Teamwork in Hong Kong
As the students from Illinois and the University of Sao Paulo gathered by the Piazza on the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) campus in August, there was a definite excitement in the air but also some hesitation and a healthy level of uncertainty about what lay ahead.
Undergraduate students had travelled from the U.S. and Brazil to join colleagues from HKUST for an intensive ten-day journey into international business, entrepreneurship, and a deeper understanding of the economy of Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta region. For many, this was their first time in a foreign country, and they were anxious to get started with their teams and projects.
The students came from across the world, from three very different campuses, and also from distinct areas of study: business, engineering, and science. These cross cultural, interdisciplinary teams were tasked with developing a business plan for a new venture that would align with the Hong Kong government’s economic development plan to develop six new industries in the region. After a week of intensive research, market analysis, and concept development, each team developed a viable business plan in one of the six industries. The students then presented their plan before a panel of distinguished judges.
The first day found the teams out by the ocean in Sai Kung, where they bought materials and gathered information, and then designed and built rafts from bamboo, barrels, and rope. The teams then competed with one another to cross the bay in the fastest time and at the lowest cost. The teams immediately had to deal with language and cultural differences as well as divergences in learning and leadership styles. Having led the development of this international experience over the last five years, I can attest that being a successful global operator is about being able to communicate effectively across different cultures.
During the competition the students traveled from Hong Kong into mainland China’s Guangdong Province, where they visited local businesses and learned about the economic development activities across the region. The students had the opportunity to meet executives from manufacturing and high tech companies and tour factories, offices, and research facilities. “Speaking with an executive from Tencent QQ was fascinating and gave me great insights into the different ways U.S. and Chinese companies are leveraging the internet to grow businesses,” said Evanthia Tsakos, a junior in accounting at Illinois.
The company visits provided students with real world examples of how businesses are established and grow and the interconnections between such business and the region of the world in which they operate. “Hong Kong’s economy is no longer self-contained,” commented Professor Chi Ming Chang, HKUST, at the kickoff event.
Throughout the experience, the students worked intensively with six faculty members who came from the three participating campuses. By the end of the week, the students’ business plans were well-polished and rehearsed for their final presentations to a panel of judges from industry, venture capital, and government. After a keen debate among the judges, Team “WeCycle” was selected as the overall champion with their idea about running a business centered on waste reduction and collection of recyclable materials. The business plan utilized Hong Kong’s Octopus smart card system, image recognition technology and a novel machine to accept, crush and store the recyclable products. The judges recognized that the team’s business plan brought together novel technologies, integrated with social media, provided micro incentives to change consumer behaviors, and create a sustainable and scalable business.
“I have learned a lot from this experience,” said Dasha Patton, College of Business junior and track and field student–athlete. “This experience has helped me grow personally and develop my skills; it has also provided me with unique insights into international business.”
I have taken more than 500 students on short term imersion experiences abroad since joining the University of Illinois College of Business in 2004. This kind of learning experience can create significant value for our students. Many students do not have the opportunity to spend a semester abroad. Short term immersion experiences provide valuable international opportunities to students that would otherwise not study abroad.
This was the seventh time that the University of Illinois College of Business has partnered with HKUST to provide an international immersion experience. Past destinations have included Sao Paulo, Seoul, and London and brought together students from top schools in Korea, Brazil, China and the UK.
For more information about faculty led programs in the College of Business, visit: