Students in the Spotlight - Tzu Chen Wang

September 22, 2020 by School of Cities Staff
"Students in the Spotlight" is a conversation series with members of the SofC Student Academy and Urban Leadership Fellowship program.


Tzu Chen Wang in a gray suit

  • What are you currently working on? What are your research and engagement interests?
    I am currently working on a digital marketing platform to promote local small business entrepreneurs. Like the research conducted by the School of Cities academy members regarding a solution to the Urban Affordable Housing Challenge facing the city of Toronto, I aim to solve another affordability challenge – I call it the Small Business Affordability Crisis. I want to provide a platform where finding a location for small business is stress-free, simple, and most importantly, provides an opportunity for them to thrive. Hopefully, the establishment of a digital platform would make the city of Toronto small business friendly and welcome a mix of individuals from different socio-economic backgrounds.
  • What has motivated your interests and journey? How do you hope to make a difference?

    Running small business ventures in the city of Toronto is an expensive and largely unsupported endeavor. Landlords charge unreasonable storefront rental fees to small business owners operating in the city. More and more businesses are closing because they can no longer afford the monthly rental fees.

    The Small Business Affordability Crisis is a bigger challenge than one may think. It affects businesses that have been in the city for a long period of time, businesses on the brink of success, and sometimes business that are well-known. The Small Business Affordability Crisis is imposing a big threat both in the local economy and city’s appearance.

    Urban sustainability is more than just greener renewable energy and efficient infrastructures. Culture plays a vital role too. Cities that are unfriendly to small businesses are cities that are boring; a city without small business and only big-name brands would be a city with no characteristics. Even though a ‘support local’ movement exists, it is difficult to find local products and services, and one of the few sources of promotion for small businesses are often inconsistent craft shows

  • What’s the latest project you have been working on and would like to share with the SofC audiences?

    I seek to establish the University of Toronto School of Cities as a leader in small business support efforts. The first step of the solution to the small business affordability crisis and business profitability at a time of pandemic is to provide small businesses with a digital platform to enhance their business through marketing. Hopefully when things return to normal, I will be able to bring the project to the next level where I will be hosting regular markets to make the ‘support local’ movement more accessible to the members of the community.

    I am currently working on two separate projects (1) a regularly published magazine (both digitally and print), and (2) regular radio shows featuring interviews with local entrepreneurs discussing topics from how they are handling business during COVID-19, to their take on the city’s small business landscape. The podcasts work in tandem with my magazine to promote personalities behind small businesses; after all, personality is the distinguishing factor between small and big businesses. If you are interested in what I am doing, please visit the website at

  • As a student, researcher and /or activist, what have you learned from the pandemic and its global impact?
    One of the greatest lessons I have learned from the pandemic is that one needs to be willing to change easily and come up with new ideas as plans cannot keep up with changes. A once thought out and detailed proposal may change due to external factors. It may be a bit depressing at first when you have to change directions, however, after taking a step back and learning about small business operations in a bit more detail, I have realized that what I thought was “detailed” at first needed a lot of adjustments. What I proposed would not support the local small businesses. So many more actions and projects need to be done as the devil is in the detail. ‘Supporting local’ is a movement that requires more than just verbal support or a hashtag on Instagram.
  • Please share with us your experiences at the SofC. How do you think being a member of the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program has contributed to your scholarship and added to your experience as a student?
    The School of Cities Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program has given me the opportunity to formulate my own project. It has allowed me to express my passion to the community and to the people around me. Even though I did not get to meet different members of the program in-person, due to the pandemic, I was still able to connect with some enthusiastic and hardworking members. The support I got from the program members, Professor Lo, and mentors has been extraordinary. Not only have they helped me with my project, they have also helped me think of problems from different perspectives.
  • Any final words or message?
    We all belong in this community and we should do something to help improve it. When we are able to give a bit more than we take, to the community we live in, it will be a much better place. If there is something that motivates you, go after it! If there is a problem you notice and want to solve, pursue it! Change will only happen if you believe and pursue it. As Steve Job stated in the 2005 Stanford Commencement Address “You cannot connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect. Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart.”


Student Bio:

Tzu Chen on a boat with water in the background

Tzu Chen moved to Canada when he was in grade 9 and is an undergraduate student at U of T, who has a strong passion in learning and education. His journey in teaching started when he was in grade 8 when he was given the opportunity to teach basic English to children from low-income families in Taiwan. It was in grade 10 when he started volunteering at an NGO that welcomes newcomers and refugees; this opportunity has allowed him to meet people from all over the world and made him realize that education is more than just teaching what’s on the textbooks. It was then when he started trying all kinds of new things such as volunteering at various cultural centres, joining various student clubs, researching at the coroner’s office, and launching his own startup.