Feature Stories

17.10.2017

Answering Business Challenges through Technological Innovations

The Grand Final winner receives the prize presented by Professor Shyy Wei, Executive Vice-President and Provost of HKUST

As information becomes increasingly strategic for organizations, ensuring the long-term success of an enterprise requires not just pure business knowledge or technology skills, but a combination of both. Future game changers will be those who reimagine ways to transform their business while offering differentiated customer experiences by making creative use of emerging technologies.

No wonder, of all the participants in the Hong Kong chapter of the seventh annual “One Million Dollar Entrepreneurship Competition” organized by HKUST, one-fifth are existing business school students.

Originally an initiative to nurture entrepreneurs at HKUST, the competition has grown into a regional contest to cultivate entrepreneurial spirit and promote the cross-border exchange of ideas. It was first extended to Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Macau last year. This year has seen not only an increase in scale, with over 900 participating teams comprising students, startups and professionals from the region, but also an enhanced quality of submitted proposals and depth of market traction.

Eighteen winning teams from five regions competed in the Grand Final at the HKUST Fok Ying Tung Research Institute in Nansha, Guangzhou, in mid-August. Each presentation was followed by a 60-second elevator pitch which demonstrated the teams’ remarkable talent and captured the hearts of the audience. The “Industrial Visual Intelligence System” team eventually took the first place, winning a cash prize of HK$500,000 by producing a groundbreaking visual control solution to enhance visual perception and decision-making in industrial robots.

Winners of the competition can use the cash prize as seed money to further commercialise their inventions, turning ideas into a manufacturable and marketable form.

When business meets technology

This year’s competition attracted hundreds of entrepreneurial projects covering a wide spectrum of arenas including internet technologies, artificial intelligence, biomedicine, education and environmental protection and business model innovation. Business technology has become a dominant topic, with an increasing number of business students joining the competition. Of the 266 participants in Hong Kong, 53 were business school students. Some of them formed teams with students from other schools to capitalize on skills across different fields.

Of all the business technology ideas raised in the competition, Clare.AI’s “White-label Chatbot” stood out from others. It won first runner-up in the Hong Kong competition, followed by a merit prize in the Grand Final. “Based on natural language processing, our robot system helps banking and financial institutes handle client enquiries through online chat-box communication,” says Bianca Ho, Co-founder of Clare.AI.

A graduate in Global Business (GBUS) from the HKUST Business School in 2011, Ho founded Clare.AI last year with Ken Yeung who received a computer science degree from HKUST in 2005. “Innovation happens when you mix technology and business,” Ho says, recalling how she partnered with Yeung to bridge the two worlds and put artificial intelligence into business applications.

“Advance in business technology provides more powerful and less expensive options to keep companies ahead in a competitive marketplace,” says Ho. “Boring, repetitive tasks are automated by machine, enabling companies to reduce employee turnover and increase talent retention. Machine-based operation also boosts the transparency of client behaviour, enabling companies to track non-complaint cases and identify customer preferences and market trends through statistical analytics.”

Ho also describes the competition as an integrative learning platform generating extraordinary business values. “The adjudication panel was composed of real investors who shared lots of valuable opinions and feedback with us. Apart from receiving a cash prize, we also got the opportunity to talk to potential investors about the long-term development of Clare.AI. It is such a rewarding experience,” adds Ho.

Caring about the greater good

Equally exciting and inspirational was the competition’s Beijing region final. Held on 2 July, and hosted by the HKUST Business School mainland office, with strong support from the HKUST EMBA North China Alumni Association and “170 Start-up”, the competition attracted numerous innovative projects of immense potential. The first prize went to Flance NanoTechnology who have produced an innovative high-purity nanomaterial preparation and industrial application. The team also won the ticket to the Grand Final, where they notched the third prize.

According to Cui Jianxun, CEO of Flance NanoTechnology, the company has developed the world’s first nanomachine entering industry grade stable and mass production, which has to date obtained 18 national patents. The machine can produce a thousand types of high-precision, high-purity and cost-effective metal nanomaterials. More importantly, the production process achieves zero pollution and over 95 per cent of resource utilization.

“It’s a great competition organized by the HKUST,” says Cui. “Hopefully, I will have a chance to study for an Executive MBA at the university in the near future.”

The great thing about the One Million Dollar Entrepreneurship Competition is that it not only provides a platform for creative and committed entrepreneurs to realize their business ambitions and dreams, but also encourages a culture of corporate social responsibility and innovation, something which distinguishes a leader from a follower.

According to Ms Gao Jing, President of HKUST EMBA North China Alumni Association and Director of 170 Startup, the competition has provided a very good platform for creative entrepreneurs worldwide to realize their business dreams.

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Going well beyond what other competitions offer, HKUST’s One Million Dollar Entrepreneurship Competition brings forth a mission to answer business challenges through technological innovations, paving the way for a better future for mankind.

(Hong Kong Finalist): Bianca Ho, Co-founder of Clare.AI
(Beijing Finalist): Cui Jianxun, CEO of Flance NanoTechnology
Beijing Final receives strong support from the HKUST EMBA North China Alumni Association