SARATOGA SPRINGS – When Yumi Kageyama Refino entered an eight-week course in starting a business at IgniteU in Troy, she pitched a plan to use solar panels to melt snow and ice off of driveways. A few weeks in, she shifted to using virtual reality to teach Taekwondo coaches and judges.
Kageyama took the dramatic change in stride and emerged as a powerful, supportive and always-positive force within her cohort of other young entrepreneurs, according to people she worked with in the program.
“She had this amazing energy from the start, was always positive, always smiling,” said Samuel Mere, who was part of the same IgniteU cohort as Kageyama in 2018. ”No matter who won or lost the competition, she always put others before herself, always had great energy and positivity for everyone else to do well.”
By age 25, Kageyama, a 2014 Shenendehowa graduate, ran Risen Taekwondo studio in Malta with her husband, Eugene Refino, mentored other entrepreneurs and volunteered with local high school students interested in starting their own businesses. She died Aug. 19 after a car accident, leaving those who knew her grappling with the tragic loss of someone well before their time.
Kageyama was born Nov. 21, 1995; she and her family immigrated to the United States when she was 8 years old. She graduated from Shenendehowa High School in 2014 and Siena College in 2021, according to an obituary. In late May, she married Refino, her business and life partner. The couple started Risen Taekwondo in Malta in December 2016.
People who knew and worked with Kageyama remembered her as hardworking, driven, relentlessly positive and always willing to give back to others. Earlier this month she returned to the IgniteU program to serve as a judge, dispensing her own hard-earned wisdom as a young businesswoman.
Bob Manasier, who directs the entrepreneurship program, said Kageyama was a diligent, detailed worker who accepted constructive feedback from mentors and colleagues but was never afraid to stand up for her position on something. He said hearing the news of her death was like having a “piece of you ripped out.” He said she understood both her strengths and weaknesses and always worked to be better.
“She also always doubted her own skills, which we preach, you have to know your weaknesses as well as your strengths,” he said. “I think that she knew how to enjoy the journey, a lot of people always want to go to the end goal and get their fast and furious”
Manasier is working to establish a scholarship in her name at IgniteU; he said the scholarship will provide funding to someone in the program who demonstrates an ability to “pivot” from one business idea to another.
He said Kageyama’s resilience in switching her business proposal after facing technical difficulties in the solar-powered driveway clearing idea was an example of her strengths as an entrepreneur. He said no one has pivoted as well as she did.
“Even though she hated failure, she embraced it; it’s very hard to give up one your babies,” he said. “A lot of people change (ideas) and it disappears, because it’s too much work. And she stuck to it.”
Bill Dailey, a lawyer in the startup space who mentored Kageyama, said entrepreneurs can often be competitive but that she always brought kindness to her interactions with other people.
“She had an aura of kindness that carried over into every conversation, that seemed to carry into everything she did,” Dailey said. “The entrepreneurial world isn’t always the friendliest place and she made it a heck of a lot friendlier.”
Kageyama was also an accomplished Taekwondo athlete, rising to the level of a Black Belt instructor.
“Her passion for Taekwondo could be felt the moment she stepped on the Taekwondo floor, she loved it,” Michael Yuasz, a former instructor to Kageyama said in an email Thursday. “Our family is extremely shocked and saddened. She was and always will be a talented Taekwondo instructor who’s passion for Taekwondo and her students will be missed.”
Many of the parents whose kids she coached at Risen posted remembrances of Kageyama on the studio’s website in recent days, highlighting the special impact she had on her students.
“I’m so sorry to hear of Yumi’s passing, quite honestly totally speechless. I can’t thank you or her enough for helping my girls through some of their most difficult years. What an amazing mentor she was,” one person posted.
Another commenter said that the “loss of Ms. K will be felt forever.”
“Such a young, amazing and beautiful woman who used her incredible attitude and positivity to influence her community and the children who attended Risen,” the commenter wrote. “Her spirit will forever live on in those she touched.”
Dailey, one of Kageyama’s mentors, in describing his first thoughts after hearing about her passing encapsulated many of the emotions expressed on social media.
“This is an unjust thing to happen in the world, and the world is going to miss out on a lot,” Dailey said.
Kageyama, who lived in Saratoga Springs, is survived by her husband, Eugene Refino; her parents, Mee Nah Lim and Yuji Kageyama; her brother, Takaaki Kageyama; and her extended family. The family held a visitation on Thursday evening. Funeral services are scheduled for Friday at 11 a.m. at Grace Fellowship Church at 1 Enterprise Ave., Clifton Park.