Vincent Cheung, entrepreneur and computer engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto, wins $25,000 here, $10,000 there, but he’s not a gambler. He’s the king of the business contest circuit.
Since November, Cheung has been entering his business, based on photo collage-making software he invented called Shape Collage, into competitions around North America. He just beat out 600 other student entrepreneurs from across Canada for a $10,000 prize from the Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship (ACE) organization, a victory that follows another first-place finish and $25,000 from the Richard Ivey School of Business, a $10,000 prize from the MaRS Upstart competition, and smaller prizes from a number of other contests. All told, the winnings add up to $50,000. “I’m not overly concerned with money,” says the 29-year-old, who grew up in Winnipeg. “It’s a sign of success, but I’m an engineer; I like making things.” And, when you consider the six-figure salary he’s earning from his company, and his well over $150,000 in scholarships, the cash really isn’t that important anyway.
Cheung, like a real life Alex P. Keaton, has also landed coveted internships at Google and Microsoft, and is such an impressive student that he basically skipped U of T’s master’s program and went straight into working on his Ph.D., which he plans to finish this year. But he says he’s learned all he can from competitions, and that he plans to use the experiences, which included having his business model picked apart by lawyers, entrepreneurs and other business people, to continue growing his company. Then he hopes to sell Shape Collage and use the capital to create some new and innovative software. Amy Harder, president of ACE, is sure the new business will work out fine. “To him there’s no such thing as limitation,” she says. “Being successful comes naturally.”