Li Zexiang and Ko Ping-Keung talk about innovation and entrepreneurship at HKUST (GZ)


On October 15, a delegation led by Li Zexiang and Ko Ping-Keung, professors of HKUST and founders of XbotPark Robot Tribe, visited HKUST (GZ) and exchanged inspiring ideas on innovation and entrepreneurship with teachers and students. Prof. Lionel M.Ni, President of HKUST (GZ), accompanied the team and presided over the symposium.


Prof. Lionel M.Ni gave a detailed introduction to the educational philosophy, talent cultivation model and teaching innovation approach adopted by HKUST (GZ). The delegation also visited some venues, including the core teaching area, gymnasium and campus “smart brain”.



After the visit, Prof. Li Zexiang and Prof. Ko Ping-Keung shared ideas on innovation and entrepreneurship with teachers and students.


In his opening speech for the symposium, Prof. Lionel M.Ni said that a majority of the students present were from the Redbird MPhil Program (RBM), an innovative program launched by the university to explore the reform in talent cultivation model and pedagogy model.


He hoped that these students can break free from stereotyped thinking, identify “real problems” and put forward valuable research topics through the two-year study and exploration of RBM. The university will continue to invite leaders in academia and industry, and all students are expected to seize opportunities, utilize resources, broaden their horizons and embark on their path to constant growth.



Prof. Li Zexiang and Prof. Ko Ping-Keung are known as distinguished scholars, successful entrepreneurs, mentors of numerous innovative, entrepreneurial talents and “guides” of innovative enterprises.


Prof. Li Zexiang, together with his colleagues and classmates, has founded a number of companies, including Googol Tech, DJI, QKM and ePropulsion. As the joint founder of Celestry and the founder of SFI, Prof. Ko Ping-Keung is committed to developing Chinese semiconductor chip design and integrated system enterprises.



At the symposium, Prof. Li Zexiang shared his stories of innovation and entrepreneurship since he joined HKUST in 1992. Under his leadership, the Automation Technology Center (ATC) at HKUST (also known as Lab 3126) enrolled a group of inexperienced undergraduates and postgraduates and equipped them with innovation and entrepreneurship capabilities. By 2021, ATC had trained 100 students, nearly one third of whom have pursued their dream of entrepreneurship.


In 2014, the two professors jointly founded XbotPark Robot Tribe, further exploring a supportive system for cultivating and empowering hard & core technology entrepreneurs in an all-round manner. So far, XbotPark has incubated more than 60 companies, including Narwal, Hai Robotics and EcoFlow.


“According to our statistics, nearly 80% of these startups can survive in fierce competition. About 10 of them are quasi-unicorn companies, accounting for 15%. Five new unicorn companies are expected to be incubated next year,” he said.


Prof. Li said that he discovered an interesting phenomenon while incubating innovative and entrepreneurial enterprises: more postgraduates are engaged in entrepreneurship than doctoral students; most postgraduates choose ToC (To Consumer) projects while most doctoral students prefer the ToB (To Business) model. Therefore, postgraduates’ projects can exert a wider-ranging influence on society. “It may be attributed to the stronger curiosity of young people,” he said.


He also talked about the difficulties he once met in incubating unicorn companies, and shared his insights into overcoming these challenges with teachers and students. For example, during its early days, Narwal was a latecomer to the market, which was dominated by some leading companies and was flooded with “copycat” products. Nobody was sure whether such a startup as Narwal could fight its way out. After continuous technological breakthroughs and practical innovation, Narwal has delivered an impressive performance.


Prof. Li also introduced the journey of startups, such as SwitchBot, Morus, HomeRun, Ecoflow and Hairou Logistics, to encourage students of HKUST(GZ). “Many ideas that looked ridiculous at first sight may have the potential to subvert the industry, so just unleash your imagination and make bold attempts,” he said to them.


He also said that the reform and innovation of education are pivotal and propulsive to China’s innovation and entrepreneurship. He has proposed and initiated a series of innovative talent cultivation programs between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, which have reaped some positive results. Prof. Li expressed an optimistic attitude towards the educational innovation endeavor by HKUST (GZ), encouraging students to fully utilize the industrial chain and innovation & entrepreneurship resources in the Greater Bay Area.



Prof. Ko Ping-Keung said at the symposium that HKUST has set its sight on “industry-university-research” integration and has gradually developed a corresponding system since its founding.


“What are the possible problems that may hinder teachers and students from starting their businesses? We need to consider it ahead and prepare some plans, which holds key to the sustainable and healthy growth of the enterprises in the future,” he said. Prof. Ko believed that it is natural and reasonable for young people to pursue technology entrepreneurship in the field of ToC, given that the young population is the main force of consumption.


“Many people ask me about how to find an entrepreneurial project suitable for them. I just tell them to keep observing and discovering what their families and friends need. Identifying this need and solving problems behind is the first step for success in entrepreneurship.”


In the heated atmosphere of the symposium, each student taking RBM was encouraged to form a team and propose their own research projects. Some students are planning to transform their research projects into real businesses in the future. Besides answering various questions from students, the two professors suggested that they should abandon the worship of a high academic degree and even their supervisors while following their guidance.



“Instead of offering answers directly, a professor is more of a guide and a mentor, who helps entrepreneurs connect the dots (cited from a saying of Steve Jobs). You need to devote yourself to the real application scenarios, dig it out and find the solutions,” they said.


Relevant principals of XbotPark accompanied the visit of Prof. Li Zexiang and Prof. Ko Ping-Keung. Wang Tianyi, Chief Engineer of the Science & Technology Innovation Center at HKUST (GZ) and Professor of Practice of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Thrust, Dr. Keven Zhen, Acting Dean of Student Affairs Office, Bai Yu, Deputy Director of the Science & Technology Innovation Center and Professor of Practice at the Microelectronic Thrust, and He Jinyu, Associate Professor at the Innovation Policy and Entrepreneurship Thrust, Society Hub, participated in the reception and discussion. Dr. Xiao Guowei, HKUST alumnus and President of Guangdong APT Electronics Co., Ltd. also attended.

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