Business in Vancouver's "How I Did It" feature asks business leaders to explain in their own words how they achieved a business goal in the face of significant entrepreneurial challenges. In this week's issue, Vicking Yau of VanAir Design Inc. describes how he and three other University of BC alumni won an innovation competition with their ventilated-door design and founded a new business venture on it.
"I was majoring in general business management, doing a BComm degree [at the University of BC]. There's a program that takes in three business students and three engineer students in each group. It's called New Venture Design.
"The idea is to bring together business and engineering students. The whole end goal is to commercialize a product or service. We were taught idea generation. We came up with lists of ideas, but we finally nailed it down to three. One idea was the ventilated door. We came to the conclusion it would be the most feasible one and the one we would be able to bring to market, given the eight-month timeline that we had.
"The idea came to me at home. I was studying in my room for hours on end and, basically, it gets stuffy. Your computer's on, your lamp's on, you have the windows closed, you have the doors closed. I don't like opening a door because my room is right next to the kitchen. I kind of want that sound privacy and also visual privacy.
"I noticed a lot of doors are hollow to begin with, so why not use that space and make a door function? We validated the airflow through the door in accordance with industry standards and used that information to talk to industry professionals about it.
"If you're looking at the door straight on, on the left or the right side of the door there's a slit. On the other side there's another slit, staggered. So you have one opening on the right side, then on the other side of the door it would be on the left side.
"Because we're creating an air channel into a door, we lose a bit of the sound privacy. Luckily, James Higgins, who's one of the lead engineers on the project, has a background in acoustics and ventilation.
"James integrated a lot of acoustical technology – acoustical foam – and resonation. The door has resonators that run the length of the door on both sides. These resonators, we can tune them to block a certain frequency of sound.
"When we got through the preliminary round, we were assigned a mentor – Akbar Hassanally. He helped our business model. There was a competition back in March – there were a lot of competitions. The one that we won was the Pacific Venture Capital Competition. These two investors approached us after and said we should talk. We had a meeting with them and we are in negotiations right now for startup capital.
"We have other products in mind, but we really want to focus on the doors right now. A lot of building codes are working in our favour, like the City of Richmond. They have new building codes for ventilation." •