GC4W’s Person of the Day is Amber Leong is the first-ever Malaysian to receive a multi-million deal on US Reality TV, Shark Tank.
In October, Amber Leong astonished the investors on ABC’s Shark Tank with her story: As a 20-year-old, Leong had ridden a one-way ticket from the outskirts of tropical Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to a snowy Minnesota college, where she beat a life-threatening illness before launching a successful light-therapy company, despite having no engineering experience. Circadian Optics, her $4 million, Minneapolis-based startup, scored a total of $750,000 from Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner. The Sharks even topped their offer with an extra $50,000 for Leong’s parents, who’d cashed out their retirement funds to send her to the U.S. and, eventually, the pitch of a lifetime. –As told to Emily Canal
I grew up in a village in Malaysia, near Kuala Lumpur. My parents were the first in their families to have office jobs. They sent my sister, brother, and me to school in the city with all the high-rise buildings. My sister and I would be the first ones in our family to go to college.
I was really inspired by American ideals and knew that the U.S. was where I wanted to go to school. My parents understood the value of education and were willing to support me. That’s something I’m very grateful for. They cashed out their retirement funds and gave me about $10,500 for my first semester at Bemidji State University in Minnesota in 2004. I had a one-way ticket and enough to cover my dorm, food, and books. After that, I was on my own and had to figure things out.
I was ready for an adventure. I got a job as a resident assistant and saw snow for the first time. Things were going great for about nine months, until suddenly I got very sick. Within 24 hours, I was in the hospital ICU, where they diagnosed with toxic shock syndrome. I was in and out of consciousness because of sepsis. My boyfriend at the time–he’s now my husband–slept in an uncomfortable chair every night beside me. Sometimes, I would hear my parents calling my ICU nurses. I kept thinking, “My poor parents–what have I put them through?” I knew I had to be OK.
I left the hospital after 20 days. A lot of people go through toxic shock and lose limbs or their lives. An experience like that makes you want to try things and gives you courage. It changes you.