Every term, university students kick off the start of school with a new set of textbooks. When you have assignments and exams to study for, it can be challenging to manage your workload, especially on tight deadlines. Kevin Chau, a York University student, saw this challenge as an opportunity to find a solution to a common problem and developed the Summary Scanner. The app summarizes documents within seconds and presents only the most important information. While the Summary Scanner app is not a replacement for your readings, it can be a great way to summarize key themes and terms that will help you gain an in-depth understanding of assigned texts. Supported by the app’s initial success on the Google Play Store with 70,000 downloads, Kevin pitched his innovation on the Canadian television show Dragons’ Den. From there, he made history as the first entrepreneur on the show to close a deal with all six Dragons. In this latest post, the #YUBlog team interviewed Kevin to discuss his journey as a budding entrepreneur and the development of the Summary Scanner.
Tell me about yourself and how your education at York informed your career in business.
KC: I recently graduated from the Financial & Business Economics program at York University. I’ve always had an interest in business and technology. I remember my favourite class in high school was business, and naturally, this led me to choose a business program. At York, I had the opportunity to work on several different projects in class and started to develop a passion for entrepreneurship. I also love technical programming, pursuing it in my free time. Overall, I have always sought ways to merge my interests of entrepreneurship, technology and business, and that’s how the Summary Scanner came to be.
Can you describe the Summary Scanner?
KC: The Summary Scanner is a mobile app that automatically lets you summarize any document in seconds from just a picture. Using different fields of artificial intelligence, it converts the image into a text file. Beyond that, the app can also generate study questions and allows for speed reading. After a year of development, the Summary Scanner was launched on July 18, 2016.
What is the inspiration behind the app?
KC: I remember having this textbook that I only opened twice during the whole term. It was too long to get through so I didn’t use it much. I figured I would look for a solution to get through it more efficiently, and that is how the idea of the Summary Scanner came to me.
How did you first get started with creating the Summary Scanner?
KC: After I experienced problems with time constraints and reading efficiency, I also noticed others had the exact same problem. I wanted to come up with a solution and create a product that would fulfill such a need. During my third-year internship, I started to learn how to program and became interested in the mobile app space. From there, I built on this foundation and expanded my limited technical experience. I spent countless hours a week learning how to code during my free time using online tutorials.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while creating the app and how did you overcome it?
KC: My biggest challenge was the technical development of the app. I didn’t have a formal education in the area, and so I was often stuck trying to optimize certain algorithms. The more I worked on it, the better I got. I was persistent in achieving my goals and this helped me to overcome the challenge.
What was it like to go on Dragons’ Den and to what do you attribute your success in making a deal?
KC: Going on Dragons’ Den was a great experience! I was a fan of the show for a long time and watched it in high school. I was nervous, but I put a lot of time and effort into ensuring I was prepared and confident. A few days before filming, I practiced with different scenarios and questions to develop my approach for each answer. Going into the Den, I was most worried about falling down the stairs! I believe I was successful because the Dragons recognized that I had a vision and a great idea to solve a problem. I was determined and demonstrated that I am dedicated to learning.
How has York supported your success?
KC: York University has helped me in different ways. Even though my program was focused on economics, a portion of it was based on finance and accounting. There were several applicable concepts that came into play when it comes to running a business. From my education, I gained the necessary skills to come up with reasonable projections and valuations to justify my numbers.
In terms of startup resources, York has a strong network of entrepreneurs. I was part of the Entrepreneurship Development Association (EDA) where I not only met student entrepreneurs like myself, but practitioners who helped me strengthen my ideas. I made lots of great connections and gained other resources, which ultimately encouraged me to explore and pursue entrepreneurship as a career.
If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice before you started, what would it be?
KC: My biggest piece of advice is to focus on yourself and your own knowledge, opposed to what others think. When I first started the app, I told my friends and brother about it but they didn’t think it was a good idea. This led me to doubt myself and question if my idea would work or if people would want to use it. However, I believed in my vision and myself. I was persistent and committed myself to solving a problem.
What are your next steps going forward?
KC: Going forward, I am not as focused on the mobile space. I initially started with a mobile app because it’s easy to use and very exciting. It works well because it’s for students and they have a phone with them all the time. However, it’s difficult to monetize the education space because there are huge chunks of time where university students are not in school, such as the winter holidays and summer months. So, the next step I foresee is to move into the business space. I am moving towards launching a web application targeted towards business enterprises since they conduct a lot of research and must process this information. I am excited about this new opportunity and looking forward to seeing where it takes me next!
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