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Innovator Profile: Michael Cheng

Innovator Profiles highlight extraordinary community members that are making a difference.

If you were to peruse Michael Cheng’s Linkedin profile, the assumption would be that your eyes were playing tricks.

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Cheng’s profile lists 11 different businesses, ranging from an automotive buy and sell service (Automotive QuickTrade) to self-tightening shoelaces (Perfect Fit), to his most recent passion, WittyCookie, a web development company that offers small businesses the opportunity to have a new website built in seven days, all founded by a 22-year old former Hong Kong native.

It should come as no surprise that the Simon Fraser University School of Interactive Arts and Technology student was recognized by the Surrey Board of Trade with a Top 25 Under 25 award, primarily due to his role as founder of the inaugural edition of TEDxSFU.

Recently, Michael won Surrey’s 2012 Student Entrepreneur of the Year.
Cheng received the honour – presented by Joanne Curry, SFU Surrey’s executive director, on behalf of the Surrey Board of Trade – during the city’s Business Excellence Awards banquet Nov. 15.

Michael also won SFU’s 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year (SEY) award, as well the People's Choice Award after winning 1st place at SEY 2012, two weeks after netting the Surrey Board of Trade’s student award of the same title.

To add to the honours, Michael has been elected as one of Canada's top 36 student entrepreneurs given $80,000 in seed funding to launch a high-impact venture with the mentorship from top CEOs and Professors from Harvard.

Cheng is quick to credit SFU’s SIAT program and it’s collaborative nature for fostering his ability to bring his innovations to life.

“This is a really fast moving program, not a lot of universities offer something that is this technical or that moves this quickly with technology, ” says Cheng, who moved with his family to Port Moody, B.C. from Hong Kong in the second grade.

“But really it is the opportunity to collaborate. SIAT takes game designers, web designers, user experience designers, people with different backgrounds and skills that are quite diverse, and puts them together to work on a single project to build something innovative.”

It’s that collaborative spirit that enticed Cheng to bring TEDxSFU, and its mission of 'ideas worth spreading,' to the university in 2011. The breadth of speakers at the event was impressive, a list that included former VANOC CEO John Furlong and Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu.

But it’s the spirit of the TEDx movement that Cheng believes will empower the sold-out audience long after they left the day-long event at SFU's Surrey campus.

“One of my favourite expressions is ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.’ and I really saw that on display with TEDxSFU,” adds Cheng.

“I think it’s the same thing that my university is doing, TEDxSFU is another example of community-engagement, because it is empowering students to make a difference in their communities.”

“SFU is about building the leaders of tomorrow, and if you always put the same people in the room, you don’t learn anything new. But by bringing people with diverse backgrounds and diverse perspectives together, that is how you really foster innovation.”

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