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YFS and MIT: Inspiring young entrepreneurs

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2017, 12:29pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 June, 2017, 6:43pm

Hong Kong has long had a reputation as one of Asia’s major entrepreneurial hubs. So it’s no surprise that there’s a selection of top-notch courses and programmes to encourage the city’s youth to carry on this tradition of innovation.

The Young Founders School (YFS), which calls itself “a start-up boot camp for high school students”, is a perfect example. Designed for those aged 12 to 17, the school recently completed its first year of operation, during which it ran four weekend boot camps, and hosted a demonstration at the prestigious entrepreneur clubhouse Metta.

“When we looked at the market, we noticed there were a good number of start-up learning opportunities for adults, but very little being done for students,” says CEO and founder Billy Naveed. “This was a gap, as the students we work with have proved more than capable of benefitting from an entrepreneur’s mindset and toolbox. They are creative, and see opportunities that adults often miss.”

Billy Naveed. 

YFS had a resoundingly successful first year, with 400 student participants.  What’s more, over 50 per cent of them were female. “We’ve run 160 hours of learning, and have a pool of more than 130 mentors that support our events,” Naveed says. 

While not everybody fits the archetype of a successful business founder and operator, programme director Crispian Farrow believes that the young participants all benefit from understanding the entrepreneurial mind-set. The programme also teaches them to develop important skills, he says.

“We teach our students about measurement, how to run experiments, and how to iterate to find product-market fit,” he says. “We teach students that although ideas are cheap, it requires a lot of hard work, dedication and hustle to create something meaningful. These lessons can be as easily applied in the corporate world as the start-up world.”

Farrow and Naveed believe that educational systems, particularly in Asia, fail to nourish children’s entrepreneurial qualities. In fact, they stifle them.

“Parents and schools are obsessed with grades and university applications to the detriment of everything else,” says Naveed. “While these things are important, they are not the be-all and end-all of what employers look for in graduates. The world of work has moved on, and many organisations are now looking for talent markers which are more important than grades, and which school they went to.”

Parents and students are aware of the value of the innovative qualities YFS fosters, and its courses have become very popular after just one year of operation. “We are currently overwhelmed with demand, with over three times the number of applicants than places,” says Farrow.

There are expansion plans in place to meet this large and growing demand. “Our vision is to build a global network of young entrepreneurs, and to provide a full range of education about entrepreneurship and beyond,” says Naveed. “In terms of geographic expansion, we are launching our first international boot camp in Shenzhen in August, and we plan to expand to Singapore by the end of the year. In 2018 we hope to be live in six to eight cities in Asia, and possibly testing a programme in Europe.”

YFS is also the official education partner for RISE, which Farrow describes as the largest and most important tech conference in Asia. The Road to RISE Challenge will take place at the ESF school Sha Tin College on June 23, when around 100 students will showcase their business plans in an effort to win VIP tickets to the conference.

The MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Hong Kong Innovation Node is another entrepreneurship-based initiative in the city. One of the most innovative schools in the world, MIT established the Node in response to Hong Kong’s abundance of business opportunities.   

The Node organises the MIT Entrepreneurship and Maker Skills Integrator (MEMSI), a fully immersive programme for aspiring entrepreneurs in various industries. The programme is a two-week long, fully immersive boot camp for aspiring hardware system innovators from universities in Hong Kong and from MIT.

MEMSI aims to give students with engineering, science and technology backgrounds the skills and business knowledge necessary to become successful entrepreneurs. Business students are also included in the programme, creating a variety of partnership and networking opportunities.

Brian Yen, executive director, MIT Hong Kong Innovation Node, says MEMSI was set up to help prepare new graduates for the fast-changing work place. “Due to the rapid advancement of technology, from the internet to advanced manufacturing, a small number of individuals now have the ability to bring about monumental disruption to existing industrial giants,” he says. “We’re at a tipping point where David is wielding an ever-sharper sword against Goliath in every industry sector.”

MEMSI has a balance of students from MIT and Hong Kong universities, with a variety of age-groups and academic backgrounds. The first cohort, in January 2017, saw a total 30 students, with 67 per cent undergraduates and 33 per cent graduate students. Sixty per cent came from engineering and science backgrounds, 27 per cent were business students, and 13 per cent were design students.  The second boot camp will take place in June.

“Increasingly, students around the world find that traditional monodisciplinary education does not adequately equip them to tackle this new and rapidly transforming work place,” Yen says. “Thus, education in innovation and entrepreneurship becomes critical, where students learn the importance of both technical skills as well as business acumen. Students now desire multi-disciplinary skill sets to tackle their chosen industry head on.”

To this end, MESMI combines MIT’s world-class experience in entrepreneurship with regional expertise in manufacturing to deliver an unforgettable learning experience. “We use some of the curriculum taught at the Martin Trust Centre for MIT Entrepreneurship, while also teaching important elements of advanced manufacturing,” says Yen. “We also go on a Shenzhen factory tour to complete the two-week high-intensity boot camp experience.”

Hong Kong students looking to apply to this prestigious programme must complete an extensive application process, and produce a two-minute video explaining why they should be selected. “We value interpersonal skills as much as technical skills, and we don’t look at grades,” Yen says.