Inspiring innovation into the incarnate

CUHK’s first Innovation Summit links academic dreams to business realities

Innovation has always been at the forefront of CUHK’s efforts to ensure that its research delivers societal impact. In this spirit, CUHK Innovation Limited (CUHK Innovation), in collaboration with the University’s Office of Research and Knowledge Transfer Services (ORKTS), hosted the University’s first ever Innovation Summit on 25 April, with the theme of “Igniting Innovation – From Insights to Impact”. The event convened academics, innovators and entrepreneurs into the Yasumoto International Academic Park for an afternoon of discovery, networking, and exchanges of ideas.

‘A pledge to potential’

In a video message, Professor Sham Mai-har, CUHK’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Research) said the Innovation Summit aimed “to foster connections and to facilitate collaborations between start-up companies and the investment community.” She noted how CUHK Innovation had already attracted numerous business partners, adding that she was “most impressed by the proud achievements of our academic community”. She looked forward to seeing more projects spread their wings in future.

Dr Norman Chan Tak-lam, Vice-Chairman of the CUHK Council and Chairman of CUHK Innovation, said the launch of the new company was “a pledge to the potential of the brilliant inventors and entrepreneurs involved,” and added that “our efforts in building a better ecosystem for the commercialisation of research have not gone unnoticed.” The company’s recent formation of a joint investment platform, he suggested, would add to the already-vast network of connections and resources it currently enjoyed.

The ceremony also announced several new collaborations between CUHK Innovation and the city’s enterprises and investors. Since its establishment in September last year, it aims to provide early-stage funding and support to promising start-ups from the University. During the Summit, it signed Memorandums of Understanding with nine additional investing partners— Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund Limited, Beyond Ventures, CICC International, Gobi Partners GBA, Great Eagle Group Limited, Hong Kong Innovation Angel Investment Limited, LKK Group Limited, qonvolv Ventures and Wings Capital Ventures LP.

Making technology tangible

Many companies championed by CUHK Innovation were established by outstanding academics at the University seeking to bring their research breakthroughs to a wider audience. Some with valuable experience to share of establishing start-ups based on their research achievements joined a panel discussion to share their work. They included Professor Samuel Au of the Department of Mechanical and Automation Engineering, and Kent Hou, Director of Business Development at n-hop technologies Limited. They were among the first applicants to the government’s new Research, Academic and Industry Sectors One-plus (RAISe+) Scheme, launched last October and which allocates up to HK$100 million to chosen projects.

Also among the panellists was Choh-Ming Li Professor of Life Sciences Lam Hon-ming, who emphasised the need to form a group of people savvy about both research and commerce. “Converting an academic team to a business team is very difficult, so the first thing is to align the mindsets of the professors, forming a core team who share the same mission of our project. Otherwise, it won’t work.” He added that many of his peers had years of experience, but now “we need to develop a younger layer of members, mainly our PhD graduates who have the courage to go outside the academic arena to go to business.”

Dean of Engineering Professor Tsang Hon-ki, who was the first invitee from CUHK to present his innovations to the vetting committee, reflected on the difficulties of getting his ideas across to a committee filled with representatives from a broad spectrum of industries, as well as responding to their questions. They have “a different vocabulary and different background knowledge,” he noted. “You might give an answer that in your own field may seem obvious and natural, but isn’t understandable to the people listening.”

His colleague, Choh-Ming Li Professor of Mechanical and Automation Engineering Liu Yunhui stressed the necessity of believing in one’s own project. “No matter how you prepare, some questions will go beyond your preparation. But in any case, you must be confident, and believe you will produce a unicorn.”

The head of the ORKTS’ Venture Acceleration team, Dr Victor Lau, was asked to outline how his office could help connect University start-ups to the business world. “We have a good connection with investors and business partners,” he said. “We understand that sometimes the negotiations are very difficult, it’s very challenging. So, try to use us to deal with the investors… we can be the bridge, the go-between.”

A first step into reality

Some potential investors stayed for a knowledge sharing and networking session by more than ten different start-ups that dream of changing the world by going from the lab to the market with their R&D. They ranged from a company involved in microRNA therapeutics to another dealing with exomuscles apparatuses, showcasing a wide variety of cutting-edge scientific developments. The gathered professionals listened with interest as the academics spoke.

Joyce Ng, Managing Director and Chief Investment Officer of CUHK Innovation, addressed the participants. “Each venture represents an opportunity not only for financial returns, but also for meaningful impact on society,” she said. “Together, we empower entrepreneurs to realise their full potential, and bring these groundbreaking R&D projects to fruition.”

by Chamois Chui

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