MBA Alumnus Guides the Youth through the Road of Social Entrepreneurship 社企導航——企業家的成人之美
From the founder and CEO of Protech (博勝電子) to receiving numerous achievements such as the Hong Kong Ten Outstanding Youth Entrepreneurs 2019, Greater Bay Leader and Global Outstanding Youth Chinese Person 2020, it is no wonder that many would expect our MBA alumnus Pun Chi Ho, Steven to have led a smooth and successful life. What is the story behind his success?
Roadmap to Entrepreneurship: Fearlessness with a Plan for Success
Being an entrepreneur has been Steven’s answer to his dream since he was in primary school, a career aspiration he continued to work towards as he grew up. After taking the HKCEE in Form 5, he did not continue his academics, and instead took the initiative to step out of his comfort zone to start a business with his friends. With interests in entering the fashion industry, they set off to Guangzhou to investigate the market landscape, only to realise that the low technological requirements led to low entry barriers. Considering the limited success due to ubiquitous competition, they decided to set aside this plan and patiently await the next chance.
The 2008 Summer Olympics hosted in Beijing witnessed Steven’s second entrepreneurial story. Back then, HDMI technology was new to the market and offered a higher resolution than traditional television. Despite not having an engineering background, Steven had a wave of inspiration to broadcast the Olympics through leveraging HDMI and commenced his research. Amidst the global financial crisis where many find themselves in a tough situation, he decided to take the opportunity and establish Protech. As Steven notes, “it takes the right people in the right place at the right time to make an entrepreneurial venture successful.” Protech now has businesses in Hong Kong and the mainland, as well as developing in international markets to bring Hong Kong’s technology to the global stage.
Considering continuous self-enhancement to be his philosophy, Steven embarked on the academic journey once again and took the Master of Business Administration (MBA) at CUHK Business School. The MBA students came from diverse backgrounds such as finance and public relations, but they came together with similar beliefs. The MBA curriculum at CUHK covered ideas such as social entrepreneurship, where businesses profit and solve social issues at the same time. Many MBA students were part of the workforce and understood the difficulties in setting up their own businesses, from sourcing capital to understanding the market and industry knowledge, which pose challenges in the entrepreneurial road.
Social Seed: Nurturing Young Social Entrepreneurs
Along with his fellow MBA students, Steven established Social Seed (社企苗) with the vision to provide a platform for aspiring social entrepreneurs to set up their own businesses, through providing support in technology, capital, talent, and professional knowledge. At first, Social Seed focused on helping social enterprises to write business proposals for government funding applications, but as time goes on, they realised the business model of a social enterprise has constraints in sustainability once the initial funding is used up. Steven and his partners decided to shift Social Seed’s attention to assist social enterprises to seek for new sales channels, which provides a continuous revenue flow for social enterprises, thereby fostering sustainable development. Their hard work paid off in the end – many are now self-financing business and make a positive impact on the community.
MatrixSense Technology Group is one of the most successful businesses among the many Social Seed projects. Mainland China’s smart city initiatives prompt the combination of 5G networks and AI technology to reduce human labour and power city operations, and amidst the pandemic, a contactless and touchless user experience became vital, especially in areas such as underground transportation, giving rise to higher demand of AI-powered experiences. Steven advised on one of the social enterprises to grasp this opportunity and bring AI technology to Shenzhen Futian station. MatrixSense mainly develops conversational bot service that enables businesses to build connected customer experiences with easy and contextualized interactions. It suits the emerging market demand on AI technology under the pandemic. The company set up inquiry machines in place of manned customer service centres. With big data analytics, ICT and more, AI technology addresses customer needs and reduces the number of staff in a station, reducing transmission risks. The initiative was well-received, not only enabling the social enterprise to establish its brand, but also receiving entrepreneurship awards.
Looking ahead, Steven reveals that he will take the role of an investor rather than an entrepreneur, funding sectors that he finds interests in. There is now an abundance of youths with the aspiration to set up their own company and fulfil social responsibility to improve our society. Steven has seen many ambitious youths with the heart to serve our society but constrained by their lack of experience. “It would be better for university students to gain more experience after they graduate before they consider contributing to society.” To Steven, it is critical to first gain knowledge and work in the industry to have an in-depth understanding of the landscape. It is more beneficial to start one’s own company after obtaining experiences in both industry and life.
Road to Success: Having a Principled and Determined Mindset
With multiple roles in different sectors, from Protech’s electronics and technology to Social Seeds and other businesses, how does Steven maintain a healthy work-life balance? As Steven contemplates, “my kids were small back then, and aside from taking care of my family, I also needed to complete my master’s degree and manage corporal affairs – there was quite a bit of pressure.” Steven had his business in mainland China, whilst constantly travelling back to Hong Kong to manage Social Seed, academics, and family, through which his time management became crucial to handling all these affairs.
Furthermore, his businesses had the common theme of helping others – Protech aims to advance Hong Kong’s electronics industry and establishes Hong Kong’s brand in the international market, as well as bringing the research technology to mainland China; Social Seed supports the development of social enterprises in making a social impact – the common vision enables Steven to stay determined amidst challenges and strive for his goals. Started from scratch, Steven persevered despite the challenges and failures along his road to entrepreneurship. His story and life philosophy are highly recommended to students with the ambition to become an entrepreneur.
Stepping out of his comfort zone, Steven was determined to take on numerous difficulties he encountered – notwithstanding the financial crisis, he was unfearful of failures and was eager to challenge himself. It is normal to face difficulties in setting up a business, from limited capital to technology, but only the successful businessmen will persist and come up with solutions to tackle these hardships. Self-control is another factor of success to Steven. Unlike employees, entrepreneurs need to continuously follow up with the business’s daily operations and often they have to count on themselves and explore on their own. Without a clear plan, it is difficult to envision goals within an expected timeframe. The ability to adapt is also crucial. With everchanging technological advancements, our lifestyle and consumption patterns change frequently. It becomes important for entrepreneurs to exemplify agility in adapting to consumer needs and remain in the market. Finally, Steven’s last ingredient to success is to be self-motivated and strive for continuous self-improvement as he embarks on the journey to success.
2008年北京奧運，是Steven 第二個創業故事的開始。當時，高畫質多媒體介面(HDMI) 技術剛推出，比起一般電視更清晰、畫質更好。他並非修讀機械工程，但認為用新技術轉播奧運有利可圖，於是努力蒐集資料。最後，在人人自危的金融風暴下，他選擇創業，把握機遇，創造了自己的商業王國。「對創業者來說，天時、地利、人和缺一不可！」現在，Steven的公司（博勝電子）在香港和國內也有業務，更投身海外市場，把香港科技帶到國際，發展相當成功。
Student reporters: Lam Mei Suet (IBBA/2), Tsang Chiu Yin (IBCE/2) and Chow Shuk Wa (HIST/3)