Next 36 Contender Chenny Xia ('14) is One to Watch

Chenny Xia, B.Des. ('14), Next36 Selection
Posted: Mon, 2014-04-28 14:15

More than 200 business leaders across Canada, including Jimmy Pattison, have placed Emily Carr student Chenny Xia (’14) on the list of Canada’s most promising young entrepreneurs.

The Next36 selected Chenny and 35 others from 1000 enterprising young applicants to participate in the entrepreneurship-immersion program, but Chenny is especially unique among her peers. Chenny puts Emily Carr on the list of just 13 Universities represented - she is the only designer in her cohort and it’s the first time that a specialized art and design school is part of this exciting program.

How it all began

We asked Chenny to tell us how she achieved this success and where it all began for her. Chenny's response is immediate. “I’ve been hooked on problem-solving and design since my first science fair at the age of 10." Furthermore, she was always around technology, even before that. At one time or another, her father worked for all the big name tech companies like Google, Microsoft and Adobe. She remembers, “I tried to code my first website template even before I was 10 years of age.”

Chenny reflects that her decision to decline an SFU scholarship wasn’t particularly pleasing to her parents. She points out that as a first generation Canadian who didn’t grow up with a lot, it meant she’d have to fund her own education, but she says she didn’t care. “I was always good at getting A’s on exams but that did not compare to the strong emotional connection I had to designing. So I did some Googling and was impressed by Emily Carr’s ranking in design on a global scale.”

Chenny Xia, soon-to-be graduate, Emily Carr University

Working all the while to pay for it, Chenny pursued her Bachelor of Design degree through part-time study at Emily Carr. As she neared completion in the fall of 2013, professor Christopher Hetherington completely caught her off guard. He was the one who drew her attention to the Next36 and suggested she apply – he knew her well, was impressed by her entrepreneurial nature and told her she was definitely a contender.

Competitive differentiators

When asked what set her apart in this highly competitive process, Chenny points to her design specialization as well as her real world experience in design. 

Her philosophy during part-time study has been to spend 90% of her time in professional environments, applying her design learning, and 10% in the academic environment. The real world experiences she had at Emily Carr included designing brand identities and developing a complex portal for employees to communicate within the Vancouver Coastal Heath network. The latter project gave Chenny exposure to thinking about communication between various age groups, functions, geolocations and backgrounds – doctors, nurses and janitors. Chenny enjoys this complexity.

She laughs that the learning is often in the mistakes, however, and that running her own consulting company for four years has been key to developing her confidence and a realistic understanding of designing for a client. Chenny quotes John Maeda, partner at KPCB Fellows Program in Silicon Valley, “Good design is about clarity over style, and accountability over ego.” She continues, “I listen to the stories that numbers tell. You could argue over what is a good idea and what is a bad idea all day…but really listening to those numbers is a much more efficient use of time and resources. Design is about constant research and revision.”

Chenny Xia and her Next36 cohort

At the Next36, the cohort has to pick teams to collaborate on a project and Chenny was in high demand among these peers – she and the engineer she’s now teamed with tied for the most people wanting to work with them. As the only designer in the cohort, she knows this is because only a designer thinks of and understands the customer / consumer perspective. Chenny says that "Those in commerce think about the numbers and the engineers think from a technical standpoint." The designer rounds out that team by bringing in the human aspect – an essential to success when differentiating consumer products in a tremendously cluttered landscape. (Check out Emily Carr's successful GrowLab collaboration to see how we're helping start-ups inject design right into the early stage mix - our new spring cohort was just announced.)

In Chenny’s words, “Design is the only discipline that really allows you to truly immerse yourself in the consumer’s experience. Design is the primary principle that allows you to iterate quickly. The designer is the socializer – the connection between product and consumer.”

There's no doubt she's doing what she loves.

Where to next?

Chenny is off to a brilliant start. Her favourite independent projects are all about solving problems and they’re getting noticed. Some have already received international recognition, others are up for awards right now. They include: Basis, a wrist-based health tracker; SchoolMessenger, a mobile app and notifications tool for K-12 districts; Real Estate Weekly, a real estate search engine; and Paigeeworld, a mobile app that teaches kids how to draw.

Basis won the CEA Innovation Award in 2012 and was a finalist for CNET Best of CES in 2013. Paigeeworld is nominated for this year’s Design Edge Regional Design Awards, or “Reggies”, which take place on April 27th at the Google Centre in Toronto. With the Next36 official kick-off also there on May 3rd, Chenny’s not sure she’ll make it to her own graduation.

We asked her to give us a hint about what she and her peers will be working on for the Next36 but she says we’ll have to stay tuned. She can’t release any information other than it’s taking the form of an iOS app and its primary goal is to allow individuals within organizations (employees, club members) to share ideas and thoughts anonymously. Based on a multiplication effect, and reciprocation of interest, growing comment volume around topics allows employers to get a sense through data of what important issues are on the rise internally - no sifting through reams of comment strings.

Official launch for the project is May 5th, and she and her two colleagues from the Next36 (one a commerce student from Queen’s, the other an engineer from U of T) are working to finish the website now.

In the startup world, Chenny is definitely "one to watch." Join us and follow Chenny on Twitter @Chenny_Xia. She's the “UX Strategist intent on changing the world one pixel at a time”

Chenny Xia, designer, Vancouver and San Francisco