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Learning from Seasoned Tech Entrepreneurs

HKUST Hosts Inaugural Entrepreneurship Fireside Chat Series to Nurture and Inspire the Next Generation of Technology Leaders

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Prof. Tim Cheng (top left), Dean of Engineering, introducing Mr. Alfred Chuang (bottom) as the guest speaker and Prof. Jack Lau (top right) as the moderator in the first edition of the HKUST Entrepreneurship Fireside Chat Series.
Prof. Tim Cheng (top left), Dean of Engineering, introducing Mr. Alfred Chuang (bottom) as the guest speaker and Prof. Jack Lau (top right) as the moderator in the first edition of the HKUST Entrepreneurship Fireside Chat Series. [Download Photo]

Hundreds of members of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) community and the general public tuned in worldwide to the first online webinar of the Entrepreneurship Fireside Chat Series held on June 26, 2020 to meet its first guest, Mr. Alfred CHUANG, a Hong Kong native, accomplished serial entrepreneur, venture investor and company advisor.

Moderated by Prof. Jack LAU, HKUST’s first PhD graduate and current Chairman of Swanland.AI, the hour-long discussion divulged into Mr. Chuang’s extensive experience as a general partner at Race Capital, co-founder of the non-profit organization FoundersHK, and co-founder and CEO of BEA systems which led to its acquisition by Oracle for US$8.5 billion. His passion to nurture the rising entrepreneurship talent in Hong Kong was inspirational and hugely beneficial to aspiring individuals looking to understand how the tech start-up industry is developing during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Welcoming remarks from Prof. Tim CHENG, Dean of Engineering, assured participants of an insightful conversation ahead between the moderator and guest speaker. This was followed by the announcement of the second edition of the series scheduled for late-July featuring Ms. Edith YEUNG, another Hong Kong native and accomplished venture capitalist based in Silicon Valley.

Beginning with the topic of the discussion at hand, Mr. Chuang explained how a crisis often creates unique opportunities for technological innovation, quoting industry examples rising from the burst of the 2000 dot-com bubble and the 2008 financial crisis. He attributed this phenomenon to the need for a ‘global reset’ to see what new, exciting technology is necessary in the next 10 years.

Prof. Lau then inquired how to start a successful company and best utilize Mr. Chuang’s resources on behalf of the future HKUST graduates, to which Mr. Chuang responded with “starting a company is really hard, in good times and bad times, none of it is easy. It really comes down to the people. Starting a company really has to do with the heart.” He emphasised the life-long dedication an entrepreneur must possess to become successful. He also explained that FoundersHK was created to help entrepreneurs achieve their long-term goals by providing pivotal funding beyond just the seed stage, as well as mentorship to nurture them to push the company further.

To cater to those not trained in the engineering discipline, Prof. Lau queried how these participants could get involved with tech start-ups. Mr. Chuang pointed out that Hong Kong has a unique advantage in the realm of Fintech due to the city being the second largest financial market in the world and its strong central bank, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. He noted half of Hong Kong’s unicorns are in the Fintech industry. He continued on, adding that “the crucial thing is going to be the composition of the team. What skills you don’t have, just go find it,” and illustrated that HKUST is like a “vault of the smartest engineers, the ultimate research university” filled with technical people waiting to work on the next cutting-edge technology.

Questions were invited from the audience in which a HKUST undergraduate student asked what the most crucial evaluation elements of start-ups are and what young start-ups should consider when there are numerous uncertainties ahead. Mr. Chuang revealed his venture firm runs much like a software company with daily, full attendance 4 o’clock “scrums” to talk through everything that has happened or is planned to ensure they keep moving quickly. He added that as an investor, he prioritises those he would like to start a company with and those he feels are incredibly talented and committed to the company. To answer the latter part of the question, he suggested entrepreneurs to consider, “What I’m doing, is it what the product market needs?” and highlighted the importance of timing and the product’s flexibility to pivot into a new-use case when necessary.

The discussion concluded with a lighter question proposed by Prof. Lau regarding the recommendation of books that aspiring entrepreneurs should read. Mr. Chuang first lists “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore, a previous colleague at BEA, which is seen as the “Bible” in the Silicon Valley and talks about product-market fit and break-through companies getting a massive adoption in the marketplace. The second book titled “The Hard Things About the Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz, a good friend of his and famous venture investor from the Silicon Valley, is recommended because it talks about the generation of technology. The final book called “Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy” by William H. Janeway, someone he would normally call his boss, is suggested for its technical outlook on entrepreneurship. 

Watch the recording of this webinar here or read the transcript here.  


By HKUST Engineering Student Ambassador Selina Fawdry

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