What surprised Dr Josephine Jim was the quality of proposals and the variety of applicants for the GO CAMBRIDGE Enterprise Competition 2014, an inaugural competition held by the University of Hong Kong School of Professional and Continuing Education (HKU SPACE) to sponsor 15 winners on a study trip to Cambridge in Britain.
“We see creativity and smart ideas in the proposals submitted, and what goes beyond our expectations is the diverse background of the applicants. We not only have students and full-time professionals from various universities and fields such as IT, engineering and commerce, but we also have a dentist, a PhD candidate, a musician and an NGO owner joining the competition,” says Jim, HKU SPACE's associate head and senior programme director at the College of Business and Finance (CBF) and the team head of the competition.
Open to postgraduate students and post doctorates, as well as industry graduate schemes, the competition aims to “unlock the applicants’ entrepreneurial potential”. Each of the 15 winners will receive sponsorship worth HK$27,000 that covers return flights to Britain, accommodation, a day tour to the University of Cambridge, and, most importantly, participation in the Enterprisers programme run by the University of Cambridge Judge Business School's Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning.
“It is a very intense, interactive and practical programme Cambridge-MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) established in 2002,” Tammy Kwok, CBF assistant programme director at HKU SPACE, says.
“Through action-oriented activities and workshops, the participants, or delegates, learn necessary skills in starting up and running a business or social enterprise, such as spotting enterprise opportunities, developing self-efficacy and applying entrepreneurial ways of thinking on any project through a process of knowledge, activity and reflection,” Kwok adds.
Jim and Kwok hope to make the competition an annual flagship event of the school, and are seeking to bring the programme to Asia-Pacific.
Tammy Kwok (left) and Dr Josephine Jim
The competition targets postgraduates because, according to Jim, they are good at research and are intellectually capable, but lack a business mindset and soft skills. “Once they are ‘tuned-in’ and get the spirit, they will know the way,” she adds.
“In fact, many people still think entrepreneurship, the know-how of running a business, is something that cannot be learned at school,” Jim says. “Yet research by business academics proves otherwise; there are both theoretical and empirical factors that make a business succeed or fail. There is knowledge to be learned and studied, and experiences shared.”
HKU SPACE has been running entrepreneurship courses, ranging from certificates to postgraduate-level workshops, independently or with partners such as Fullness Social Enterprises Society, since 2008. “In our courses and seminars students can learn risk management, how to develop a concrete business plan, apply for funds and make a business more sustainable,” Jim explains. “This is challenging, as we very often have a broad mix of students in the same class, and thus may not be able to satisfy all their individual needs at the same time. This helps explain why we always fine-tune and make adaptations in our programmes and workshops,” Jim adds.
In the near future, Jim hopes the programme team can establish a tracking system to record the business and enterprise performance of every entrepreneur and graduate who studies relevant entrepreneurship courses at HKU SPACE. “There are many start-ups and entrepreneurship courses on the market, but seldom do you find a system to evaluate how much and to what extent a course can help a student's business. We plan to be in the forefront by having such a venture,” she says.
What makes a good entrepreneur? “To me, it is creativity, the courage to take risks, confidence and most importantly, the can-do spirit. If you always get worried by petty matters and hesitate, you are unlikely to succeed, business-wise. That is why the Cambridge Enterprisers programme emphasises confidence-building,” Jim says.