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Alumni Spotlight: Meet Tien Huynh

After a transformational Youth Entrepreneurs experience, Tien Huynh went on to major in entrepreneurship at Wichita State University, then found quick professional success. Years later, he lost everything — and, relying on the resilience he learned from YE, he overcame obstacles to become a flourishing entrepreneur once again.
 
“Youth Entrepreneurs changes lives. Without YE, I probably wouldn't have experienced the successes I’ve been blessed with. But without YE, it wouldn’t have been as easy,” Tien says. “I was the son of a refugee 30 years ago. I lived in government housing, in the projects, the trailer park . . . I’ve lost my mom, my brother and my firstborn. But that adversity is part of what fuels me. No matter what, you don’t let anything hold you back. Being part of YE is one of those major milestones that changed my life.” Meet Tien Huynh, YE graduate and thriving entrepreneur.  
 
As a YE student: Tien was a senior at Northwest High School in Wichita, Kan. when he experienced YE. “It was one of those unique classes that not only taught us theory and concepts, but gave us a platform to apply that knowledge. That’s profound, and it’s how education should be.”
 
His YE mindset-shift moment: Tien can pinpoint the moment YE shifted his mindset. That day, he came home from school and told his dad he wanted to be an entrepreneur. “In an Asian family, we had three career choices: a doctor, an engineer or a lawyer. YE validated entrepreneurship for me. I told my dad I didn’t want to be an engineer at Boeing — I wanted to own Boeing.”
 
Tien’s career path: Tien quickly put his ambition into action. After studying entrepreneurship and earning his business degree from Wichita State, Tien took a role in economic development with the Wichita Chamber of Commerce. One initiative, Young Professionals of Wichita, is now in its 15th year with thousands of members. Tien continued on to Bombardier Learjet to pursue one of his professional goals: to sell airplanes. A brief season in HR led to a sales role.
 
His investment opportunity: While still at Bombardier, Tien had the opportunity to invest in T-Mobile stores in the Wichita market. “At one point, we were the largest T-Mobile owner between Kansas and Missouri, with 12 stores in total,” Tien recalls. Business was booming for the first three years. “But after that, we all took a big hit. The smaller stores were getting gobbled up,” Tien says. He lost not only his initial investment, but $140,000 more.
 
Resilience in action: Some of Tien’s toughest days were next. “I was in my late 20s, going from a successful entrepreneur to eating Ramen. My house nearly got foreclosed on,” Tien says. “I would pray every day on my way home from work that I wouldn’t run out of gas. And when I did run out of gas, I would pray that my credit card wouldn’t be declined.”
 
Bouncing back: “These were very trying times and for the longest time, I hid it all from my friends and family. But when your back is up against the wall, you’ll be surprised what you can do.” Tien quickly put his home up for rent, avoiding the impending foreclosure. At age 31, Tien moved back in with his parents and returned to Bombardier Learjet.
 
Tien’s next ventures: Soon after, some friends approached him with an opportunity to invest in a nightclub. He was hesitant at first, but after a thorough analysis, he saw potential in the investment. “We bought the business and owned it for nearly five years years.” During that time, the return on Tien’s investment was upwards of 500%. Tien’s next business was a Christian apparel company called Faith First Gear, launched in 2015. “The deeper I got into my faith, the more the two collided,” he said, and he and his partners sold the nightclub. Faith First Gear is thriving today.
 
Tien’s role today: Tien not only owns Faith First Gear, but also a corporate apparel company called Distinct Ink, which serves organizations with custom branded items. The latest of Tien’s ventures is a gym that just broke ground in Wichita. Opti-Life is now six weeks into the construction process. “I went from a place of running out of gas and eating Ramen to a financial upswing — in three years.”
 
Beyond work: He lives a vibrant life outside work as well. Tien is married to Ashley; their first daughter is in Heaven, and their second daughter Harlow is 13 months old. “They are my world,” he smiles. And as an active advisory council member and volunteer for YE, Tien loves giving back to the organization that gave him so much.
 
His YE passion: “I always talk about overcoming adversity when I talk about YE — life is not fair. Someone or something will try to hold you down. But if you let that adversity hold you back from where you want to be, then you don’t deserve what’s on the other side. YE helps our students  pass the baton on better than how they found it. You can’t help but feel passionate about the YE mission. A high tide raises all ships, and YE works on raising that high tide.”