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China university start-ups: Campus creativity

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

(AVCJ by Larissa Ku) - One otherwise lazy weekend morning, several main roads at Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (HKUST) are blocked off so a self-driving car can do test runs. Meanwhile, the indoor swimming pool is being used for experiments involving underwater robots. Even on campus, start-ups never sleep.

HKUST lists 75 companies on its website that began life as student projects. The most famous is DJI, which is responsible for nearly three-quarters of the world’s mass-market consumer drones and was valued at $16 billion in its most recent funding round in 2018. The stabilized flight control system originated in the dorm room of founder Frank Wang.

Zexiang Li was the professor of electronic and computer engineering who oversaw Wang’s final-year project, which ultimately became DJI, and served as co-founder of the company. He has since promoted other start-ups, among them robot developers Quotient Kinetic Machine and Narwal Robotics, and electric boat motor manufacturer ePropulsion.

HKUST is not exceptional. Universities across Greater China are a cradle for start-ups, much like educational institutions globally, from the US to India to Japan.


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