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22 February 2016

The HKIE 41st Annual Dinner
President's Speech

The Honorable CE, the leadership and members of HKIE, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It’s an honor for me to be asked to be a guest of honor at this important occasion. And to be asked to speak after the CE is no easy task.

I am among engineers tonight. Of course, members of HKIE are card carrying engineers. I know our CE went to two polytechs, one in HK and one in UK, so I think he qualifies to be called an engineer too. I am also an engineer by training and by academic degrees. My Bachelor, Master and PhD degrees are all in Engineering. When I was in Lower and Upper 6 in HK, I was in the Engineering class, and all students in my class were called “engine lo’s”. So here it is for happy Yuen Siu for all “engine lo”!!

When I was thinking about what to speak about in the few minutes that I am given, I was trying to think of a topic that overlaps HKIE, HKUST and the CE (who spoke before me), that’s also forward looking and non-controversial. I was naturally led to the topic of Innovation and Technology. I hope it’d be more appropriate than speaking about engineering students wandering in Mongkok!

I only have 2 simple points to make. First, there has never been a better time for Innovation & Technology in HK. Second, HK can excel in Innovation & Technology.

First, most of us would agree that Innovation & Technology needs the following ingredients for it to have a chance to thrive: market, capital, human talents, tech & business know-how, risk-taking culture, rule of law, free flow of information, and last but not least government policies. There is no doubt that HK has capital, and China, which HK is part of, has the market. HK also has the rule of law and free flow of information. Most of the rest of the world already knows this. By any measure, HK certainly has the talents, either home grown or attracted from elsewhere due to our reputation as an international city.

Now for the good timing. We have great universities: you know about QS World University Rankings but you may not know that this year HK co-ranks #1 with London as the cities that have the largest number of universities in the QS Top 100, each with 4! HK should be incredibly proud of this. Our research is recognized worldwide. For example, the recent RAE conducted by HK’s UGC ranks 70% of HKUST’s research as either world leading or internationally recognized. QS ranks HKUST #14 in the world in engineering and technology. Our business school, especially its eMBA and MBA programs are ranked amongst the best in the world. The HK government, after much struggle, recently formed the ITB, which I am sure HKIE welcomes. In the CE’s recent Policy Address, major initiatives, amounting to HK$4.7B, were announced on innovation and technology, including $2B for universities mid to downstream research, and $2B for matching funds to fund start-ups. Only in the last few years, the number of co-working spaces, all private, have risen from zero to over 40. A few months ago, MIT opened its first Innovation Hub in HK. For the last few years, the HKUST-MIT Alliance has brought in MNC’s (including Intel, TI, Schneider) to partner with HK universities and ITF to do innovative downstream research. Last December, the Academy of Science of HK was inaugurated, which together with the existing HK Academy of Engineering Science and the HK Institution of Science, bodes well for recognizing and promoting the importance of S&T in HK. The only thing that may still be not fully developed in HK is our innovation and risk taking culture and that’ll take time.

My second point is that HK can do it. Some say that HK can never excel in innovation & Tech, some say that HK can thrive on financial services, real estate, professional services and tourist industries alone. But I beg to differ and I will give a few anecdotal facts to support my position. NYC, which boasts the same historical advantages of HK on finance, real estate and tourism, has recently under Mayor Bloomberg announced an ambitious plan to fund Cornell Tech, essentially to give Silicon Valley competition in innovation and technology. BTW, Cornell received a large US$350M donation from one of its alumni, who happened to be a long time resident of HK! Just in the last few weeks, the research of one of our professors, Dr Tang Benzhong, which could lead to identifying cancer cells, was featured both in a full article in the NY Times as well as an interview on CNBC, proving that HK-produced research gets noticed even in the US (unfortunately no coverage in HK media). Finally, in a presentation I gave in 2011, the year of HKUST’s 20th anniversary, for a student organized event called UST Great Minds, I made 10 tongue-in-cheek predictions for science and technology achievements made by HKUST faculty and students in the year 2031, our 40th anniversary. One prediction was that one of our faculty members or students will have won the Nobel Prize. Another prediction was that consumers around the world will be lining up to buy an innovative technology based product made by HKUST faculty or student (at 2011 many HK’ers were lining up to buy the latest iPad!). Well, even I had not anticipated in 2011 that the first prediction almost became true in 2014 when our Professor Tang Ching-wan, the “father of Organic LED”, had a near miss on winning the Chemistry Nobel Prize when the award was given to three Japanese for inventing the blue LED. And I certainly did not anticipate that the second prediction has already become true: consumers worldwide are lining up to buy the DJI drone, invented and marketed by our alumnus Frank Wang, made by the company DJI which had its start in an undergraduate dormitory at HKUST.

So, fellow HK’ers, it’s up to us. No guarantee of success, of course. But my motto may apply here: if you try you may not succeed, but if you don’t, you’ll fail for sure!


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