Meet Luke Penaloza, a senior at SAS Puxi who has set his sights on the world of productivity with his app, ZenZone. From a gamer to a game-changer, Luke's journey began with a serendipitous gaming device mishap that catapulted him into a world of focus and productivity. With ZenZone, he's turned that revelation into an app that defeats procrastination, boosts mental health, and transforms both students and adults into productivity superheroes.
Tell me about your app, ZenZone, and what inspired you to make it.
At its core, ZenZone is an anti-procrastination app that I made out of a rising need for not only productivity, but also for better mental health for high schoolers. On ZenZone, users can enable “Focus Time” that will block sites and apps on their block lists, such as WeChat or Instagram. Only when your “Focus Time” is up can you access those sites. You can also get insights about your work habits and share your focus streaks with your friends.
I was a pretty big gamer in the 10th grade, but that year I had a lucky encounter where I broke my gaming device. Without games to distract me, I found that I not only got my homework done quicker, but I could do other things that made me even happier than playing video games like spending time with family or playing basketball outside.
After understanding the mechanism, it became evident that eliminating distractions was the key to achieving a productive work session with positive outcomes. This realization sparked my determination to transform this concept into a tangible product.
How does ZenZone differentiate itself from other productivity apps?
Our tagline is, “by teenagers, for the world.” Teenagers are, on average, the most distracted people in the world. That ironically makes us the best to build something to make you less distracted.
We’ve incorporated psychological studies into our design, drawing inspiration from our coursework in AP Language and AP Psychology. ZenZone has a recurring scheduling function so people can build healthy and sustainable online use habits, which is a big thing for my generation especially since mental health is tightly linked to social media, which is literally engineered to be addictive. Our primary goal is to provide a means for self-accountability.
Furthermore, ZenZone sets itself apart by allowing users to collect and share their statistics in an easily digestible format. Users receive curated infographics summarizing their activities, which can be shared with parents for accountability or with friends to inspire productive "Focus" sessions.
Did SAS help you in any way during the ZenZone creation?
Ms. Kelley, my high school English teacher, always encouraged me to take risks, saying, "If you want to try something, go for it, and SAS will provide support." This embodies the culture at SAS - a supportive and helpful environment. Following her advice, I launched ZenZone, and both Ms. Kelley and Ms. Liu, my social studies teacher, tested different iterations and offered valuable feedback. Notably, Mr. Caskie, my principal, and Ms. Lauck, my college counselor, proactively reached out to me to offer their assistance, allowing me to leverage their holistic perspective.
Additionally, I received valuable feedback from fellow students at the 2023 FBLA National Leadership Conference (NLC). FBLA, with over 250,000 members, hosts business competitions. Multiple SAS teams, including mine, qualified for the NLC after excelling in the FBLA China round, with my team achieving 1st place for Entrepreneurship in China. This led to a 3rd place finish at the NLC, connecting me with FBLA students, bolstering my confidence, and enhancing ZenZone's development as a social startup.
I heard you recently spoke at the UN SDG Summit this past September. Can you tell me how you were selected to be a speaker?
Over the past couple of years, I've been actively engaged in delivering talks and presentations centered around the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG3), which focuses on promoting good health and well-being. This goal deeply resonates with me, and is one of the world problems I would like to solve. Through the previous talks I did, different organizers and NGOs recommended me to the UN when they were looking for student leaders for the SDG Summit. I was really happy to receive an invitation from the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy of Youth.
At the Summit, one of the central discussions revolved around how universities can adapt to the evolving landscape. Given my background in founding a startup, I contributed a tech and innovation perspective. I emphasized the importance of equipping the next generation of students with essential soft skills, such as product design and pitching, which are currently underrepresented in mainstream education, especially in light of the ongoing advancements in AI.
Any advice for other student entrepreneurs?
A lot of students at SAS have projects they want to develop further, and I would really like to encourage them to put themselves out there, don’t be afraid even though it can be scary. I hope younger students can look at the steps I took and use that as inspiration to get started.
Thanks, Luke, for sharing your insights and accomplishments! We can’t wait to get in the zone with ZenZone.