In a bustling corner of Hong Kong, where East meets West, lies the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), which stands as a beacon of excellence. Known for its prestigious MBA program and unwavering commitment to providing students with exposure to global innovation, HKUST is at the forefront of shaping the next generation of business leaders. In this exclusive interview, we have the privilege of speaking with Kurt Keilhacker, a prominent tech venture capitalist with extensive experience in leadership roles in Silicon Valley tech companies and a diverse background in investing, board service, and teaching. Kurt shares his experiences and insights on the university's impact on students' entrepreneurial ambitions and the power of HKUST's global network and cross-cultural collaboration.
"There are two critical ingredients that the world’s best business schools must possess.” Kurt begins, his enthusiasm evident. “First, they must maintain the highest academic excellence, coupling high-achieving students and a world-class faculty. Second, they must integrate real-world applications into the program by strategically using internships, class projects, and case studies that can apply the latest theory to real contemporary environments. The world is simply moving too fast. Real-world application must be an enduring value."
Continuing, Kurt highlights the importance of marrying academic excellence with real-world experience. “It’s a competitive advantage to be able to join this academic excellence with industry exposure through internships, projects, and cases.” He explains. "If you have world-class academics and real-world experience, that's the best of both worlds.”
Kurt praises HKUST as one of the top young universities in the world, emphasizing its strategic advantage. Reflecting on his experience at Harvard, he notes, "While Harvard is a wonderful university, there is an obligation to tradition and the history of how things were done years ago. Too often, that is more important than asking what is needed today." In contrast, a young university like HKUST can be innovative and adaptable to the demands of the 21st century.
Kurt adds, "Another great advantage that HKUST has is its global program. Having four modalities to deliver graduate education - full-time, part-time weekly, bi-weekly, and the digital program - is just incredible. It allows for innovative and flexible ways of learning."
MBA RUNNERS SKILLS REQUIRED FOR GLOBAL LEADERSHIP
"A couple of areas," Kurt responds when asked about the skills required for global leadership. "One is that quantitative skills are very important, but they're not sufficient by themselves. They have to be married with the softer skills, the communication skills, management skills, and understanding organizational behavior." Kurt emphasizes the need for MBA graduates to possess a diverse skill set, enabling them to effectively lead in a global context.
Kurt, a seasoned investor in deep tech companies from Silicon Valley, further delves into what sets HKUST apart. "The beauty of HKUST," he continues, "is the combination of exceptional academics and hands-on industry exposure." He emphasizes how HKUST's academic programs create an intellectually stimulating environment, nurturing brilliant minds who understand the fundamental principles of business.
However, it is the university's commitment to providing industry exposure that truly sets it apart. Kurt elaborates, "HKUST goes beyond textbooks and lectures—it offers students invaluable real-world experience through internships and projects." He emphasizes how this practical experience allows students to apply their knowledge and develop the skills necessary for success in the corporate world.
CROSS-CULTURAL COLLABORATION AND KNOWLEDGE EXCHANGE
As a tech venture capitalist, Kurt understands the value of intellectual property and scientific expertise. He notes, "HKUST students possess the background and skills highly sought after in the complex world of high-tech ventures." The university's emphasis on global innovation and industry connections prepares students to thrive in a rapidly evolving business landscape.
HKUST's global network plays a pivotal role in enabling students to explore entrepreneurial opportunities on a global scale. Kurt highlights the university's strategic location in Hong Kong, which serves as a crossroads of the East and the West. He explains, "The global program at HKUST leverages Hong Kong's position as a hotbed of finance and technology, providing students unparalleled access to global networks and opportunities."
Kurt recounts an inspiring story of a student he worked with during a workshop. The student's family owned a traditional manufacturing business in mainland China, and their curiosity led them to explore the integration of technology into their operations. "What struck me the most," Kurt says, "was the student's eagerness to bridge the knowledge gap between traditional manufacturing and cutting-edge technologies."
