A Tale of Two Students

On first sight, Hugo Wing Lun Mar and Steve Weipeng Zhuo have nothing in common. Hugo is a local student with a background in business administration, and Steve a student from Fujian, China, studying computer science, applied mathematics and engineering.

Hugo is completing his MPhil in Technology, Leadership and Entrepreneurship (TLE), while Steve is working towards PhD in Computer Science and Engineering. Hugo has become the CEO and Co-founder of the start-up P-Sense before graduation; Steve has just returned to the academia after four years as an entrepreneur and the head of development.

What puts them together is the entrepreneurial spirit, inspired by their mentor Prof Gary Chan from HKUST’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering, to make a difference with their expertise: whereas Hugo co-founded P-Sense with the professor, Steve is one of the smart brains behind Prof Chan’s research on indoor localization.

A super connector among talents

Hugo’s story at HKUST began in 2012 as he became an undergraduate student of business administration with a minor in social science. He had already found the entrepreneur in him then, as he co-founded Cafeology, a coffee corner at ‘the BASE’, which is HKUST’s co-working space. He had also led a team to win the Best Pitch Award at Startup Weekend, Hamburg, presenting to judges from Google and Microsoft. Upon obtaining Bachelor of Business Administration at HKUST, instead of working in investment banks or as a management trainee, he was attracted by HKUST’s MPhil Program in Technology, Leadership and Entrepreneurship, which has not only gained worldwide recognition but also promises flexibility and diversity in program offerings to prepare individuals for entrepreneurship.

To materialize his entrepreneurial dream, the former business major, now in the technology-oriented program, quickly picked up data analytics and other technical know-how. Describing the TLE program as ‘a safety net’, Hugo leveraged the University’s support and platform to experience entrepreneurship and garner awards ranging from Hong Kong ICT Awards (bronze), JCI Next Step Challenge (champion), HKUST One Million Dollar Entrepreneurship Competition (best student award) to HKUST Challenge Cup (first class award). Within a year after joining the program, he co-founded P-Sense with Prof Chan, who is also HKUST’s Director of Entrepreneurship Center, to spearhead commercialization of applied research.

“There are many capable people around the world, and they need someone to pull them together to do great things. I would love to play this connector role so that talents can deliver their best,” said Hugo.

At P-Sense, Prof Chan specializes in research and establishing industry connections, while Hugo liaises with clients to offer sound solutions. The start-up has been sponsored by client and investor New World Development Research to engage in a technology which can be used at shopping malls, model suites, exhibitions as well as the Hong Kong International Airport to learn about people flow and duration of stay, facilitate crowd control, enhance floor layout and rental decisions.

A fan of gangster movies with high honors

Back in Fujian more than a decade ago, Steve was attracted to HKUST because of its high ranking especially in computer science and engineering, its youthful dynamism, as well as the reputation of then President Paul Chu. Choosing to apply for HKUST in Hong Kong only, he landed at the University with a four-year scholarship and became so impressed that he continued to pursue his MPhil here. Then after acquiring plenty of market experience during the four years as a technology entrepreneur in Guangdong, he once again chose HKUST for his doctoral studies. As a recipient of the Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme, he returned to the University to join his former thesis supervisor Prof Chan in his technology pursuit a year ago.

Steve is currently working in one of Prof Chan’s research teams with a focus on indoor localization. “Whereas outdoor localization has already been solved by GPS, GPS signals are not able to penetrate indoor areas. Also, people generally spend 70% of their time indoors. Our research thus aims at pinpointing people’s indoor locations real-time through their mobile phones through crowdsourcing and data mining, so that we can predict their locations next time they visit. Applying this in shopping malls, we can help predict people’s shopping habits. Using this in hospitals, we can help monitor and prevent patients from trespassing or getting lost.”

The PhD student is happy to work with research teams focusing on video sensing, big data and indoor localization. “The three areas are interrelated and the teams have good relationships. We discuss a lot and go to competitions together, winning awards in Hong Kong ICT Awards and now entering a competition on WeChat Mini Programs.

Drawing support from HKUST’s research and exchange platform, Steve had been to Princeton University as a visiting scholar, enjoyed the precious chance to work with giants such as Google, attended important conferences with travel subsidies and published a paper as early as the time when he was an MPhil student.

The top student is not only focused on studying. A lover of Cantonese comedies as well as gangster movies even before coming to Hong Kong, he was a committee member of HKUST’s Film Society during undergraduate years and quickly became a fluent speaker of Cantonese. “We had organized lots of film nights showing movies by my beloved artists and directors such as Sean Ching-wan Lau, Nick Ka-fai Cheung, Andrew Wai-keung Lau, Dante Chiu-yin Lam, and of course my all-time favorite Infernal Affairs. I was impressed by local students’ organizational skills; we prepared a detailed budget plan at the beginning of the year, and we were able to meet each item at the end of the year,” Steve noted.

Later as a postgraduate student, Steve became the hall tutor of Hall Six. “Since I had a good time there as an undergraduate student, I wanted to keep in close contact with students from diverse backgrounds. I made friends with hall mates from territories as far as Belgium, Germany and Korea, as well as from Mainland and Hong Kong.
Other fun activities that Steve did at HKUST included learning to swim in his adulthood as he fell in love with HKUST’s fabulous swimming pool, and having ventures in Sai Kung waters during boat trips for squid-fishing.

“HKUST exceeds my expectations: the view is excellent, the professors and students are kind and of high quality,” said Steve. He finds local students to be knowledgeable about what happens around them in the community. As a non-local student, he thinks students from different nationalities should take the initiative to integrate into the diverse student community.

Precious gems at HKUST

What is HKUST’s gem in the eyes of the students? Both Steve and Hugo speak highly of Prof Gary Chan, describing him as a patient and well-mannered scholar who is an excellent mentor, academic and business partner.

On top of that, Hugo thinks HKUST Business School Central, located at the Hong Kong Club Building right in Hong Kong’s financial hub, is marvelous not only because of its spectacular view facing Victoria Harbour, but because it hosts meaningful courses such as those about social enterprise.

For Steve, one of the gems is HKUST’s ‘Wisdom Stone’. The rumor goes that students who touch the stone would either get A+ or failing grades (or as corrected by Hugo, expulsion from school).

So how was it for Steve after touching the ‘legendary’ stone? The diligent student finished his undergraduate studies with First Class Honors and acquired PhD Fellowship to pursue doctoral studies, demonstrating how to ‘work hard and play hard’, which has always been a spirit shared among the HKUST community.