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Taking technology to market

By Guo Ying and Sun Qi | China Daily | Updated: 2017-04-19 07:52

Mao Donghui, executive director of x-Lab at Tsinghua University. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Mao Donghui, executive director of x-Lab, sees technology talent and scientific breakthroughs in abundance at Tsinghua. But many students tend to focus only on their research discipline and have a narrow base of knowledge, Mao says, and it's necessary to nurture awareness of how technology relates to innovation and the potential for entrepreneurship.

"Some research findings by Tsinghua students are better than their international peers', such as Silicon Valley companies. And many of them have begun to recognize startup opportunities and to develop their technology-led ideas into early-stage businesses or commercial projects," Mao says.

"The creativity of students is like a seedling in a pot. Only when the seedling is planted in good soil and well-nurtured can it flourish. We want to try every means to boost their understanding of innovation and startups."

Although many universities recognize the importance of entrepreneurship education, questions remain. How should entrepreneurship courses be conducted? Who is qualified to teach these courses?

In an open online discussion in March, Vice-Minister of Education Lin Huiqing said that inviting entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who have hands-on experience into classrooms will help improve entrepreneurship education.

She said the Ministry of Education and local education sectors will build an online platform listing a talent pool of more than 10,000 innovation and entrepreneurship mentors by the end of 2017.

Tsinghua has been exploring new ways to enrich their entrepreneurship education, including encouraging students to think with a global perspective.

In 2016, Tsinghua invited US venture capitalist and entrepreneur Peter Thiel to teach a one-credit elective course "Start-Up Thinking". Thiel is famous for his start-up course at Stanford University. As well as bringing the latest ideas in innovation and entrepreneurship, he also encourages students to compare and analyze entrepreneurship and venture capital in China and the United States.

Tsinghua has been updating entrepreneurial courses to incorporate new trends and to meet students' needs in starting businesses.

X-Lab's Mao says Tsinghua's IP and Business Strategy course informs students how to protect intellectual property as a startup.

"Students lack business experience and can overlook problems. Without proper patents, a startup can be less appealing for investors and even face patent-infringement lawsuits," says Mao.

"In this course, we invite intellectual-property specialists as well as chief IP officers from world-leading companies such as Qualcomm, IBM and Tencent.

"They discuss how these mature companies deal with intellectual-property issues, which is valuable for students planning startups."

Entrepreneurship courses also create platforms for alumni networking.

Hu Changran selected the Silicon Valley Insight course. The undergraduate majoring in electronic engineering has an idea for automatic composition, an artificial intelligence adaptation for music. He hopes to meet other entrepreneurial hopefuls through the course.

"I want to discuss startup ideas with students from different disciplines, which will help give me a more comprehensive view," Hu says. "I also hope to find some future partners."

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