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HKU SPACE’s Go Cambridge competition keeps entrepreneurial spirit high

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We seldom stop for a moment to consider what it means for someone not to know their date of birth. UNICEF reports that only half the children in the world are registered, with numbers especially low in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The list of the consequences of not having a birth date is long.

“Without authentic birth documents, these children are more vulnerable, from quiet discrimination to anti-social activities including child labour, early marriage, prostitution, inappropriate sentencing following criminal offences, and other dangers that come from being ‘invisible’,” says dentist Dr Jayakumar Jayaraman, a PhD student at the University of Hong Kong (HKU).

Working with a research team in Britain, Jayaraman has developed an evidence-based method of estimating age from dental development. Aware of the serious consequences of not having any birth records, in 2013, Jayaraman set up the Date of Birth (DOB) Foundation, the first charity in the world for the improvement of birth registration policies globally and providing ages for children without birth records.

This and eight other outstanding local entrepreneurial initiatives have been given support by the HKU School of Professional and Continuing Education (HKU SPACE) Go Cambridge Enterprise Competition 2014 programme, which gives full sponsorship to postgraduate students to participate in a tightly organised four-day study trip to Cambridge. 

The Enterprisers programme has also offered an important opportunity for young entrepreneurs to link up, and find support and co-operation opportunities

“Applicants had to put together a business plan or research proposal for a product which they believed would be commercially viable or could be put into practice as a social enterprise,” says Dr Josephine Jim, HKU SPACE’s associate head and senior programme director at the College of Business and Finance, who is also the programme’s facilitator.

Simply participating in the HKU SPACE Go Cambridge Enterprise Competition was already a great learning experience, according to Jim. Students polished their projects and developed their presentation skills, obtained feedback from the judges – who were all important industry players – and networked with both judges and participants.

However, the real bonus was winning the sponsorship of HK$27,000 for the study trip, including return flights, full board and participation in the Enterprisers programme packed with information, knowledge and inspiration for the young entrepreneurs.

Run by Cambridge University’s Judge Business School’s Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, the Enterprisers programme is a combination of academic teaching, talks by successful entrepreneurs and experiential learning through thought-provoking, creative and inspiring activities.

“The Enterprisers programme was very inspiring and full of fun. The training programme varied each day. Some of the sessions were big lectures; there were also group activities and competitions in which we achieved certain missions together as a team,” says Caroline Huang Jianqiao, from mainland China.

Winners of HKU SPACE Go Cambridge Enterprise Competition 2014 were presented with a certificate. 

Her project is to develop apps which are fun but also have educational value. Her team has already made the first app game which has players put together as many Chinese characters as possible within three minutes from radicals – building blocks of Chinese characters – available on the screen.

The programme has given her more self confidence and she is keen to launch her business once she finishes her MPhil in Linguistics from the University of Hong Kong this summer.

“I think the most useful part of the programme was to learn how to pitch our ideas effectively to potential partners and investors. There were practice sessions where we got feedback from fellow students and experienced entrepreneurs,” Huang says, adding: “I got some new and brilliant ideas from fellow students and am looking for some potential corporations through this programme. I also understand my own project better.”

Participants – regardless of age and gender – were thrilled by the experience of building a rocket. “The rocket-building exercise was an eye-opener for me, as I never imagined we could build a rocket which flies so high with real explosive,” says Kum Hiu Fung, from Hong Kong.

Kum set up the social enterprise careerXchange to provide information and opportunities for career development for Hong Kong youth. He too is excited and can hardly wait for the moment they finally launch the website.

Kum was impressed by the session where they had to write a letter to their future selves. “This made me reflect a lot and be more determined to pursue my dream,” he says.

They also played the game BaFA BaFA, which promotes awareness of cultural difference. Kum found this particularly useful, as he is a co-founder of another organisation called VolTra, which promotes  intercultural voluntary service.

The Enterprisers programme has also offered an important opportunity for young entrepreneurs to link up, and find support and co-operation opportunities.

“I have also gained both an international and a local network. I was surprised to see that there were quite a few collaborative opportunities with other participants from Hong Kong,” Kum says.

Huang agrees. “During the programme we had a lot of networking activities and made a lot of friends and potential partners.”

Winners with HKU SPACE Dr. Josephine Jim (3rd from left) and members of the Cambridge's Enterprisers Progamme team

Jayaraman had a breakthrough understanding of his enterprise during the four days. He says: “Many of my colleagues said that the method of providing age from dental records has a huge commercial potential. It was during this programme that I made a concrete decision that this was not a commercial product for making money. Most children who do not possess birth records are under-privileged and socially downtrodden. Having a birth date is a fundamental human right; giving birth dates helps children regain their value and prevents them from becoming vulnerable in society.”

Following the enthusiastic response from participants to the inaugural project, HKU SPACE is keen to make Go Cambridge Enterprise Competition a regular annual support programme for entrepreneurs. Jim is now seeking partners for next year’s event. 

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