East meets West in search of investment and innovation
MPLS DPhil researchers share their experiences of attending the HKBU-UC Berkeley Entrepreneurship Bootcamp in Hong Kong in 2018 and 2019.
Over the last two years 13 DPhil researchers from MPLS have benefited from scholarships to attend the HKBU-UC Berkeley Entrepreneurship Bootcamp in Hong Kong, in a pioneering collaboration arising from Prof Donal Bradley’s links with HKBU (Hong Kong Baptist University).
With over 100 students drawn from Universities in Nanjing, Hong Kong and Berkeley, as well as our Oxford contingents, it proved engaging, informative, hectic and inspirational, not only for the students participating but for everyone involved, which included MPLS Enterprise Programme manager Anne Miller.
The fusion of academic, industrial and investment communities teaching and mentoring throughout the programme, coupled with the warmth and generosity of the hosts, created a first rate learning environment, as testified by the quality of the outputs of every single student group. The cherry on the cake was that several of the winning teams were led by Oxford D.Phi students.
Read accounts of their experiences in the 2018 and 2019 Bootcamps below:
- SELENA MILANOVIC, 2ND YEAR DPHIL RESEARCHER, INSTITUTE OF BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING
The HKBU bootcamp proved to be an excellent way to challenge myself in ways I’ve never done before in academia. Through the numerous talks by speakers from both academia and industry, I’ve learned how to present my ideas clearly and concisely. The teamwork taught me how to collaborate with people with completely different backgrounds and most importantly, how to manage my time efficiently. I also had the chance to experience the role of leader, which gave me great insight on how identify the strength of each member that would then contribute to the achievement of our goal.
Above all, this bootcamp has taught me the importance of deeply caring about the work as
well as the people, in order to succeed. Finally, I would encourage everyone interested in applying to submit an idea. It’s a fantastic opportunity to improve your planning and social skills, learning from the judges as well as
other teams. By stepping out of your comfort zone in attending this bootcamp, you will not only learn more
about idea development but also about yourself.
- JOHN SANDFORD O'NEILL, DPHIL RESEARCHER ENGINEERING SCIENCE
The HKBU entrepreneurship bootcamp totally demystified the process of creating a start-up venture. Although it did not go into huge amounts of depth on every aspect of innovation and enterprise, it clearly communicated the key personal characteristics needed for successful entrepreneurship.
I found the bootcamp to be a profoundly thought-provoking experience, where I really questioned lots of assumptions I have made about my skills and experience. A key factor in this was the spirit of trust and openness, emphasised very strongly by the architects of the Bootcamp from Berkeley's entrepreneurship school. I found myself sharing experiences and ideas with strangers that were actually quite personal and it felt like everybody was fully-invested in the bootcamp as an opportunity to learn from others. Through these experiences we all bonded very quickly and many genuine connections were created.
It was so completely absorbing to spend time with local students from Hong Kong and China. I learned so much about China/HK politics and cultural differences (and similarities!) between all the different cultures represented at the bootcamp. Having read a little about the history of Hong Kong, I went to the bootcamp wanting to understand more and it was therefore an immensely fascinating experience for me.
I'm really amazed and happy to be writing about this experience so positively, and feeling that I have made great friends. It has changed the way I think about my future career and has generally been a really valuable and rewarding experience.
- YAO SHI, DPHIL RESEARCHER IN ORGANIC CHEMISTRY (DIXON GROUP)
Why did you apply for the Bootcamp and what were you expecting to get out of participating in it?
I applied for the bootcamp as I want to set up and grow my own business in the future and at the time, I was working on the process of starting-up. It was a perfect opportunity to learn more about this process and gain an entrepreneur mindset as well as meet many like-minded people. The opportunity to travel to Hong Kong was also a bonus incentive!
Did it deliver what you expected, or in what way did it differ?
