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The Entrepreneurial Spirit Blossoms at NTHU
The “Fifth NTHU Entrepreneur Days” competition for encouraging young students to innovate and start their own businesses recently got underway. This year over 100 teams participated—more than twice as many as last year—including teams from as far away as Hong Kong, India, Thailand, and Beijing, and the event has quickly become one of the most watched innovation and entrepreneurship contests in Taiwan. This year’s keynote speaker was Tu Yi-chin, the founder of the PTT Bulletin Board System and former chief of artificial intelligence (AI) research and development at Microsoft. In his speech on the topic of “The Netizen’s Wisdom and AI Innovation” he encouraged students to start by solving the problems around them, “since that’s what you’re already familiar with!”
 
The Pearls of Interdisciplinary Education
 
During the opening ceremony NTHU President Hocheng Hong said that the theme of this year's Entrepreneur Days is “Interconnecting and Integrating Networks,” and that for the past decade NTHU has been promoting interdisciplinary studies, with the result that in the past two years one quarter of its graduates have a double major. He also emphasized that having a dual specialty is not only a career advantage, but also helps spur innovation, similar to the way in which ecological diversity is greatest where land and water meet.
 
Reflecting on the school’s various phases of development since being founded in Beijing at the beginning of the last century, Hocheng pointed out that the merger of NTHU and the National Hsinchu University of Education resulted in the addition of the College of Arts and the College of Education, and that “innovation and entrepreneurship are the pearls of interdisciplinary education!”
 
Using New Experience Will Create a New Value Chain
 
Tu told the many entrepreneurial teams that the lack of resources to start a business is usually due to the fact that you want to enter a highly competitive field, such as auto-drive vehicles or unmanned shops, but the entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily have to follow recent trends. Instead, you can begin by solving a problem which is close to you, since by doing so “You have information that no one else has, so it will be easier to succeed. Also, don't do something just because everyone else is doing it!"
 
Tu said that he established PTT during his sophomore year, and afterwards one of his senior classmates asked him to design Yam, Taiwan's first search engine. At the time, they were students who had little knowledge of entrepreneurship, so they simply start with what would be useful in their own daily lives.
 
Tu urged students to use new technology, find new problems, and figure out ways to solve them, and that in the process a new business might emerge. He also said that the business model of the future will no longer focus on traditional order taking, but rather on finding innovative solutions and using new experience to create a new value chain.
 
“The netizen’s spirit is the entrepreneurial spirit!” Tu said. “Some people are only good at talking, but it’s the local person who takes the initiative and makes something new—not really for the money, but for fun!” Tu gave five suggestions to young entrepreneurs. First, approach it in the spirit of play, since it’s in play that our imagination and creativity are at their best. Second, challenge authority, ask questions and define the problem based on your own experience. Third, start small, while collecting relevant data for solving problems. Fourth, establish a team with cross-domain expertise. Fifth, think outside the box.
 
Fostering the Entrepreneurial Spirit on Campus
 
Tu also mentioned that universities are the best environment for abandoning traditional business models, daring to play and building interdisciplinary teams because “the diversified admission mechanism picks up the best people for you.” To illustrate his approach to problem solving, Tu described how the late documentary filmmaker Chi Po-lin once said that he took the risk of personally shooting from a small aircraft because the camera mounted to a drone is unable to properly select the scene and move the lens. So after Chi died in a helicopter crash last year, Tu’s AI Lab teamed up with the Tainan City Government to use AI to train drone-mounted cameras so that it can automatically select scenes and move the lens in conformity with Chi’s aesthetics. It worked so well that they are planning to make aerial footage of the entire Tainan City.
 
Tu, referred to as “The Creator” by netizens, used open source software to create PTT in the dormitory during his sophomore year, which soon became the largest BBS in Taiwan. Tu said that PTT's P stands for panda, because during his college days he had dark circles around his eyes due to lack of sleep, making him look like a panda, which also happens to be the NTHU mascot.
 
Innovators from Near and Far
 
The Fifth NTHU Entrepreneur Days competition is divided into two categories. The "Tsing Hua Innovation Competition" is limited to NTHU students and emphasizes creativity, and the “T-Union Entrepreneurship Competition” is open to university students worldwide and stresses commercial feasibility.
 
According to Professor Tseng Fan-gang, Vice President of Research and Development, 23 teams at NTHU have signed up for the Entrepreneurship Competition, in comparison to 12 last year. There are another 26 teams signed up for the Innovation Competition, and nine of them are overseas teams, including teams from India, Thailand, Hong Kong, and China.
 
