Hong Kong is home to a buzzing startup scene honing new generations of successful entrepreneurs. And Hong Kong’s premier business school is more than playing its part.
Ranked number one in Asia for seven consecutive years by the Economist, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) runs a unique five-month ideas incubation program for its budding MBA entrepreneurs.
HKU’s Business Lab elective takes students through the entire entrepreneurial journey, from idea conception to launch. Through a series of case studies delivered by industry experts, MBA students apply their learnings to develop real business ideas in a risk-free, supportive environment.
At the end of the five months, MBA students present their business plans to a panel of industry experts and venture capitalists, who can help take their startup ideas to the next level.
We spoke to two high-flying HKU MBA grads who went through the Business Lab to find out more.
Patrick Davis, HKU MBA ’16
Patrick worked eight years as a paralegal for law firms in Atlanta, USA, before relocating to Hong Kong for his MBA. Alongside his full-time job, he launched his own social enterprise, distributing free bicycles and creating a work program for Atlanta’s homeless and refugee populations to fix bicycles to ship to orphanages in Jamaica.
At HKU, he teamed up with law professor, serial social entrepreneur, and fellow native Atlantan David Bishop. Now, Patrick is director of strategic operations at David’s nonprofit. Soap Cycling collects used hotel soap from hotels across Asia, reprocesses it in Hong Kong, and then distributes the new soap to NGOs and charities for hygiene and sanitation projects across Asia. Patrick manages a team of HKU undergrad interns who actively run the company for a semester.
On the Business Lab… It’s a unique program. You form a team and spend a couple of weeks pitching ideas to each other until one sticks.
Our group started an on-demand language tutor platform. It’s called Natives, and we have just been accepted into a local incubation program (Cyberport). Business Lab gave us the platform to pitch our ideas, see what works, and become exposed to different trends in the world of entrepreneurship. Now the beta version of our app is launched, we have around 30 teachers signed up, and are looking forward to holding our first classes in January.
How did I profit? The connections are the main thing. The class is really immersive into the Hong Kong startup world, with very high-level speakers from many different fields. Finance, the incubation process, pitching, really every possible topic that is related to the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Hong Kong was covered. And, as an untypical MBA student, any type of exposure to real business is very illuminating.
The HKU MBA puts very different ideas into your head about how you should run your life and manage your career, about the mindset of networking and using the MBA as a platform to promote yourself, promote your brand and meet as many people as you can.
That’s what Hong Kong is really good for. It’s a compact place and you can meet a lot of influential people quite easily.
On Soap Cycling… I started volunteering late last year and was tasked with managing a group of undergrad students to write a business plan for expansion into Singapore. Turns out, I ended up getting a job out of it! David liked what I did and asked me to stick around.
Soap Cycling has been around for four years. It’s a simple concept to understand and there’s great potential to scale up if you can secure the right resources and connections. This past semester, the students managed the successful launch of our expansion into the Mainland Chinese market in Shenzhen. Next semester, we’ll be looking to build on our success there and use the lessons learned to push towards Singapore.
I have to handle every aspect of operations from the nitty gritty of managing the factory and building relationships with hotels, to the high-level stuff like fundraising and marketing, Though challenging, it’s a great experience, and I would honestly do my job for free. The HKU MBA has opened up entirely new possibilities for me personally and professionally.
Musheer Ahmed, HKU MBA ’15
Musheer has over 10 years of cross-functional experience in multi-asset trading and management consulting, and is actively involved in Fintech. Determined to explore entrepreneurship, he relocated from India to pursue an MBA at HKU.
After his MBA, he went into a top job at capital markets consulting firm GreySpark Partners, which he secured through the school’s career services. For now, his entrepreneurial ambitions are on hold. But he’s sure that one day he’ll take the leap and start his own business.
On the Business Lab… When interviewing for the program, the Business Lab stood out because I could work on building a business from scratch.
Each class handles each part of the entrepreneurship journey; from coming up with ideas, to finding a team, to how the business plan is built, the financials, marketing, application, diversification, growth and pitching.
My team worked on an idea for 3D-printed spectacle frames. We went through the whole gamut of researching 3D printing and meeting experts in Hong Kong.
We found a partner in Hong Kong who had a 3D printing business and we got to make the 3D-printed glasses ourselves. And we won a pitching competition, where you had to prepare like you were ready to launch.
The Business Lab has helped broaden my network and prepared me for when I eventually do jump into entrepreneurship, full-time or otherwise.
On choosing the HKU MBA… The program was tailor-made for me to develop my skillsets across different areas. I could choose 10 electives. So I could choose the direction I wanted. The HKU MBA is an intensive, 14-month program. For me, it was vital that I wasn’t out of the job market for too long.
Hong Kong is also very supportive for entrepreneurs. It’s one of the easiest places to set up a business anywhere in the world. If you have the right idea, there’s a lot of funding available.