Looking back, I can say I have taken away from the bootcamp more than I anticipated. During the days, we were exposed to an intensive lecture course comprised of theory as well as talks given from other young entrepreneurs and businesses. Simultaneously through the bootcamp, we were put into teams to work on a proposed business idea, and prepare for a mock investiment pitch. As I had expected, the intensive lectures given by Gigi Wang and Ikhlaq Sidhu were very informative, and the project work and tasks really engaged my business mindset. But more than my expectation, I was inspired to hear the stories and practical advice of many other young entrepreneurs who have been in the same situation as me, but are now growing successful businesses of their own. Additionally, meeting so many people from different cultures but with a similar mindset was encouraging, and I can take back to Oxford many lasting relationships. It has helped to build confidence that my ideas can really become a viable business. Additionally, I was blown away by just how welcoming and friendly the event organisers were! The way they made contact months before the event and accommodated us whilst we were there was truly special and made the event more enjoyable.
How would you describe the entire experience to other students?
Overall, I would say the experience is very helpful for anyone who is interested in or has the thought of doing start-up in the future. Not only do you learn a lot, but is it also great fun, you meet many new like-minded people and It will help you to build confidence that you can turn ideas into reality, and this be a real alternative career path to the standard route people take.
Would you recommend research students to apply and if so at what stage of their research would you suggest they participate?
I would recommend research students to apply for this bootcamp in their 2nd or 3rd year of study. This way, you can be encouraged by the idea that your research and ideas is not only academic, but spin-out is a real possibility.
What are you planning to do next, and how will you apply any of the learning and experiences from the Bootcamp to this?
For me, the next plan is to work hard on my own start-up company and take what I have learned into practice. Although learning business theory is very helpful, the true skills which make a successful entrepreneur are learnt by experience, and this is something which all the guest entrepreneur speakers at the bootcamp also shared.
Overall how would you rate the experience?
Overall I would rate the bootcamp a 10/10. A very valuable experience and great fun at the same time.
- HIMANSHU JAIN, DPHIL RESEARCHER INORGANIC CHEMISTRY:
It is not often that one has an 'educational' experience so thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating that the wish is that as many others as possible are able to share it. The Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) Entrepreneurship Bootcamp 2018 was such an experience.
The four day residential bootcamp was a mixture of the best of the East and of the West. Thoughtfulness was in evidence in all aspects: from the programming to the personal attention paid to the comfort and well-being of individual participants, creating a unique opportunity for learning. The programme included diverse contributions from the local community of entrepreneurs (including CXO's of Unicorns!) and investors, as well as from programme instructors (many of whom were from the University of California (UC), Berkeley, that is, from the heart of Silicon Valley). The stunning and cosmopolitan backdrop of Hong Kong was the icing on the cake!
The ethos of the bootcamp
Prof. Carl Schramm of the Kauffman Foundation, one of the worldwide doyens of matters entrepreneurial, recently noted that “[today’s] entrepreneur really has no alternative but to learn by doing” (Harvard Business Review, 2018). This bootcamp is an annual flagship event from HKBU’s Knowledge Transfer Office (KTO), headed by the visionary and welcoming Dr Alfred Tan. We experienced excellence throughout, in content, in the organization and the logistics, with a diverse and challenging programme delivered with great inclusivity, which emerged from the fusion of warm hospitality of our Hong Kong hosts and the philosophically cogent Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship (BMoE). This is the result of applying bottom-up development, envisioned, initiated, and shepherded by Prof. Ikhaq Sidhu of UC Berkeley. Prof. Sidhu - a quintessential and experienced entrepreneur - emphasises the primacy of experiential learning in developing the skills of would-be entrepreneurs. The content of the sessions, individually and collectively, were designed and delivered to optimise the opportunities available from this fusion of eastern and western culture.
Students from universities situated in Hong Kong and main-land China made up about 80 % of the participants, with the balance from the USA (UC Berkeley) and UK (Oxford).
The programming and learning
The anchor sessions were delivered, in the main, by UC Berkeley Sutardja Centre for Entrepreneurship and Technology (SCET) consultants, each with an admirable and "hands-on" record in the entrepreneurial space. Additional sessions comprised intimate, thoughtfully and expertly curated ‘fireside conversations’ with illustrious ‘local’ entrepreneurs (including the founders of GoGoVan, Hong Kong’s first unicorn startup, and with the founders of Vitargent, Hong Kong’s star biotechnology startup).
