While businesses like to talk the talk on sustainabilty, simply to improve sales or cut costs, they need to walk the walk, said Ivey Business School student Cynthia Liao.
“To me, sustainability is about creating effective and efficient solutions that improve the lives of people around the world,” Liao said. “It is about looking high-level, taking into account the political, economic and social context of a problem and finding an innovative and integrated solution. Sustainability is about reprioritizing, placing people before profit and finding ways to optimize both.
“For an initiative to have impact, it must improve the lives of other people, not simply a number on the balance sheet.”
This business axiom has earned Liao a spot in The Next 36, Canada’s most selective program for young entrepreneurs to become the most successful future business leaders and innovators. More than 1,000 applicants apply each year for this highly sought after program, which runs through next summer.
Liao was joined by Computer Science student Shenglong Gao as the Western representatives on the list.
Liao has friends in Ivey who have participated in the program, now entering its fourth year, and she was told it would be a phenomenal opportunity. Set up in teams of three, Liao has already been meeting with her teammates – two University of Toronto students – through Skype, as they prepare their entrepreneurial venture.
“It will depend on the team dynamics as to what our idea is,” she said. “We all want to be entrepreneurs and are looking for the experience that will accelerate that for us.”
Liao hopes the venture will involve some sort of social entrepreneurship, which is her passion. She said there are a lot of problems in the world that can’t always be solved by institutions or big business. It is the young entrepreneurs using the innovation and technology presented to them that are implementing the solutions, Liao added.
“That’s what really drives me to go out there and do this, to become one of the change makers,” she said. “There is a lot of money with people donating to charities and non-profits, but is that change sustainable? It’s more about driving sustainable growth and development, as opposed to having Band-Aid solutions.
“The only way to make an impact is through entrepreneurship. It’s not about throwing money at a particular problem.”
Liao said she would love to work in the health-care field, in terms of medical device innovation, where she sees growth potential in countries lacking sufficient health care resources.
“There is a lot of bureaucracy, changes aren’t being pushed through fast enough and people are not getting the best care they need – and that’s here,” said Liao. “It’s much more drastic in other countries.”
– Paul Mayne
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Shenglong Gao knows where he wants to go. He’s just taking a roundabout route.
The fourth-year Western Computer Science student sees himself heading his own company in 10 years. They key to his success, however, is a malleable roadmap he’s been happy to follow.
“My life has been everywhere,” said Gao, who is originally from China, having lived for four years in Australia, before immigrating to Canada at 8 years old.
One thing’s for certain on Gao’s journey, though – The Next 36 will play a role in getting him to the top. Gao was recently chosen for the program, one that aims to bolster young entrepreneurs in order to help them become innovative leaders of tomorrow. The highly selective program sees more than 1,000 applications across Canada each year.
Gao was joined by Ivey Business School student Cynthia Liao as the Western representatives on the list.
His first taste of the business world started with him as a young entrepreneur in Halifax, N.S., heading a mass multi-player online gaming project of 280,000 user accounts.
Reeling from the excitement of this project’s success, he came to Western four years ago to study Finance and Computer Science, under an old Management and Organizational Studies (BMOS) module. But Gao continued to let life take him all over.
“I went to the Shaolin Temple in China, and I trained in martial arts there, which I found exciting and unique. It’s supposed to be the origin of martial arts; it was a fun place to be. We learned a lot of things like how to throw needles through glass,” he said.
“I’ve done a lot of exciting things, and when I came here (to Western), I was very much into business and I wanted to go to Ivey. I thought things were set, and then I got an internship at Microsoft last summer. I worked in the national language group and it was a lot of fun. I came back and I had a lot of offers, but decided it would be best to do my own thing,” Gao explained, noting his focus in school shifted entirely to Computer Science at this point.
“The Next 36 is a great place to start with my own company. They are going to teach me what I need to know to grow a start-up and provide a lot of the resources I would normally lack,” he added.
Having formed a team of four with The Next 36, Gao is forging ahead with a project tentatively titled Sportal. What it is, essentially, is a sensor device an athlete would wear while playing a sport. The device is designed to give the athlete feedback on technique.
It’s difficult for athletes to adapt their physical movement to feedback from coaches who may say something like, ‘You need to aim higher,’ or ‘You need to bend more at the elbow,’ Gao explained. It’s not a fault in coaching; it’s more a fault in a general inability to spot the mechanical error exactly where, and exactly as it happens.
This is what the sensors would do.
“We developed this device and we are prototyping it right now. You attach it to your arm, or your hand, and as you make a motion, it’s calibrated to something we call ‘an optimal shot,’ which might be your optimal shot that your coach has set out for you, or a downloaded optimal shot from a professional player,” Gao explained.
“The idea is we will recalibrate it for your body. As you make that shot, whenever you make that mistake, it will give you biofeedback, like a vibration or mild shock, to tell you where you made your mistake. Eventually we envision it as a smart device, where you can look at your phone and it will show me if my arm is going up too high.”
The device would be applicable to any sport, he added, and would benefit a wide variety of athletes, allowing them to speed up their improvement in technique.
“Ten years from now, I hope to be running my own company. I want the good work I do to reflect directly on my success,” he said.
– Adela Talbot