Academic Entrepreneurship is a Fulfilling Avenue for Professional Growth

TOPICS: Founder , Hong Kong , Medical & Healthcare Services

by Tin-Lap Lee

Academic entrepreneurship is often the most fertile ecosystem for many of today's unicorns. Of the top ten universities that generated the most unicorn founders in 2021, 7 were from the United States, 1 from India, and 2 from China. Among the 18 Hong Kong unicorns in 2021, 8 were spun off from the local Universities. That’s quite impressive. 

Academic entrepreneurship is a term I never heard of back in 2018. After getting my tenure at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2017, I started thinking about what social impact could be made from my research besides writing research grants, scientific publications, and teaching. The topic of infertility immediately was under my radar as my primary research was in reproductive biology. 

Instead of studying male reproductive biology which I have worked for more than 10 years, I turned to females due to the breakthrough of single-cell genomics technology and its social impact. I was astonished to know many women were unaware that current fertility technology is severely limited by age. Getting pregnant after 35 is infinitely more difficult, as the ovaries’ natural ability to release healthy eggs steadily plummets with age. Women over 40 may be shocked to learn they have a less than 10% pregnancy rate using their own eggs. As such, research dealing with age impact on eggs was proposed, and the project was successfully funded.

With the expert team’s effort, the research delivered amazing results and led to the birth of our EggCellent technology. The initial thought of establishing EggLogics was to translate the exciting findings into novel egg rescue solutions for millions of women and to provide career development opportunities to graduate students and postdocs. I never envisioned that creating a startup was such a challenging game for a scientist. My role as “Chief Everything Officer” pushed me to acquire business proposal writing, pitching, market research, and financial analysis skills in a short period of time, and allowed me to present the research accomplishment from a layman’s perspective. 

Importantly, our hard work would not be fruitful without proper entrepreneurship guidance provided by the University and Hong Kong Government. Finding experienced and the right coaches to walk with your academic entrepreneurship is critical to the start-up’s success. I really appreciate the support from Jonathan Chee, Head of Venture Acceleration Team at CUHK, who provided a lot of training opportunities such as nominating us to join HKTDC Start-up Express.  He also connected me to many great people like Emmanuel Hui, Principal of Pentepebble, who provided business operation support to EggLogics. The Hong Kong Government is also an important accelerator to my academic entrepreneurship. With the start-up funding from the Technology Start-up Support Scheme for Universities (TSSSU) and the Incu-Bio program provided by the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP), EggLogics starts taking shape in technology translation.

The Start-up Express programme organised by Hong Kong Trade and Development Council (HKTDC) addressed the pain points of outreaching and business development faced by many academic entrepreneurs, who can develop excellent technology but poor in business execution. EggLogics was very fortunate to be one of the winners in the 2022 winning cohort and received the prestigious AMTD SpiderNet Start-up Award. I was extremely impressed by the post-competition support by HKTDC.  The team at HKTDC actively connects EggLogics with various potential business partners, events and competitions to enhance the local and international visibility of our technology. We are deeply indebted to the great leadership and passionate team at HKTDC,  providing such a nice soil for our business to grow.

Since there is more government funding available than ever before, it is now an excellent time to get into academic entrepreneurship. The training experience I received from the academic entrepreneurship journey was so valuable and never regret that I made the decision. The experience of meeting people from different spectrums does great help in my professional growth and developing EggLogics into the next unicorn. 

About the Author

Dr. Tin-Lap Lee is currently the founder and director of EggLogics Limited, and holds an Associate Professor position in the School of Biomedical Sciences, the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Before joining CUHK in 2011, TL conducted research at National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States and was a Staff Scientist at the Laboratory of Clinical Genomics, National Institutes of Child Health, and Human Development (NICHD). His research interests include germ cell, stem cell biology, and biomedical informatics. Besides identification of various processes contributing to normal or disease states in germ cell and stem cell development. He also developed algorithms and databases to facilitate genomic data mining, including GermSAGE, GonadSAGE. TileMapper and the GermlncRNA.  His works have been recognised by the NIH Merit Award, The NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence and young scholar awards from American Association for Cancer Research and American Nanomedicine Society. The research work has generated 122 publications with over 5300 citations. TL has secured more than 24.8 million HKD competitive funding from the University. To facilitate benchside to bedside translation, he founded EggLogics in 2018 to develop cutting-edge technology for improving fertility treatment success rate, the company has been funded by the Innovative and Technology Commission, a healthcare investor, and selected by the IncuBio program at Hong Kong Science Park.