UPS Proudly Unstoppable & WEConnect International

Karen Gao: Positive Energy

Karen Gao has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. She studied and grew up in the retail industry for 12 years and had two other business start-up experiences before launching her company, Youxin Coffee. After being exposed to the coffee industry through these prior experiences, she became inspired by how boutique coffee and coffee shops bring people together and “create a connection between people.” To this end, she traveled to Australia, Taiwan and Japan to experience local coffee culture and research the coffee market. Taking what she learned from her traveling research, she launched Youxin Coffee in 2015 out of a 5-square-meter coffee bar on the Shanghai Jiaotong University campus. 

“We spent more than six years, focusing on our mission and how we could grow the business to best serve the white-collar users high-quality coffee products and services around their offices,” says Karen. Her goal is to infuse the positivity and vitality of what she refers to as “coffee energy” into office spaces. This six-year growth plan, with a clear focus on mission and goals, paid off—there are now 23 Youxin Coffee cafes in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Karen’s incredible momentum was recognized when she received the WEConnect International 2022 Rise to the Challenge Award 

However, Youxin Coffee’s success did not come without challenges. “The domestic coffee market continues to mature and be aided by venture capital, and as a result competition has intensified,” says Karen. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including limited and slow access to raw materials and increasing costs of goods, also forced Youxin Coffee to slow down and problem-solve in order to meet consumer demand and keep cafes open.  

Facing these challenges, Karen was excited to learn that UPS and WEConnect International had partnered to launch the Proudly Unstoppable Women-Owned Small Business Grants Program earlier this year, which intended to provide up to $5,000 USD to businesses with financial need. She applied, was selected as a grantee and intends to use the funding to continue growing her business.  

“UPS knows that helping women-owned businesses is key to unlocking more prosperity for communities around the globe,” says Betsy Wilson, UPS VP Digital Marketing and Brand Management. “UPS and WEConnect International believe that women should have equal opportunities as men to compete in the global marketplace, and the Proudly Unstoppable initiative is one way to make this important ideal reality, and in turn, better our world.”  

WEConnect International’s mission is to drive money into the hands of women-owned businesses (WOB) by enabling them to compete in the global marketplace. They do this by connecting WOBs that have registered for free with WEConnect International with its 160 multinational member buyer organizations. All these multinational organizations are committed to supplier diversity and buying more products and services from WOBs globally. “WEConnect International has allowed me to make connections with other women business owners and to introduce Youxin Coffee to interested buyers around the world,” says Karen.  

Specifically, Karen hopes to use the UPS Unstoppable grant funding to support her three-year strategic growth plan, which includes providing more office solutions with high-quality coffee and expanding brand influence to become the most popular coffee chain among white-collar users in first-tier cities in China by 2025. Karen’s ambition combined with her genuine passion for coffee has propelled Youxin Coffee to where it is today and will certainly support its continued rapid growth—as she says, “Youxin Coffee is creating a better life with good coffee!” Now that’s some positive energy.  

Click to view all UPS Unstoppable & WEConnect International Awardees