Dad to Keira and Leah // Co-Founder and Director, Programming for Y2 Entrepreneurship Labs and Co-Lead, Startup York Region

If you’re active in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in York Region (or in some circles in the GTA for that matter), the name Lucas Chang might sound familiar to you. Lucas is a fervent advocate for entrepreneurs, evident through his own lifestyle and the ways in which he has chosen to give back to the community through his work. We joined Lucas at YSpace, one of the many places he frequents for meetings or speaking engagements, to chat more about his life as a business owner and parent.

YSpace is York University’s newest community innovation hub based in Markham, Ontario that supports high potential innovators to create a thriving and robust pipeline of talent. They help a growing number of entrepreneurs, community members, and youth build and scale their sustainable and impactful businesses in the York Region.

How did you become an entrepreneur and what was your background before doing what you’re doing?

I left my last full-time job in 2013 after spending 15 years in large corporate settings (TELUS and Accenture). I left because I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I didn’t have a set idea in mind, so I started out by starting a business consulting practice, with the mindset that if I didn’t land a contract within six months then maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. 

I ended up landing that crucial first contract which paved the way for what was to come. In January 2014, I started as a co-lead of Startup York Region, a platform for entrepreneurs to connect with each other and with local resources. Since then, Startup York has hosted a round table to understand what was needed in the region for entrepreneurs, partnered with several libraries in York Region to co-host the Entrepreneurs In Residence speaker series, and continues to host Startup Drinks, an informal, regular opportunity for local business owners to connect. In Jan 2015, I ran Startup Weekend York Region. I wanted to help propel that momentum forward for participants of the Startup Weekend, so I put together an inventory of resources in York Region. The first version was 7 pages and today the document is 29 pages. 

In putting the document together, I noticed there was nothing for teens who were curious about (not yet committed to) entrepreneurship – either they needed to skip school to find help outside of what was offered in class, or they had to wait for help to come to their school. I had the idea to bring startup founder training to high-school students during times that worked for them, and drafted the agenda for the Y2 conference. The first Y2 conference took place in October 2015, and we ran a second one in April 2016. In spring 2017, Y2 piloted an in-classroom program – 9 modules that took place weekly, and expanded on what we had done with the conferences, taking into account feedback from students and teachers. In fall 2017, we started delivering the program at other schools, and invited (and paid) other entrepreneurs to teach within schools. Since then, Y2 has run our 8th conference, we’re teaching at a few schools, and starting to teach design thinking to teachers. While I’d like Y2 to be my full-time focus, our revenues are still growing, so I’m consulting on the side to make personal ends meet.

With all of the work that you’re involved in, how do you carve out time for yourself? And for your kids?

I struggle with that – less because work is overwhelming, but more because I enjoy my “mission” and doing stuff to help more students build their problem-solving skills (and life skills) is fun for me – it’s easy for me to get caught up in an idea, and forget to do things like eat. What I do is book time in my calendar to do my own thing (for CrossFit, for naps, for Netflix) – this helps me feel less guilty about not doing work that I feel I should be doing.

I try to keep my time with my daughters, Keira and Leah, focused on them – I leave the laptop and phone in another room when we’re together.  I’m not perfect at it by any means, and sometimes I feel like I’m a bad parent, but I do try to stay present with them.

And there are times that I just need a break – when I’m feeling particularly worn down or tired, I give myself time and make sure to book it in the calendar.

Speaking of calendars – with two kids age 12 and 14 involved in lots of after-school activities, how do you manage to keep it all in check?

It’s all about managing the juggle, I think. For example, on Wednesdays, Leah has gymnastics practice from 5pm to 8:30pm in Markham, and Keira has volleyball practice from 7:30pmto 10pm in Scarborough. My Wednesday routine is to drive Leah to gymnastics by 5pm, head to CrossFit which goes from 5pm to 6pm, then head over to pick up Keira to drive 45 minutes to volleyball; I then head home to make use of the 2.5 hours (and eat at home instead of at a restaurant), and then head back to pick up Keira (Judy picks up Leah at 8:30pm).

While I’m at home, I’ll usually make something for Keira that she can eat post-practice, which I pack in a thermos for her to eat on the way home. In terms of overall organization, I rely on my calendar and to-do list pretty religiously.

“I started off just with a couple of stickers from conferences or work-related events, and Leah just took it over and totally customized it.”

Organization is key! Any other tips for keeping yourself organized?

