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Meeting Bill Clinton and other adventures: How experiences outside the classroom shaped a young entrepreneur
Sidhant Gupta went to 12 different countries on HKU's dime during his four years at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). From Netherlands to London to Myanmar to Vietnam. He started companies in some, went for an exchange programme in others and somehow still found time to participate in Model United Nations Conferences. These trips continue to be his favourite part of the HKU experience.
"I don't think that I would have been able to get these opportunities in any other university" He says. On being asked why, he explains that during his semester-long exchange at a prestigious university in the UK, he went around asking professors to give him any job and no one took him up on the offer. Whereas in HKU, it was really easy for him to find things that sparked his interest beyond the classroom. That he says is because HKU has so many opportunities coming at you from every direction that even the least interested student would have at least one experience. Theories are not enough for someone who started building robots at the age of 15. With two start-ups under his belt, Sidhant says that his work outside the classroom shaped him.
Sidhant's two start-ups are based on projects that he developed under experiential learning schemes funded by Gallant Ho Experiential Learning Fund at HKU; an AI robot that collects marine trash and an AI-powered open-source underwater camera for research conservation and citizen science. But it was his experience at the Hult Prize that led him to a path in entrepreneurship. Sidhant's team reached the top 50 out of 50,000 and ended up in London (where they met Bill Clinton). While they did not win, Sidhant says that this experience taught him that if he can take a small idea brainstormed amidst final-year projects and exams and turn it into something tangible then he can run his own start-up. They were offered funding for their Hult Prize idea but Sidhant's team members chose a more traditional but equally prestigious path and ended up in international banks in Hong Kong.
On being asked why he continues to stay in Hong Kong and does not return to his home-city of Bengaluru in India where entrepreneurship is booming. Sidhant says that he has the opportunity to do truly innovative work in Hong Kong's compact start-up world. His companies are based in iDendron, HKU's start-up accelerator and being on campus makes accessing professors, academics and students who often turn into his colleagues easier. Finally, the visa policies and the tax system is not only favorable but incredibly easy to navigate. There are tons of funding opportunities by the government and as an HKU graduate he is eligible for most of them.
As offers roll in from other countries for his company along with offers of permanent residency, Sidhant says he still sees himself in Hong Kong for the near future, as do most of his friends. Hong Kong's efficient handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has added to a long list of advantages as to why students want to stay in Hong Kong. "The thing is that people don't realise how safe and efficient Hong Kong is", says Sidhant.