Pet Collars and Tea Culture
 
The 26 teams signed up for the Tsing Hua Innovation Competition were recommended by their practicum teacher, 12 of which entered the finals; all the teams received assistance from NTHU and were required to have a finished product within six months. The top two teams will receive NT$150,000 and an internship in Israel. "MAO-Pairing Accessory Design for FurkidsTM," one of the teams in the Innovation Competition, is the brainchild of Lin Xinyu, an M.A. student in the Department of Arts and Design. The team’s entry consists of a series of matching collars and jewelry for cats and their owners. The series includes both casual and party designs for men and women. Moreover, each collar for the cat is fitted with a tracking device so the owner can easily keep track of their tabby.
 
Another team participating in the Innovation Contest was “Lei Cha,” consisting of Tsai Jiashin, Chen Shumei, and Huang Yuting, undergraduate students of the College of Technology Management. Lei cha, or “grounded tea,” is a favorite drink amongst Hakka communities in Taiwan and elsewhere, and the team has come up with a variety of new food products featuring lei cha, including bread, cheese, and milk. They’ve also produced a lei cha recipe book, and would like to see lei cha become a part of international culture, like Japanese matcha.
 
A Virtual Currency Investment Application
 
This year 73 teams from 16 universities participated in the T-Union Entrepreneurship Competition in three categories: technology entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, and micro-entrepreneurship. Nine teams in each category were chosen for the semi-finals, out of which five teams in each category will be chosen to compete for the grand prize in June this year.
 
The first place team in each category will receive a venture capital prize of NT$300,000 provided by the TIX Institute, the Tsing Hua Entrepreneur Network, and the Liu Zhentao Fund for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
 
The team titled VINO consisting of NTHU students Wu Junlin, Claire Ting, and Fanjiang Liangyu, and Yang Ming University student Chien Chunan developed a virtual currency investment application “CryptoCoinAsst.” Wu said that through his experience of investing in such virtual currencies as Bitcoin and Ethereum, he realized that there was a need for an application like those used with stocks. After listening to Tu’s speech, Wu decided to change the team’s revenue model from B2C (business to consumer) to B2B (business to business).
 
Mentoring Expertise
 
According to Li Tianjian, the Division of University-Industry Collaboration, and the lead planner of this year’s Entrepreneur Days event; each of this year’s competitors can choose a mentor to help them develop their final product in the next three months.
 
The 15 mentors include AIPTEK chairman Mike Hsu, Dot Design director Lance Han, iiiNNO co-founder David Kuo, and Ting Changwen, the Secretary-General of Taiwan Social Enterprise Innovation and Entrepreneurship Society.
 
David Kuo said that most of what he knows about starting a business comes from his two failed attempts. Also, one of the students he formerly mentored said that Kuo has a knack for accurately assessing a plan’s weak points.
 
Another mentor is NTHU alumnus Chuang Kaiyung, the founder of BigHillNorthMoon, a well-known restaurant housed in an abandoned primary school in Hsinchu.
 

Tu Yi-chin, the founder of the PTT Bulletin Board System, was the keynote speaker of the Fifth NTHU Entrepreneur Days.

Tu Yi-chin, the founder of the PTT Bulletin Board System, was the keynote speaker of the Fifth NTHU Entrepreneur Days.


Tu Yi-chin (left) and NTHU President Hocheng Hong.

Tu Yi-chin (left) and NTHU President Hocheng Hong.


Tu gave a talk titled “The Netizen’s Wisdom and AI Innovation.”

Tu gave a talk titled “The Netizen’s Wisdom and AI Innovation.”


VIPs at the Fifth NTHU Entrepreneur Days.

VIPs at the Fifth NTHU Entrepreneur Days.


Tu with students after his speech.

Tu with students after his speech.


Students of the College of Technology Management presenting their entry in the Innovation Contest titled “Lei Cha.”

Students of the College of Technology Management presenting their entry in the Innovation Contest titled “Lei Cha.”


The team titled VINO developed a virtual currency investment application.

The team titled VINO developed a virtual currency investment application.


One of the entries in the Innovation Competition was Lin Xinyu’s MAO-Pairing Accessory Design for FurkidsTM, featuring a series of matching collars and jewelry for cats and their owners.

One of the entries in the Innovation Competition was Lin Xinyu’s MAO-Pairing Accessory Design for FurkidsTM, featuring a series of matching collars and jewelry for cats and their owners.

 

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