CityU professor trains Chinese universities in how to teach entrepreneurship
For Professor Sun Hongyi, who teaches a highly popular course on innovation at City University (CityU), the Chinese kitchen encapsulates the strong potential – as well as some limitations – for innovation by Chinese people.
Western kitchen tools usually include a range of knives in different sizes, in contrast to the Chinese kitchen, where one cleaver is used for every purpose in cutting, pounding and crushing. While a western cook does not beat an egg without a whisk, his Chinese counterpart will use chopsticks, another all-purpose tool.
“I was shocked – there is a tool for everything,” Sun says, recalling the first time he discovered these tools in the kitchen of his Danish host family more than 20 years ago. “The Chinese thinking style is flexible, divergent and seems to show lot of creative thinking. The question is: how do we tap into this thinking style to encourage more innovation in China?”
This month academics and university administrators from more than 50 universities in China got a glimpse of Sun Hongyi's teaching methods on innovation and learn about his model for teaching entrepreneurship, known as PIPE, which stands for problems, ideas, products and enterprise.
Today, ideas are cheap. I believe it may take up to 10,000 ideas. In the end, those products and businesses that are successful are those that can solve problems
The symposium and train-the-trainer workshop, which took place at Nanjing Audit University from June 5 to 9, focused on entrepreneurship education, for which there is fast-growing demand in China.
“The shortage of teachers is a major bottleneck in innovation and entrepreneurship education in China,” Sun says. “Entrepreneurship education in China so far lacks a global perspective. But at the same time we need to localise western teaching methods and tailor them to the China context.”
As Chinese economic growth slows, and the unemployment rate among university graduate climbs, the State Council has issued new policies to encourage young people to become start-up entrepreneurs. Most recently, in May 2014, tax waivers and social security subsidies were announced to support early-stage businesses started by university graduates.
Such government measures have prompted exponential growth in the number of entrepreneurship education programmes in universities and MBA programmes.
Several privately-funded business schools such as Newhuadu Business School, which has campuses in Beijing, Shanghai and Fuzhou, have been set up to offer MBA programmes dedicated to entrepreneurship, complete with incubation centres and venture funds to kick-start the whole ecosystem.
Meanwhile, Sun's innovation course at CityU – which in recent years has pushed towards full enrolment of 100 undergraduate students – has been offered and continuously improved for more than 10 years.
While many other courses on innovation start with encouraging creative ideas, Sun's curriculum begins with students identifying hundreds of specific problems in their daily lives. Forming groups, students then narrow down the problems, developing ideas for possible solutions and then, toward the end of the course, developing products based on those ideas.
“We used to be told that generating 100 ideas can result in 10 products and eventually one business,” Sun says. “Today, ideas are cheap. I believe it may take up to 10,000 ideas. In the end, those products and businesses that are successful are those that can solve problems.”
Sun's course has yielded results for his students, and the growing amount of resources from CityU also helps students carry their entrepreneurial journeys further.
In the 2014 course, out of 98 undergraduate students, seven of the nine group projects were selected by CityU for potential patent application and start-up incubation. At another graduate-level class of 63 students, five out of nine group projects were selected.
An important factor has been that Sun uses his own experience as an inventor and owner of patents to inspire students.
“Instead of using case studies of Steve Jobs or Richard Branson, I use myself as an example,” Sun says. “I say: 'If I can do it, so can you.'”
In May 2013, when Sun organised a symposium at CityU to share his teaching methods with academics in China, he received a strongly enthusiastic response. One of the participants from last year, from Nanjing Audit University, implemented Sun's curriculum and methods with business school students there, and documented the experience and results in a newly published book. Nanjing Audit University therefore offered to host this year’s event.