LOS ANGELES -- At 18 years old, Anthony Zhang was a freshman at the University of Southern California when he stumbled into what would become a flourishing food delivery business to students on campus called EnvoyNow.
"When me and my friends were studying, I'd always hear them complaining, 'oh I'd pay someone $10 if they brought me a burrito. I'm so hungry right now,'" recalled Zhang. "So one day I was like, 'are you guys serious? I'll do it for $10 if you pay me,'" he added.
And with that the idea was born. EnvoyNow started small, but quickly spread throughout USC's campus.
The next year Zhang found himself on stage with "Shark Tank's" Mark Cuban and Mark Burnett, pitching to them during the pair's guest speaking event on campus.
"At the end of the pitch, Mark Burnett was like, 'you forgot the most important part. What's your ask?' I hadn't rehearsed the pitch," Zhang said. "I didn't really know how much to ask for investment so I pulled the first two numbers that popped into my head - $100,000 for 10 percent, and Mark Burnett said, 'OK, I'll do the deal.' So, on stage I just received a $100,000 offer valuing my company at $1 million dollars. I was like, 'holy crap!'"
That was sophomore year. After that, Zhang dropped everything to make EnvoyNow his sole focus.
"We grew from three campuses to seven that first fall semester. Then seven to 22 in that spring semester," Zhang said.
Things couldn't have looked brighter for the young entrepreneur, but everything changed that April.
He and his girlfriend McKenna Weinstein were at a pool party in Las Vegas with friends. Zhang decided to dive into the pool, but misjudged the depth and smashed his head on the bottom. The accident shattered his neck and spinal cord, leaving him a quadriplegic.
"I just dove in and then remember not being able to move anything. It was really scary. I was just floating in the pool," Zhang said.
Fortunately one of his friends noticed he didn't come up and rescued him from the water. Weinstein remembers watching the accident and can't hold back tears as she recalls the night.
"I just remember him diving in and he didn't come up. It's hard for me to even look back and remember what I did in the moment because I was just in so much shock that I kind of just went numb," she said.
Zhang spent several weeks in the ICU with complications before transferring to Craig Hospital in Denver, which specializes in spinal cord injuries.
"I could barely move my arms before. My hands couldn't pick anything up and I definitely could not sit up for more than 10 minutes without being light headed," he said.
Zhang refused to give up. Weinstein dropped out of school at USC to be by his side for the eight months of intensive therapy at Craig Hospital.
"It's the kind of thing you have to take day by day. You get one little movement back you just work with that and keep improving it," Weinstein said.
Zhang worked hard doing five to eight hours of therapy a day. He was lucky because with the intense rehab his body was able to recover and he has use of his arms now and is still working to regain more mobility, strength and independence.
About half way into Zhang's rehab he decided to check in on his company EnvoyNow and discovered that without him it was on the brink of collapse. His co-founders wanted out.
Not wanting to lose the company Zhang said had defined him not long before and which he believed still had great promise, he explains he called up each member of the company.
"I said, 'hey, the co-founders are leaving. I really want to come back as CEO, but I'm doing rehab five hours a day. Are you guys down to put in 300 percent to try and get a good outcome for us? I really think we can do it,'" Zhang said.
Zhang said he was able to convince them to stay with him taking on a strategy and vision role until he completed therapy.
"We were able to get 12 straight weeks of double-digit growth consecutively," he said.
Even more insane, Zhang recently sold EnvoyNow in an acquisition deal of which he can't disclose the financials for but said it was a good offer.
Not long after that, the now 22-year-old launched a new company called Know Your VC. It's a platform for founders of new enterprises to anonymously or publicly share vetted reviews on venture capitalists and angel investors.
"It's kind of like a Yelp for the venture capital world," Zhang said.
As much as he won't let his mind stop working, he isn't giving up on his body either.
With Weinstein by his side, they make an invincible team and he continues to do eight hours of physical therapy a week.
"I owe it to myself to keep working toward this. Hopefully in two years, five years or 10 years, I can be up walking again. It's easy to stay in bed all day and feel sorry for yourself and be in pain all day, but I think it's definitely worth it to continue to grow and put yourself out there and not let this define your life," he said.
Young entrepreneur still making deals after accident left him quadriplegic
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