Kenny Kwan, BSc (Eng) '09
From engineer to custom motorbike entrepreneur
After six years working in industry, manufacturing engineer Kenny Kwan turned his hobby – custom motorbikes – into a successful business. Ill-Fated Kustoms started out with the customization of Kwan’s own bike and an online retail store. Today, it’s located in a funky industrial park, has a storefront filled with unique motorcycle accessories, parts and antiques and its custom bike business is booming. Kwan’s journey started at Mount Royal in 2003 in the Engineering Transfer program. After completing his Bachelor of Science in Manufacturing Engineering, Kwan worked as an engineer for TENET Medical Engineering, Nexxa Industries Ltd. and Weatherford Iron Derrickman for six years. Today, his successful business includes the service, restoration and inspection of motorcycles as well as Kwan’s specialty - custom work. Not only did he team up to open a retail front called IFK + TANK, he also launched IFK Kickstart – a popular annual motorcycle expo that happens in Calgary each spring.
My education made me more analytical. For example, designing a bracket. It’s a rectangular piece with two holes in it. But, for me, the way I’d fabricate that piece is more precise...not just drilling a hole anywhere on it, but putting it in a specific location to make it strong in the application.
Owner & Operator at Ill-Fated Kustoms
What’s your favourite UCalgary memory?
I was part of the Baja SAE team, competing in an international competition to design and build a prototype single-seat, all-terrain sporting vehicle. That tied in with my fourth year final design project. I spent most of my last year with the team desiging the car and also fabricating it.
What was your favourite campus hang-out?
Eight times out of ten we would stop at the Vietnamese Sub place in Mac Hall for lunch. Also, because of being a part of the Baja SAE team, we had an office in the Mechanical Engineering building. That was our private spot where we could come and go, hang out, do homework or wind down from the week.
What advice would you give your student self today?
Some of the assignments and projects are very applicable to your career. Depending on your position, there is a lot of practical application in your every day work. Some notable courses were the CNC machining course and the manufacturing, design and process course. They really peaked my interest. For me, the fabrication and design aspect is every day.
How did your engineering degree help you get to where you are today?
My education made me more analytical. For example, designing a bracket. It’s a rectangular piece with two holes in it. But, for me, the way I’d fabricate that piece is more precise. I can’t help myself. I know the design aspects of making a more robust bracket, not just drilling a hole anywhere on it, but putting it in a specific location to make it strong in the application.
How has your career path evolved and changed since your graduation?
Ill-Fated Kustoms is a hobby turned into a full-time career. I worked as an engineer after graduation but got hurt and was out for a year and a half. During that time, I rebuilt my bike and started an online retail store. That’s how Ill-Fated got started. My bike got a lot of attention. Friends asked me to do a build for them. Then, their friends would ask. The business got a lot of notice and more and more customers, whether they were just buying a t-shirt, parts or getting me to customize their bikes. In 2015, when the company I was working for was going to relocate to Texas, I wanted to stay in Calgary so I took the payout and invested the whole thing in Ill-Fated. We’ve got a storefront, we’ve got a full-time mechanic and we’ve expanded the business to take on service work, restorations and inspections. That sparks custom work. The waiting list is three months now.