BEMIDJI -- Kin Mun Chew said he caught the entrepreneurial spirit when he enrolled at Bemidji State University. That’s also where he met his wife, Amber Leong. Both came to Bemidji from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
He graduated with degrees in finance and economics in 2006. She graduated with a communications degree in 2005. They moved to the Twin Cities, combined those backgrounds and co-founded a company Circadian Optics, a Minneapolis-based startup that makes light therapy lamps.
Leong, 35, will represent the company on the ABC television show “Shark Tank” at 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6. She taped the episode in June and cannot reveal results ahead of the broadcast.
“Shark Tank” is an Emmy Award-winning show where entrepreneurs have their business ideas evaluated by an expert panel of self-made millionaire and billionaire business moguls and venture capitalists and compete for the chance to secure real-life investment deals.
“It was the most terrifying thing that I’ve done in my life," Amber said. “But once I started going I realized that all I had to do was really explain the business and what our product does. No one knows it more than me. That’s how I regained my confidence and momentum as I was pitching. I really did my best. I gave it my all, laid it all out there.”
Kin, now 37, started his first business when he was a senior at BSU. He sold overstock outdoor sporting goods and apparel out of his dorm room. It grew to the point where the commotion of a daily UPS delivery coming up to his room to pick up packages got Kin kicked out of the dorm.
“I was given an ultimatum,” he said. “Close the business or move out.”
He chose to move out, on a cold day in February, into a basement apartment across town.
“What a long and strange journey it has been,” he said. “I thank everyone, even getting kicked out of the dorms taught me grit and determination.”
They co-founded Circadian Optics in 2016, creating an innovative line of light therapy lamps intended to mimic the brightness and color of sunlight to help maintain healthy circadian rhythms, especially during the winter season. The lamps use bright LED light to help regulate sleep, boost energy levels and improve mood.
“We realized that there was a market for light therapy lamps that looked good and had a designer touch,” Amber said. “We built a lamp that was both functional and looked amazing. All our lamps have a point of view. They have bold designs that we are proud to have on our desk all year round. This focus on design has revolutionized how light therapy lamps look, and has made significant headway in making light therapy more accepted and mainstream.”
Kin and Amber both have fond memories of their time in Bemidji.
“Minnesota has really become home to us,” Amber said. “Bemidji was our first home in America, and it’s a special place. We still goes back to Dave’s Pizza. That’s our favorite restaurant in Bemidji.”
Kin added, “For me it was the beginning of an entrepreneurial journey. It was where I started my first business and I’ve actually started and run a couple of businesses since then, and have become kind of a serial entrepreneur. It’s a special place for me.”