Perhaps the single most important learning was cultural — at least one of us learnt of the kindness of strangers, not just the organizers, but also the kindness of the everyday folk of China / Hong Kong. The bootcamp achieved the rare feat of telling us something about entrepreneurship, as also something about China. In a world where China is resuming its historical place of dominance and prosperity, this is invaluable. Where else can you simultaneously get a flavour of Silicon Valley and China? This is the unique value proposition of attending the bootcamp in HKBU as opposed to in Berkeley and every moment was an opportunity to observe and learn.
Future versions of the bootcamp?
While the programming of the bootcamp, based on the Berkeley Method of Entrepreneurship, is mature, its participation is being actively yet thoughtfully grown by its organizers, with the goal to enhance the diversity among participants and thereby enrich their experience of the bootcamp. Accordingly, the participation of "foreign" students is set increase in future editions of the bootcamp.
The primacy of experiential learning, that is, of learning-by-doing was emphasised, as was inclusivity. What better way to do so than to send off teams of participants (only a few individuals each) to roam the streets of Hong Kong with the task to accumulate - starting from a small provided item - as many "assets" as possible. It was entrepreneurial training at its finest, we thought!
The starting point was to be Trustful and Open, ready to take a few Risks, do lots of networking and collaborating, then we were taken on a systematic journey where we shared lessons and insights from experience, both from the lecturers and also from those who were participating, as they learned by doing things at first hand down in the Hong Kong streets!
What you will gain by attending?
We learned at first hand that successful entrepreneurs CARE – that is they show Commitment, Appreciation, Responsibility and Empathy, and that they flourish when they feel, think and create together. This is the single most important ingredient that we often overlook as either researchers or as would be entrepreneurs: sharing and building our social ecosystems. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn how to do this and then put it into practice on our return home.
- XIAOYU LU; DPHIL RESEARCHER, STATISTICS
It was my great honour to participate in the 2018 HKBU Entrepreneurship Bootcamp in Hong Kong. I have had an intensive and enjoyable experience during the 4 days in Hong Kong.
I was inspired by the fruitful talks given by professors and entrepreneurs, and their passion and energetic attitude has influenced me about how I should face challenges in my life. In particular, Gigi, who is a wonderful professor from UC Berkeley, showcased her technical and marketing skills as well as her attractive personality. Besides the theoretical lectures, we also had hands on experience by pitching our own business ideas and forming a study group to take initial steps. Not only did we do practical teamwork exercises such as selling and exchanging items from strangers, we also work hard and make effort in formalising ideas into a step-by-step approach. After nights of discussion and writing, we delivered a presentation with Q&A in front of the judges and gained insightful and constructive feedbacks which is invaluable.
It is a great opportunity to mingle with other young talents and brainstorm business ideas with experts’ supervision. Starting up a business is not as simple as pitching on the paper, but it is a necessary step towards turning the idea into practice. To summarize, the top three things I have learned from the bootcamp are:
1) “WITFM” ---- What’s in it for me?
When starting up a business, investments are one of the key factors. When asking for investment (including elevator pitch), we should think from investors’ perspective and convince them by showing what they could gain from us.
2) Good and diverse people
You cannot do everything on your own. To start my business, forming a team and work with people from a diverse background is essential. I would need not just technical people like myself, but also people with different background and skill set that are able to work on multi-dimensional tasks such as sales and communication etc.
3) Make the business goal clear and targeted
It is important to identify my own business and clarify the targeted customers/clients at the beginning, and build a suitable business model.
I would like to start my business sometime in the future, if not immediately. The bootcamp has enabled me to think about business ideas from a practical point of view, and it also gave me guidelines about what I need to have to make it successful. Another take away from this experience was about the business product itself: some products might not seem obvious or familiar such as the ideas based in chemistry or materials industry, but they could be highly profitable. The point is to turn the technical details and explanations of the products into plain language, and show the applications that people could benefit from.
A short video about the bootcamp can be found on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBO1gKXnC7c&feature=youtu.be