October 30, 2020
Being a young female entrepreneur can be challenging, but Lyn Chen hasn’t let it slow her down in the slightest. Chen, who grew up in Scarborough, is already on her second company.
But that wasn’t the start of her entrepreneurial journey. She’s always had an enterprising streak, learned from her parents when she assisted them in their business as a child. When she was 10, she decided to sell chocolate bars for her classmates during a school fundraising campaign. Later she created and sold her own comics.
“I think it’s never too old or too young to start,” Chen said. ” I just want to encourage people who are younger or older to pursue startups if they have a grand vision and they want to work hard on something that they believe in.”
No stranger to the robust startup ecosystem in York Region, her first company, Candy Cutlery, started at Y2 Entrepreneurship Labs. It was then incubated for six months at York University’s Markham innovation hub, YSpace. Chen also spent part of a year employed by technology hub ventureLAB in Markham, working with startups.
After three years, one of her Candy Cutlery co-founders, Liyan Cai, took over the business when Chen moved to an artificial intelligence (AI) startup, whose work took her to New York and Tokyo. That in turn led to a renewed interest in technology, and to her wondering what being a technology entrepreneur would look like. In her quest to learn more, Chen reached out to Colin Chartier, a LinkedIn acquaintance, who was researching how to make software development easier. The two worked together part-time on the concepts, and then co-founded LayerCI, where Chartier is now Chief Executive Officer and Chen Chief Operating Officer.
LayerCI was part of the summer 2020 Y Combinator cohort, where early-stage startups are mentored and receive funding. The Y Combinator community then helps founders through the life of their company. Notable alumni include the founders of Airbnb, Dropbox, Instacart, and Twitch. Chen proudly noted that LayerCI was one of only 11 Canadian companies chosen out of the more than 12,000 applicants.
“The [Y Combinator network] puts us on the radar of Silicon Valley. So we’re proud to be backed by wonderful investors in the valley, have amazing customers internationally and are excited to leverage this network to grow our company into a billion-dollar company,” she said.
So, what drives Lyn Chen?
“I think it’s a combination of wanting to learn every day, which sounds super nerdy, but it’s true,” she said. “And people around me are really important to me. I am so grateful for the York Region [startup support] network, and for my first mentor who I met at Y2. I also have a little sister who’s 12 and I just want to be best role model I can be for her.”
Her early mentors from York Region share the sentiment. “I think Lyn is successful because she has the ability to be mature and level headed and she is not afraid to listen and make an educated decision on how to best push her company forward,” said David Kwok, associate director, entrepreneurship in the Office of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation at York University, who worked with Chen at YSpace. “She is also very positive and builds many great relationships with investors, partners and mentors. She has many interests, but she is always on the lookout for opportunities; she is probably one of the most positive and forward-thinking entrepreneurs I know, who is not afraid to ask the questions.”
If you want to learn more about the region’s robust startup support network, including funding, accelerator programs and more, visit yrinnovation.ca. If you’re interested in starting or expanding a small business in York Region, visit yorksmallbusiness.ca