In May 2022 the Hong Kong government launched ‘InnoHK’, an initiative providing funding for research clusters allowing more than 2000 scientists and engineers to explore innovation possibilities in these areas.
The initiative is driving Hong Kong’s position as a leader in technology-led R&D. It’s also providing unique career and learning opportunities for students on Hong Kong’s top-ranked MBA program.
The Joint Entrepreneurial Initiative: Combining MBA students with leading innovation centers
InnoHK is closely linked with the University of Hong Kong Business School (HKU)—around a third of the funded research clusters are led by HKU professors.
Shortly after the launch of the initiative, HKU utilized these links to provide opportunities for students on the school’s flagship MBA program to get involved in the research and development process.
The Joint Entrepreneurial Initiative (JEI) allows HKU MBA students to work alongside scientists and engineers within InnoHK R&D centers. It encourages students to test their business knowledge and apply their entrepreneurial abilities, aiming to convert innovative research into practical business opportunities.
With each research cluster composed of specialists with highly technical knowledge, the partnership supplies researchers with necessary business expertise while also allowing students to gain practical experience and in-depth insight into key innovation areas.
“We are good at design and research, but honestly we’re not very good at the business side,” says Ivan Wong, the Technical Manager with TransGP, one of the research centers involved in the initiative.
A high technology-led research center, TransGP explores the use of AI and robotics in garment production to improve efficiency and safety within the clothing industry.
“Partnering with HKU means students can give us professional advice about our business advantages and disadvantages,” Ivan adds.
A practical opportunity to test MBA knowledge and skills
While the HKU MBA curriculum teaches students fundamental business knowledge—modules cover subjects ranging from human resources to finance and accounting—the JEI provides a practical opportunity for students to apply this knowledge and further develop their business acumen.
HKU Part-time MBA students Sissy Zhang and Annie Lu both worked with TransGP as part of the JEI.
Working with the program provided a chance to become immersed in an entirely new industry and investigate new technologies for Sissy (pictured), who spent her career working as a journalist in several countries before moving into marketing and communications.
“Especially with AI in the R&D industry, I believe this is a really rare opportunity,” she explains. “They ran us through how the technology works to understand the basics. We didn’t need to know every detail, but we needed to know the overarching logic.”
For Annie, who conducts market research for a variety of companies and startups in her role as business development lead at a state-owned enterprise, the JEI was a chance to explore the process of commercializing research and immerse herself in a new industry.
Along with one other team member, Sissy and Annie spent time in TransGP’s research labs before conducting their own market research and competitor analysis to find opportunities to commercialize TransGP’s technology.
A chance to help launch an innovative new business
With limited knowledge of the industry, the team of HKU MBAs found their research and problem-solving skills were put to the test during the JEI.
“We did a lot of research and read lots of reports, articles, and interviews online. We also did some consulting sessions with professionals in the industry,” Annie (pictured) explains.
“I had to collaborate with my teammates who had different backgrounds and angles to the same questions, so we could think of different ways to solve problems. I felt blessed that I could work with a good team with a lot of talent.”
After successfully conducting their research and analysis, Sissy, Annie, and their fellow team member presented their findings to Ivan and the TransGP team, who provided detailed feedback to help refine a business strategy.
“They gave us insight about some fashion brands in the market,” says Ivan. “We are very focused on the hardware and the technology, sometimes we miss thinking about the end user or the fashion market, so this was a really good synergy.”
Combining these insights with the program’s innovative technology to form a business plan, the TransGP team now plans to commercialize the research and launch a spin-off company in late 2023.
It’s just one example of successful collaboration between HKU students and researchers who have partnered through the JEI. Companies that successfully launch through the partnership also provide potential career opportunities for students to join as part of the management team.
Whether or not career opportunities are to follow, both Sissy and Annie agree the partnership provided valuable experience they can take forward into the next stage of their careers.
“If not for this initiative it would be impossible to have the chance to work with scientists on real-world problems and actually be part of the commercialization process,” says Sissy.