George Cheng

B.Sc. (Honours) '12

While fellow students in the School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering spent their time keeping up with their classes, George Cheng discovered a passion he hadn’t anticipated. “During my undergrad, I did a lot of research projects as well as research-focused co-op terms. I ended up developing a real love for research,” he says.

Several years later, he’s still immersed – and he hasn’t turned his back on SFU either.

After graduating, Cheng embarked on a research-based master’s program at the university but quickly moved onto a PhD before he’d even finished it. Now fully engaged in working towards his doctorate, he’s also the co-founder and COO of start-up company Empower Operations – a spin-off venture from the SFU Product Design and Optimization Laboratory where he conducts his research.

The business creates and develops cutting-edge software to accelerate product design for manufacturers, focusing on lowering costs and reducing time-to-market via design automation technologies. The approach evolved from ideas Cheng has been honing and testing throughout his years at the university.

“My research basically involves engineering optimization in the area of mechanical engineering,” says Cheng, who adds that SFU has always been a fertile area for his pursuit of ideas and solutions. “I like the research set-up at SFU and it’s given me a lots of opportunities and some interesting challenges.”

Launching a company, though, has created a new set of challenges for him to tackle. “We’re looking to commercialize the technology my research has been leading to. But running an enterprise is a different can of worms. Fortunately, we have a business mentor from SFU and a good team here to move us forward.”

Looking back on his time in the undergraduate program, it wasn’t just his research skills that were being polished. “Your first two years are really all about being as involved on campus as possible. As a student, you need to contribute to student life and develop new relationships,” says Cheng, who also chaired the SFU branch of Engineers Without Borders during his time in the program.

It was this period of his life that laid the groundwork for what’s become a burgeoning research career. “I’ll be progressing towards my PhD for the next few years but I already know that research is something I’ll always be doing throughout my life. And on the venture side, we’ll also be looking to bring this research to market.”