As May draws to a close, so too does Asian Heritage Month, which celebrates and recognizes the vibrant social, economic, cultural, political, research and other innumerable community contributions by people of East, South, Southeast, Central and Western Asian descent.
Over the years, VEC staff have had the pleasure of working alongside many brilliant Vancouver and BC entrepreneurs, investors, community organizers, not-for-profit advocates and artists, many of whom have been of Asian descent. This feature is a modest show of appreciation and solidarity with some of the friends, colleagues, collaborators and leaders whom we have crossed paths with or taken inspiration from as we work on building an inclusive, equitable, innovative and resilient economy for all.
Each of these people to watch embody championship, success, community and building resilience in some way – and they are gaining momentum.
This is a very brief list meant to uplift some brilliant people doing incredible work within their spheres of influence, but who may still be hidden gems in the economic development ecosystem. We look forward to spotlighting many others in the near future.
Research Manager, AbCellera
Fatima Ahmed is a scientist and research professional trained in immunology and molecular biology, and a focus on infectious diseases and global health. She currently works at AbCellera, a company that identifies antibodies for developing therapeutics. Outside her research career, she is committed to providing support to racialized and underserved minorities through settlement services, mentorship and art therapy.
Founder & CEO, A Thinking Ape
Kenshi Araski boasts a keen intuition about human psychology. The co-founder of A Thinking Ape develops his apps with the understanding that gamers crave online communities – so, while the apps are free to download, bustling online forums entice users to indulge in performance-boosting extras. In 2020, the company was acquired by the Embracer Group for US$105 million, and continues to operate as an independent studio.
Director of National Operations, YELL Canada
A considerate yet enthusiastic bridge-builder with a knack and knowledge of how events can catalyze community, Vivian Chan has worked with Canadian companies and entrepreneurs for more than a decade. As director of national operations of YELL Canada, she works on various initiatives supporting the startup and tech community in Vancouver. She also serves the startup community as co-chair of the vibrant Vancouver Startup Week.
Samarth “Sam” Chandola
Founder & CEO of V2 Games, Founder, First Fund
Serial entrepreneur Sam Chandola founded V2 Games, a Vancouver-based gaming studio; co-founded Pepper Esports, an online esports management platform; founded Covid Helper, a non-commercial initiative that helps people most affected by the global pandemic; and serves as an advisor to several gaming startups – and that hardly scratches the surface of his record. He is also an investor in early-stage startups, founding First Fund along with a group of other like-minded investors who sought to solve a critical early-stage funding gap.
Donna & Nouver Cheung
Co-Founders of Wakefield Productions
The Wakefield Agency prioritizes work with impact-driven, values-based businesses, amplifying and sharing their stories through compelling video production. A Certified B Corporation, the agency – founded by life partners Donna and Nouver – is committed to driving sustainable and responsible change… and helping people make and grow their impact with moving stories is an effective and compelling step.
Co-Founder, GM/Head of 3D at Shape, Co-Founder, Launch Academy, Co-President, VR/AR Vancouver
Alex Chuang is a prolific entrepreneur, thought leader and community pillar in Vancouver’s innovation ecosystem. Alex co-founded Launch, Vancouver’s first early-stage incubator – alongside Ray Walia in 2012. The company grew swiftly, evolving into Western Canada’s leading entrepreneurship facility helping Canadian and international founders build their businesses. Along with fellow VR/AR Vancouver co-president Dan Burgar, Alex was instrumental in the extensive ecosystem mapping and assessment of Vancouver and BC’s VR/AR industry.
President & CEO of Lions Gate International, angel/VC investor and advisor
A successful investor and advisor, Maninder Dhaliwal – who is also co-founder and CEO of Lion’s Gate International – has emerged as a champion for young technology companies in Vancouver and Canada. Among her many notable accomplishments is founding TiE Angels Vancouver, an investor forum that leverages a global network to connect early-stage startups with angel investors, serial entrepreneurs and high-tech executives.
Dr. Amal Ghazal
Professor of History & Islamic Studies; Director of the Canadian Centre of Comparative Muslim Studies
Dr. Amal Ghazal was born in Lebanon, and lived through the country’s civil war as well as the Israeli invasions. Her fascination with politics and Middle Eastern and Islamic history led her to become the first recipient of the Simon Fraser University Professorship in the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies and Culture, where she serves as Director of the Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies. Dr. Ghazal has written several articles, though is best known for her groundbreaking book Islamic Reform and Arab Nationalism: Expanding the Crescent from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, 1880s-1930s.
CEO & Co-Founder, Variational AI
Handol Kim is the CEO and co-founder of Variational AI, which applies state-of-the-art AI to novel drug discovery. His track record includes more than 20 years of executive experience in venture-backed startups and technology companies in Silicon Valley, Asia Pacific and Canada. A thoughtful and outspoken advocate for the machine learning and artificial intelligence industry and the broader innovation ecosystem in BC, he also serves as a director of the AInBC industry coalition.
CEO and executive director of Greater Vancouver Professional Theatres Alliance, ArtVest
Firmly rooted in BC’s arts and culture scene, Kenji Maeda is a keen facilitator, community educator, and bridge-builder for the performing arts community. Kenji has given hundreds of presentations on innumerable topics relevant to arts and culture and led workshops in collaboration with more than 150 arts and culture organizations with the goal of strategizing private sector partnerships. An expert on thriving as a cultural entrepreneur, he is also a lecturer for a course of the same name at Simon Fraser University. He remains a loyal champion for the industry, leading community outreach and research efforts to inform recovery funding to successfully restart the arts in BC.
