Student-Led Business Incubator Harnesses AI For Good

By Daniel Langhorne
Melody Yu '25 and Derek Zuo '25 co-founded Future Labs last year as a start-up incubator for students interested in using AI to solve real-world problems.

When the pandemic’s fallout created havoc in the global logistics system, an unprecedented queue of massive cargo ships formed off Orange County amid a backlog of shipping containers moving through the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. As an avid sailor, Derek regularly observed black smoke spewing from the vessels and wondered if there was a more efficient way to manage marine traffic.

This question motivated Derek to research how machine learning could be used to prevent future logistics mishaps.

Last year, Melody was part of a duo who won the Congressional App Challenge in California’s 48th District for developing a smartphone app that uses AI to identify objects or hazards for people living with visual impairment. She’s enjoyed using her experience to steward the next generation of coders and entrepreneurs.

Melody and Derek say they complement a host of coding and business-related clubs already on campus by mentoring students in developing their own AI projects into start-up companies.

“When we ask our members to brainstorm, we say, ‘think of a problem you have in your life.’ How do you want to solve it? What skills do you have? How can you bring both answers together to find a solution,” Derek said. 

In March, Future Labs hosted over 400 parents and students at Sage Hill School for the Pitch for the Future summit to hear from entrepreneurial students engaged in technology and business. Darren Huang '26 pitched his project, Linkvance, which offers parents and their children a more efficient way to confront gaming addictions and boost productivity.

Summit attendees also heard from Shaurya Mittal '26, who noticed an uptick in his household’s trash from Postmates, Uber Eats and Doordash orders during the pandemic. He created a congressional award-winning smartphone app, EcoTakeOut, which uses an algorithm to assign scores for to-go meals based on the ingredients, packaging, logistics and other open source data.

“Next year, we definitely want to do [Pitch for the Future] again and I think our goal will be to showcase and really refine individual student projects,” Melody said.

Derek hopes that Future Labs’ members will learn from upperclassmen and other mentors and then decide to help incoming students pursue their own ventures in coming years. The Club encourages the Class of 2027 not to wait until the fall semester to think deeply about their own entrepreneurial interests.

“Our club really targets people who already have a passion for creating their own ideas,” Melody said. “I think it would be interesting if they brainstormed their own small business ideas.”

Follow Future Labs on Instagram @SageHillFutureLabs.  

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Sage Hill School admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the School. The School does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship programs, and athletic and other School administered programs.