As an epitome of a true entrepreneur, Zack Zhang (Founder and CEO of AI Shading) is an energetic engineer who is revolutionizing window shading with data and artificial intelligence (AI). Within his team at AI Shading is Catherine Chow (Project Manager at AI Shading). Much like the different methods of communication and collaboration between cultures, Catherine creates bridges the gap between the language of science and business together to bring a unique perspective and help solve problems. Working tirelessly to improve the world for everyone, AI Shading works to solve real clean tech and energy issues facing our planet today.
What does Asian Heritage Month mean to you?
“Asian Heritage Month is when I reflect on the history of Asians who arrived in Canada before me,” said Zack. “The reason why I am able to enjoy the diverse Canadian cultures is because of the hard work and sacrifices made by them.” A statement that can be perfectly exemplified through Catherine’s ancestral history.
“Asian Heritage Month means a celebration and reflection of all the things Asians have contributed to Canada, the hardships, strength and resilience. Growing up, my grandfather would tell stories of how our family came to settle in Alberta,” said Catherine. “His grandfather arrived in Alberta with his two brothers to participate in the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), being assigned to the Rocky Mountain area. His two brothers lost their lives in this endeavour, and their participation in the CPR marked the start of a deep connection between being Asian and Canadian in our family.”
After the CPR incident, Catherine’s great-great-grandfather decided to settle in the small town of Pincher Creek to open up City Cafe. “My great grandfather continued the entrepreneurial mindset with the City Cafe, renaming it the New City Restaurant, expanding the business. Later, my grandparents opened up the Forest Lawn Food Store in Calgary, and eventually the Harvest Moon restaurant in Sundre,” explained Catherine. “My grandmother’s grandfather came to Canada in 1911, eventually opening up a laundry shop in Quebec City. I often forget that my grandmother’s side of the family also came for the railways as she does not often speak of their sacrifices, but it’s always fascinating to learn more about our heritage. Asian Heritage Month gives us a chance to ask about our history, learn about the sacrifices, the successes and the failures, and celebrate our heritage. Take the chance to learn about your heritage this month.”
What role does your heritage play as an entrepreneur?
“My heritage plays an important role in how I approach things, taking the lessons learned from my great grandparents to always be innovating new ways to approach a problem,” shared Catherine. Similarly, Zack found that his heritage has given him opportunities to grow AI Shading. “The heritage of being able to speak Mandarin has greatly helped me to communicate with my suppliers and partners from Asia. Especially during the pandemic where travelling is limited, virtual communication has remained effective with the ability to speak multiple languages,” explained Zack.
But that’s not all, Catherine’s family has passed down the entrepreneurial spirit for generations. “My grandparents were always innovating new ways to market their restaurants and the food store. These methods may seem almost like no-brainers in today’s marketing era, but in the 1970’s my grandparents were already doing ‘Buy 9 loaves of bread, get the 10th free’. They would promote customer loyalty by handing out little freebies during the holidays, such as salt and pepper shaker sets, magnets, place mats, etc. This has shaped my mindset in any business venture to focus on what would customers like? What value makes them come again? It’s the relationship built between seller and customer.”
Why did you start your business?
“It struck me when I learned that, even in cold Canadian winters, glass tower buildings use AC to cool the rooms. Because when the sun is shining on the south side, rooms get overheated. It’s even worse in the summer,” said Zack. “That’s why we built AI Shading. We develop and offer AI-powered shading solutions, deliver optimized solar heat management, and make buildings much more energy efficient.”
What is one of the biggest and/or most difficult lesson you’ve had to learn as an entrepreneur?
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far as an entrepreneur is that things change, there are times when you think ‘This will be a success,’ but then you hit a roadblock. It might feel like it’s the end of the project, end of the business, but in reality it’s just a change,” said Catherine. “Maybe I need to change how I view it. I started out from one point of view thinking it would for sure work, but really I needed to view it from the opposite direction. Be it a marketing strategy, an implementation strategy or just how to do the paperwork.”
This piece is part of Startup Canada’s wider campaign to celebrate and honour Asian Heritage Month. Find more entrepreneur stories such as Zack’s and Catherine’s in our full list of Asian entrepreneurs who are shaking up Canada.