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Bemidji State grads make a deal on 'Shark Tank'

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Kin Mun Chew and Amber Leong
Kin Mun Chew and Amber Leong both came to Bemidji State from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, but did not meet until they got to campus. They are now married, living in the Twin Cities, and co-owners of Circadian Optics.
Courtesy photo via Bemidji Pioneer

By Dennis Doeden via the Bemidji Pioneer

A business owned by two Bemidji State University graduates will get a boost from high-profile investors after Sunday night’s ABC-TV broadcast of “Shark Tank.”

Circadian Optics, owned by Amber Leong and her husband, Kin Mun Chew, is scheduled to receive $750,000 in exchange for a 20 percent stake. Mark Cuban and Lori Greiner, two of the show’s celebrity panelists, made the offer after Leong pitched the company and told her story. They also agreed to pay another $50,000 to be given to Leong’s family in Malaysia.

Two other panelists -- Barbara Corcoran and Kevin O'Leary — offered the same deal without the extra $50,000. The fifth panelist, Rohan Oza, chose not to make an offer. Cuban is the owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks. Greiner is known as the Queen of QVC, a TV shopping network.

“When we were preparing for the show, we thought Mark and Lori would be the ideal sharks,” Leong said on Monday. “We had hoped to get a deal from either one of them. But to get offers from four of the five sharks took me completely by surprise, and a joint offer from Mark and Lori? It was an easy decision to make.”

Amber and Kin came to Bemidji State from their native Malaysia. Amber graduated in 2005 with a communications degree. Kin graduated in 2006 with degrees in finance and economics. They moved to the Twin Cities and co-founded their business, which makes fashionable light therapy lamps.

Amber told more of her story on Sunday night’s episode. Her parents cashed out their retirement fund, borrowed money from family and friends and sent her to Bemidji with a one-way ticket and school fees and living expenses for one semester.

“They gave everything,” she told the panelists. “That is how much faith they had in me.”

She said nine months after arriving in America, she was diagnosed with toxic shock syndrome and was give a 50 percent chance of surviving. In an interview last week, she recalled how the resident assistant from her BSU dorm visited her regularly during her hospital stay. Her parents could not visit because they did not have American visas.

“I survived, and that was a gift,” Amber said on the show, which was taped in June. “It gave me a new perspective in life, and it made me ask myself, 'What am I going to do with my one wild and precious life?’ So I went to grad school, I got a six figure job and I sent money home and when I had enough savings I asked myself I want to do something courageous, to take a chance. I had this idea, and I had to choose creativity over certainty.”

Cuban was moved by her story, and told Amber, “You represent everything that is great about entrepreneurship, the American dream.”

Amber said she and Kin are in communication with Cuban’s and Greiner’s teams as they plan for the future.

“We’re so grateful for the opportunity to share our mission to get people to “Turn On Your Day” and think about the importance of light,” Amber said Monday.