I schedule time in my calendar to do work, so that I don’t lose myself in meetings and not have time to do actual work – and I schedule in things like workouts, eating, travel time, and sleeping early, because I’ve found that if it’s not in my calendar, I’m at risk of not doing it.  

I see my total work in streams, and I’ll mentally check on where each stream sits to make sure I’m not forgetting anything.  My to-do list is organized by those streams.

If I know something is due in 2 weeks and I need someone’s feedback before it’s finalized, I’ll send the material now and ask to book a feedback session say in a week – this way, I know there’s progress on this project even when the ball is not in my court, but I’ve set myself up to catch the ball when it returns.

You mentioned a pretty hectic-sounding day earlier. Is that a pretty typical day for you? 

No two days are the same! For example, this week is all over the place. On Monday, I’m running an all-afternoon event for some grade-8 students who are in the full Y2 in-school program. On Tuesday, I’m training 40 teachers on how to deliver design thinking workshops to their students. On Wednesday, I’m with my consulting client. On Thursday, I’m at York University to do some SHAD York things. On Friday, I’m speaking 3 times at one school in Richmond Hill (and have 2 conference calls in the midst of those speaking engagements).

What’s common to each day is this – each morning, I wake up and take a few moments to think about my intentions for the day. I usually ask myself “How will I make others’ lives better today?” before I fix myself a coffee and a bagel.

“This is my office! I’m all over the place so this backpack has my entire office inside – my laptop, cords and cables and notebooks.

Coffee is an absolute must for me as well! But since we can’t survive on a liquid diet alone, do you have any go-to recipes that make your busy life easier?

I’ve been preparing food that can serve as multiple meals (e.g. pasta sauce) on Sundays, and reheat it during the week – to reduce the temptation to order out. Some of my go-to recipes are:

  • Oven-roasted chicken thighs with potatoes or rice
  • Bulgogi over rice
  • “Lazy pot” – basically hot pot, but cooked on the stove so it’s less of a production

We’ve relied on technology like Marco Polo, Facetime and text to stay in touch. When I chauffeur them to and from activities, I’ll find a place to work while they’re doing their thing so I can stay on top of work and make use of the time.

Sounds like you have the meal planning on lock. What are some challenges that you’ve encountered with being an entrepreneur and a parent?

My daughters are 14 and 12 now, so they’ve got their own lives and passions. Keira, 14, loves volleyball and art, and Leah, 12, loves gymnastics and coding. Being there for them – be it chauffeuring them, watching them, hanging out with them, supporting them with their school work – has been challenging, particularly because we’re in different locations most of the time. 

Along with challenges of being a parent entrepreneur – can you share how your unique situation has positively impacted your kids?

I think what I strive to teach my kids is that no matter how many times you get knocked down, figure out how to get yourself back up. I speak about my challenges pretty openly with the girls and hope that it teaches them something. I want them to have these moments bookmarked in their mind about “I was in a tough situation, but here is how I got through it.” I don’t want them to make decisions based on fear, and I want them to know that they can help themselves even if a parent isn’t always there. I also point out to them that it’s the effort that counts – if you put consistent effort, over time you’ll net positive. These lessons aren’t necessarily unique to being an entrepreneur but I’ve definitely put myself out there a lot because of what I do, and I do think this is a learning opportunity for them.

A lot of your work actually involves high school age students. How do the girls feel about this?

Both girls have volunteered at multiple Y2 conferences, and I beta-tested the program in Keira’s grade-7 class a couple of years ago. While Keira has gone through the Y2 program, she’s at a point where it’s less cool to have her dad involved in her day-to-day stuff, so that’s something we’re navigating together and something that I’m definitely conscious of.

What’s your favourite part of the work you do? You kind of alluded to this earlier when you said you wake up thinking of who you’re going to positively impact that day.

I’m very grateful that I’m in this position where I can have a positive impact on students, and provide them with the tools and possibilities of problem-solving and entrepreneurship at an early age – and that I am blessed with opportunities to inspire the educators who then go on to work with the kids. 

What humbles and excites me is seeing someone – student or teacher – have that “Oh my God, I can DO this!” thought about something that they previously thought they couldn’t do. Seeing someone move from “no I can’t” to “what if I could….?” is something that fuels me.

As parents, this chat with Lucas really resonated with us. It makes us hopeful that there are people like him working to make a positive impact in the lives of young adults. Check out more about Y2 Entrepreneurship Labs here and learn about Startup York here.

Written by Jessica Gedge // Photographed by Joelle Segal