The Entrepreneurial Dream

A startup that’s gone global—because a President took time to listen, and offer some encouragement and advice.

Rico Mok ’15 is co-founder and chief technology officer of Onerent, a residential real estate tech and services company that manages over $1 billion in rental properties in 70 cities. He regularly shares how he and three friends started the company at SCU, and how he received invaluable help and guidance from numerous Santa Clara mentors, advisors, and even investors. The company is now an international operation with more than 200 employees.

For Mok, the road to living what he calls his “ultimate entrepreneurial dream” started with a gutsy email to Santa Clara’s President, Michael Engh, S.J.

As a very entrepreneurial kid growing up in Australia and attending elementary and middle school in Hong Kong, Mok decided that he wanted to be closer to the entrepreneurial action. So he convinced his parents to let him travel solo to the United States and attend Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland.

He spent a year after high school trying his luck at entrepreneurship, including a stint at a San Jose incubator where he created an iPhone app that helps people retrieve digital memories. Meanwhile, a career counselor recommended he check out Santa Clara University, where he promptly fell in love with the place, especially after reading a story about SCU student Diane Keng ’14 M.S. ’20, who graduated after having created—and sold—numerous startup companies.

“She was always my role model,” says Mok. “She was able to be a student and entrepreneur, and she received lots of support from SCU. I wanted to be just like her.”

However, realizing that he wasn’t going to be able to afford SCU without help, he tried a Hail Mary and—sitting in a coffee shop one day in 2014—composed and sent off an email to President Engh, whom he had never met.

Mok wrote about how much he loved SCU, admired students like Keng, and yearned to study there and become an entrepreneur.

To Mok’s happy surprise, Fr. Engh wrote back, inviting Mok to campus for a meeting. Engh listened to Mok’s dreams and encouraged him by telling him that Santa Clara had numerous entrepreneurship opportunities, and that students and alumni are a tight-knit group that helped each other.

“He really gave me the inspiration, not only that I could become an entrepreneur, but that Santa Clara is the place to be where I could have support to make that come true,” says Mok. He also believes Engh put in a good word for him so he received the financial aid that he needed to attend SCU.

All through school and even after he graduated with a degree in operations management and information systems, Mok says his correspondence with Engh has been a source of encouragement and guidance.

“Without fail, every single time, he responded to my emails,” Mok says. “He always spent the time to get back to me … to share some of his learnings from many years of his professional life and give me a very grounded perspective.

“All in all, Fr. Engh and a few other individuals really helped me get to where I am today,” he says. “Without his encouragement, without the opportunity, without Santa Clara as a school with many different departments and heads of departments giving us the encouragement and support … we wouldn’t have gotten up and running building the ultimate entrepreneurship dream—a scalable and impactful business.”

The upshot? “I’m forever thankful for him,” Mok says.



post-image Illustration by JOHN HENDRIX
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