Under Brian’s leadership, 221A – which he co-founded during the height of the 2007-08 global economic crisis – has grown into a citywide network that provides space for public art, artists’ studios and research. The organization is also developing an independent Vancouver Cultural Land Trust, a charitable non-profit that facilitates a collective response to rising real estate prices affecting local artists. Committed to advancing public appreciation of the arts while speaking out against inequality, xenophobia and colonialism, Brian is an active critic and advisor who isn’t afraid to stand as a voice of anti-racism in Canada.
Founder, LNG Studios. Creative media entrepreneur
Raised in an entrepreneurial environment, Leon Ng lives a step ahead of the curve. Under his leadership, his creative visualization agency LNG Studios has achieved many industry milestones: first drone operator in Canada, first to bring Matterport – the standard for 3D space capture – to Canada. It’s no wonder that, when the global pandemic hit, Leon saw an opportunity to pivot his business for a good cause, leveraging the architectural 3D printing department to produce over 10,000 face shields for healthcare workers
CEO & Co-Founder, MetaOptima
A model example of the crucial and transformative role that IP from our research universities can be effectively applied, award-winning entrepreneur and researcher Dr. Maryam Sadeghi’s star continues to rise. Maryam co-founded MetaOptima Technology, whose innovative DermEngine – an intelligent dermatology platform – and MoleScope – a mobile dermoscope – aid in the early, rapid diagnosis and prevention of skin cancers, and has been used for more than a million patients worldwide.
Founder, Granted Consulting
Stephanie Sang founded Granted Consulting to help SMEs leverage grant money to increase the success of their businesses, boasting a success rate of over 92 percent. This innovator is also a community advocate: in response to the global pandemic, she founded Masked for Work, which develops high-tech, branded and reusable masks for businesses, governments and nonprofits across Canada and the US.
Leslie & Mark Shieh
Tomo is a Vancouver-based real estate company founded by life partners Leslie and Mark Shieh. They believe interesting cities are more than their buildings, and whose research-driven approach challenges them to engage with complex urban issues, including the local economy and aging in place. The duo brings robust expertise in civil engineering and community economic development to the question of how to leverage real estate to build community and economic resilience and further social and environmental goals.
Passionate about business and leadership, Suzanne is an award-winning CPA-turned-entrepreneur dedicated to promoting social change through business. With over 30 years of financial and executive management experience, Suzanne leads Aisle, an award-winning impact venture recognized for its social and environmental leadership. A passionate advocate of women’s equity, health and entrepreneurial success, Suzanne is an ideal (and sought-after) mentor for those looking to work in sustainable business practices.
CEO of Wishpond
With more businesses taking their operations online, marketing solutions that aid local retailers in reaching online shoppers at an affordable price could be an enormous boon to SMEs. Co-founder and CEO Ali Tajskander started Wishpond with a vision to empower entrepreneurs to achieve success, regardless of their size or industry… and with consumers spending more time online than ever before, his vision could be a decisive player in helping small businesses excel through this paradigm shift.
Dr. Ali Tehrani and his biotech company Zymeworks – which unites over 300 scientists and business professionals in the mutual goal of defeating cancer – have been anchoring influences in Vancouver’s life sciences ecosystem for years. Both a scientist, mentor and businessman, Dr. Tehrani (who stepped down as CEO in February 2022) has helped Zymeworks raise seed and angel financing to discover, develop and commercialize multifunctional biotherapeutics and some auto-immune diseases.
Driven by a lifelong passion for diversity and inclusion, Tammy Tsang founded AndHumanity to elevate underrepresented voices – including, but not limited to, BIPOC, LGBTQ2S+, people with invisible and visible diverse-abilities, socio-economic status, age and gender – by working with authentic brands to design thoughtful content and influence social change. Certified in DEI through the Canadian Centre for Diversity, Tammy is gaining an international reputation as a powerful advocate for equality.
Director, Canada Climate Law Initiative
Juvarya Veltkamp is Director at the Canada Climate Law Initiative. Prior to holding this position, Juvarya spearheaded and delivered transformative and leading research, program development and advocacy on the green economy, green jobs, business development and market research for green jobs during her 10-year tenure at the Vancouver Economic Commission. She is in-demand as a speaker, market expert and program advisor – and was recently elected to the Vancity board of directors.
Co-Founder of Lighthouse Labs
Khurram Virani started Lighthouse Labs, a Vancouver-based coding bootcamp, to help adults with all backgrounds learn how to code and become professional developers. The company has an impressive success rate, with 100 percent of alumni placed in paid junior developer internship roles. Khurram also owns Toronto-based software development firm Functional Imperative, which produces custom software for businesses in the legal, education, medical and financial industries.
Director, National Social Value Fund, and Founder and Growth Strategist at Olencha Consulting
As champion to numerous social enterprises and purpose-led organizations, Elena Yugai’s track record illustrates her devotion to social entrepreneurship and impact investment. As board director at the not-for-profit National Social Value Fund, and as a mentor and advisor at Groundswell Social Ventures, she supports diverse peoples – notably youth and newcomer women – with her expertise on growth strategy, financial modelling, early-stage investment mechanisms, investment portfolio management, and gender and racial equity.