate Studies and Senior Lecturer of Management Communication



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