Polsky Helps Train the Next Generation of Fintech Entrepreneurs from Hong Kong

In August, fintech startup companies from Hong Kong visited Chicago Booth for a week of immersion in the Chicago start-up ecosystem.

In July of 2013, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business announced plans to move its Executive MBA program in Asia from Singapore to Hong Kong. At around the same time, Braintree, a payment processing platform that took home first place at the Polsky Center’s 2007 Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge, was acquired by tech giant PayPal.

Now, just five years later, Chicago Booth is set to begin fall classes at a brand-new, permanent campus in Hong Kong. And, fintech interest has skyrocketed within the Chicago Booth ecosystem. In just the last year, multiple fintech student groups have been established; PNC Bank cohosted their numo Fintech Challenge with the Polsky Center; and fintech startup Manifest won $315,000 and first place in the 2018 New Venture Challenge.

And excitingly, these two worlds recently had the opportunity to come together in a big way. Nineteen fintech startups comprised of 56 Hong Kong university students visited Chicago Booth’s Hyde Park campus in late August for a week of immersion in the Chicago start-up ecosystem. The excursion was a part of this year’s installment of the University Partnership Programme (CUPP) from Cyberport, a Hong Kong-based Fintech incubator. As part of CUPP, every two years, Cyberport partners with a prominent American university to offer its student participants a chance to explore the Fintech start-up ecosystem in the United States.

Chicago Booth secured this year’s American end of the Cyberport CUPP contract through the Polsky Center’s program proposal that offered a plethora of resources to prepare students for global success. Polsky and the Chicago Booth Executive MBA office devised a week of programming and networking for CUPP’s young founders to gain insight into building a successful business.

First on the students’ itinerary was a series of lectures and activities led by some of the Polsky Center’s biggest names and entrepreneurs. Among the presentations given were “Understanding the Competitive Landscape” by Polsky executive director Starr Marcello, AM ’04, MBA ’17  “Entrepreneurial Marketing and Sales” by SaaS entrepreneur Phil Leslie, MBA ’09, and “Creating a Product Development Plan” by Polsky senior associate director Will Gossin.


After four full days of programming and preparing, all program participants were given the chance to pitch their companies to local fintech founders and mentors. The presentations took place at Chicago Booth’s Harper Center and featured a judge panel full of distinguished Booth alumni. A few familiar faces were Polsky Center COO Kristin Barrett, MBA ’12, Discover financial services vice president Rob Gillis, MBA ’99, and Haystack founder Karl T. Muth, MBA ’10, among others.

The judges were wowed by a wide range of companies that all fit nicely under the fintech umbrella. On the financial end of the spectrum, they heard from companies like BitExTract, a consolidated cryptocurrency analysis database, and GameChangers, a tool to expedite the convoluted cryptocurrency auditing process. And on the consumer-tech side, judges heard from the likes of FinFarm, a Farmville-esque learning platform for elementary and middle school students, and WWOD, a new “financial guardian angel” that prevents impulse spending. At the end of the event, the students had a chance to network with the judges, potentially fulfilling many of their pitch “asks” on the spot.

The students’ week culminated with a day of site visits to established fintech companies in downtown Chicago. Participating firms included investment research firm Morningstar, credit reporting agency TransUnion, tech consultant Capgemini, and aforementioned Venmo, among others. The students noted this experience as one of the most memorable from their trip to Chicago and within the summer-long accelerator program in which they participated at Cyberport’s campus in Hong Kong. This notion was echoed by senior leadership of the program from Cyberport as well.

“The thing which I think is most important is the experience [the students] can get from this journey,” said Dr. Toa Charm, Cyberport’s chief public mission officer. “They interact with the speakers here, the companies here, and the culture in the United States. In the future, there will be a lot more collaboration between the students and the United States, particularly in Chicago.”

While the fintech program in Hong Kong has certainly been a success, it represents only a part of Chicago Booth and Polsky’s participation in the Fintech space and their greater presence abroad. When it comes to global outreach, Chicago Booth and the Polsky Center hope to cement themselves as a hub for impact and innovation across Asia – goals that align well with Cyberport’s mission as well. “We’re not building one company; we’re building an ecosystem for Hong Kong,” added Dr. Charm, who attended college and graduate school in the Midwest before beginning his career in Hong Kong. “This partnership is unique,” he continued, “because of the connections that come with the partnership for both sides. Hopefully we can learn from Chicago Booth and they can also tap into our ecosystem.”


Learn more about the Polsky Center Fintech Program, and more ways you can get involved.

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