Through cross-cultural collaboration and knowledge exchange, the student combined their industry insights with the latest tech trends. Kurt notes, "They envisioned innovative solutions and explored new business opportunities by fusing traditional manufacturing knowledge with global tech insights."
MBA STUDENTS VISITING TECHNOLOGY STARTUPS IN CALIFORNIA, USA
Our current MBA students Chloe, Simarjit, and Evelyn exploring the world of California tech start-ups during their visit to Mekonos' headquarters. It was a great experience being introduced by Kurt himself.
Top Row: Nova SYED (Company VP), Siwei (Evelyn) FU (MBA ’23), Simarjit Singh GANDHI (MBA ’23), Qiyuan (Chloe) YU (MBA ’23), and Dr. William ONORATO (Company Director of Engineering).
Bottom Row: Dr. Anil NARASIMHA (Company CEO), Dr. Yu Ting (Bill) CHOW (HKUST ’08 alum and Company Director of Systems Integration), and Kurt KEILHACKER (Company Board Director).
Evelyn, Simarjit, and Chloe interviewed the CEO and executive team at Mekonos Inc., a biotech cell engineering company in Berkeley, California. Dr. Yu Ting (Bill) CHOW, an HKUST '08 alum and Director of Systems Integration at Mekonos, guided them on a tour of the company's laboratories.
Siwei (Evelyn) FU (MBA ’23) and Qiyuan (Chloe) YU (MBA ’23) with Dr. William ONORATO (Company Director of Engineering) as they examine the silicon nanoneedles in Mekonos’ cell engineering platform.
Another memorable interaction for Kurt was a mock interview with a student interested in venture capital. The student displayed a deep understanding of the local startup ecosystem while being well-informed about global trends, particularly in Silicon Valley. Kurt emphasizes, "Their ability to analyze opportunities from both a local and global perspective showcased the impact of cross-cultural collaboration and knowledge exchange."
As the conversation draws to a close, Kurt offers his advice to HKUST students aspiring to pursue entrepreneurial ambitions. He urges them to embrace continuous learning, career networking, and personal growth. Personal growth must be intentionally focused on the building of character and resilience. He emphasizes the importance of taking risks, making sacrifices, and learning from failures, highlighting that every successful entrepreneur has faced setbacks. Kurt's experiences and insights serve as a testament to the transformative impact of HKUST's MBA program, inspiring cross-cultural collaboration and fostering global innovation among its students.
Interviewer: What would be the topic that you would like to discuss if there's another opportunity for our students to learn from you?
Kurt: Well, one area would be how to thrive in a fast-changing world and workplace. It's not enough to just survive. We want our students to be able to go out there and really thrive. So, what does thriving mean today?
Interviewer: That's an interesting topic. So, what are your thoughts on it?
Kurt: Firstly, I believe creativity is crucial. What does creativity look like in the AI age, in the era of artificial intelligence? What does it mean to be a creative entrepreneur?
Interviewer: That's a truly interesting topic. I wish we could invite you again to have our students learn from you.
Interviewer: Everyone is really busy, including our students who are working professionals in different fields. They want to transition to different roles in different areas. As someone who plays different roles in different places, do you have any specific tips or strategies for effective time management?
Kurt: Absolutely. One observation I have is that life is a marathon of individual sprints. That means there are times when you need to time-bound and fully focus on a project. But you also need to realize that you can't run at 150% for 10 years straight. You'll burn out. A career is a marathon, and that means you need to be strategic in how you expend your energy.
ABOUT KURT KEILHACKER
Kurt brings a wealth of experience to the table as a startup and VC veteran. He has played key roles as a co-founder, Chairman, CEO, or CFO in numerous companies, both in Silicon Valley and internationally. With a track record of multi-billion dollar exits and successful IPOs, Kurt's expertise in the startup world is well-established. Throughout his career, he has invested in more than 70 companies in the tech sector.