SAF alum Ian Weng (MAcc ‘13) is the 2023 leader to watch

Friday, April 12, 2024
Ian Weng

Congratulations to School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) alum, Ian Weng (MAcc ‘13), recipient of the 2023 Leader to Watch Award. 

Weng received his bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Financial Management (AFM) and his master’s degree in Accounting (MAcc) at the University of Waterloo. He went on to work at KPMG for several years and moved on to Uber Eats during its infancy. Weng knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur, so he obtained an MBA at INSEAD business school which eventually led him to dream up the idea for SPATULA, a flash-frozen, high-quality meal kit that only requires a pan and a — you guessed it — spatula. 

You might recognize Weng from an episode of Dragon’s Den where he asked the dragons to invest in SPATULA in order to increase the brand’s reach and availability (You can catch the episode on CBC). 

Since landing the deal, (spoiler: Weng and his team struck a deal with Arlene after receiving offers from all five Dragons) SPATULA is now available for delivery across the Ontario and in select Longo’s stores across the GTA 

Aside from being extremely successful and all-around likeable, Weng is a very involved alum, continuing to give back to SAF whenever he can.

Read along as we catch up with Weng, 2023’s SAF Leader to Watch. 

Q. When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

A. I have always had a love for the sciences and I used to think I would become an engineer. My career path has been very driven by the extracurriculars I was involved in. I participated in an accounting competition in high school and we ended up placing! I loved accounting and the idea of building businesses because I have always been independent and entrepreneurial. 

Q. How did you come up with the idea for SPATULA? What urged you to pursue this path? 

A. I was studying in business school in France during COVID lockdown and was amazed at the selection of premium frozen products that were available there. I practically lived off of these products. It was so interesting to me that in a country where culinary excellence is so revered, frozen food played such a big role in their everyday cuisine. Knowing that this type of quality isn’t something we had in Canada, it inspired me to create SPATULA.  

So as soon as I got back to Canada, I partnered with my wife who is a marketer and Registered Dietician, and my friend Chef Wallace who is a Michelin-trained chef at some of the world's top restaurants. We started building SPATULA and set out on a mission to transform the world of frozen food across Canada and US.  

Q. What is your advice for someone who wants to get on Dragon’s Den and pitch their great idea? 

Ian Weng on Dragon's Den

A. My advice is two-fold: The first is the substance of it. You should have a strong business and you need to be confident about your numbers. It’s important to know your business inside and out. My suggestion is to go on when your business is doing well. The dragons are the real deal—you will get tough questions. If you are giving a reasonable valuation, your pitch will be positive. Don’t go on the show too early, either. We were invited on a year prior, but we declined because we only had samples and not a ton of traction yet. Plus, my baby was only a day and a half old, so we decided to put it off. 

The second thing is: This is TV. So, you’ve got to give them something entertaining and TV-ready. The Dragons really got into our cooking challenge and the producers loved it. The more exciting it is, the more airtime they're going to give you. It’s about the theatrics of it. 

Q. How has life been post-Dragon’s Den? 

A. From a business perspective, the Den was immensely helpful in driving the growth and sales of our products In the week our episode aired, our new customer acquisition doubled and the following week, it tripled. Beyond that, it gave us a ton of social validation. The dragons loved SPATULA and they certainly aren’t the type of people to butter anyone up, so we know they were being honest.  

How has it been working with Arlene Dickinson? 

A. We are still in conversations with her and her team because these deals take a long time to realize. We have some milestones and benchmarks to meet before things really ramp up, but we are optimistic. Arlene is so experienced and knowledgeable about the industry, especially from a consumer packaged goods and retail lens, so we are excited to be partnering up with her. 

Q. You have reached a new-found level of success; how do you think your education prepared you for the business you are in now? 

A. I think that SAF does a really great job of teaching you the language and foundations of business. The courses in accounting, marketing, finance and entrepreneurship really help to create a strong foundation. Building a business allows me to put all of this into practice in real life, so I am grateful for my undergraduate background.  

It’s extremely multifaceted to build a startup. Many founders are great at one thing but lack experience in something else, which can be hard. I think the breadth of experience I received at SAF gave me a great start and my subsequent career at Uber Eats gave me the depth of experience that I needed. 

Q. You are still very involved with the University of Waterloo and SAF, what drives you to be such an involved alum? 

A. I feel very indebted to SAF. SAF helped me get to where I am today.  

I was actively involved in the Fellowship program, the Accounting Student Association (now called the Accounting and Finance Student Association or AFSA) and the ACE Consulting Group. These groups gave me the confidence and experience to excel in the professional world. I feel very grateful for that. 

Q. What are some of your fondest memories of being on the UWaterloo campus? 

Coming from Vancouver, I didn’t have a home to go back to on the weekends. So for those four to five years, UWaterloo was a home to me. I truly embraced the university and campus community. My fondest memories were always the times I spent with the lifelong friends I found during my university years. Whether they were the highs such as winning case competition, or the lows of pulling all-nighters to study for tax, the fondest memories were always those built with friends. 

Q. What’s next for you, Ian? 

A. We are only in the first inning of building SPATULA, so there’s still a lot we need to do.  We have a jam-packed year ahead of us. We are in the process of fundraising; we want to scale the production of our business so that we can expand into other large retailers in Canada and eventually into the US. The frozen revolution is just beginning!  

Jeannine LiChong (MAcc ’92) is the SAF 2023 Outstanding Alumni recipient. Visit our website to read our interview with Jeannine.