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Facebook Course: Lessons from Silicon Valley
Jul 13, 2020

Yimin Lai & Jorge Alvaro Montoya, GMBA Class of 2018

In the spring semester of 2017, SEM and Facebook jointly launched the “Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Insights from Silicon Valley” course at Tsinghua x-lab x-space. The course aimed to boost students’ interest and ability in innovation and entrepreneurship by integrating guest speaker talks, academic sessions and team projects. Inviting guest speakers from Facebook, local guests from various related fields, together with Tsinghua SEM faculty, the course introduced students the most popular science and technology hot spots and innovation and entrepreneurship topics from Silicon Valley, to encourage Tsinghua students to think about the future with a global perspective. The course was open to students reading Bachelor, masters and PhD degrees from all schools in Tsinghua University. The opening class saw over 200 attendees who quickly formed their own startup teams with teammates taking up roles of CEO, CTO, COO, CMO. Industry mentors were assigned to each of the teams.

Akkadu receiving their award from Facebook Vice President Dr Vaughan Smith and Dean Qian YingYi

Students saw eight top-level personnel from Facebook HQ fly in to share their experiences with students, including directors from corporate development, partnerships, HR, AI Research, Engineering, VR, and operations. These were complemented by lectures from Tsinghua Professors on entrepreneurship. As part of the course, the student teams were required to develop a pitch for a new service or product in order to put what they had learned to test, with a focus on business viability, user desirability, and technical feasibility. The course cumulated in a high-stake competition where the 1st place finisher received 100,000 RMB. Judges included:

Vaughn Smith, VP, Corporate Development, Facebook

Jayne Leung, VP, Head of Greater China, Facebook

Chuck Ng, Partner, PreAngel Partners

Xisheng Zhang, President, Hua Capital

Kui Zhou, China Partner, Sequoia

Feng Li, Founding Partner, FreeS Fund

Qiang Shen, Co-founder and CTO, Jiangmen Capital.

Six groups from our class participated, of which five entered the finals: 3D Reality Capture, which provided digital 3D model content to VR and AR companies; Thereos, focusing on early liver cancer detection through advanced algorithm; Yee Coffee, which designed and operated smart vending machines providing freshly brewed coffee; Akkadu, which provided instant subtitle translation for presentations; and Deep Music, an AI generated music composer that enabled users to create background music for short videos and games.

Three GMBA groups placed in the money, with Akkadu coming in second place, Deep Music and Yee Coffee coming in third place.

Jorge Alvaro Montoya

We caught up with Akkadu Team representative, Alvaro Montoya for his thoughts on the course:

Q: What made you decide to join the Facebook competition?

So we already had the idea and we decided to join because we liked the structure of the classes, every day is a different topic related to startups, and they’d bring in an executive from Facebook and a professor from Tsinghua. So many advantages and perspectives from this course: Mentoring, partners, ideas and also volunteers to join your team. We definitely felt that we should join.

What do you think was the biggest takeaway from the course?

There are several things: I think the one was the competition itself, when you are competing you can learn a lot from the other teams, how to lead…and you learn about yourself and your partner under pressure. You learn from professors themselves, how to market, how to approach the business model. Some of the Facebook executive stories were inspiring. A big takeaway was that it was an international class and people were struggling with the language, and that proved to us our translation solution was truly needed. The feedback too was very helpful, now that we are actively looking for investors outside of the classroom, many of the questions we got from investors are the same from the Facebook class, so it was good preparation.

How do you think this class has helped prepare you for entrepreneurship outside of school?

Contacts. I met so many investors during the class that I still keep in contact with. Six months after the competition, one investor called me and asked if he could use the product, so we are still in touch as we launch the prototype. Making the pitch during the final was the most important thing, some investors like to hear that you got into the final of the Facebook competition at Tsinghua.

What was it like meeting people outside of MBA during the competition?

I think it really opened my eyes. There were some PhDs who joined from elsewhere who had trouble pitching, but then at the business school they were able to connect to our classmates. It helped me recognize the power of the business program. The other way around… Just last week Tuomo, my partner, Yimin and I went to the machine learning department at Tsinghua, I did not hesitate to go, because through the competition I recognized that there are other entrepreneurs outside of SEM who are interested in collaborating.

How has the school helped you along your journey?

My classmates helped a lot. Bruno, Yimin, Cissy, Jane. When I get investment I better get them dinner Haha, they not only gave me advice but helped me in time. Cissy stayed up till 3AM that day before we had to compete in this other competition, the Dean’s Cup. The great thing about the MBA program is that we get to know what people are good at or bad at, even people I don’t like I can learn a lot from them. Every week I check in with Bruno on how we are doing, this is leveraging our classmates. I’m happy today that Kenneth, a classmate, checked in on me to see how the project is doing. And Professor White! Always advising me and supporting me, I showed up one morning at his house and we did a whole roadmap at 8AM it was very helpful. My IPP professor as well who is very supportive as well. X-Lab, Mao Laoshi at Xlab, they have so much to give, even my partner was surprised at the insights and advice they provided. The most important thing, when you set up a company, you need to set up an address, you need to pay like 20,000 RMB, and through X-Lab we were able to get this for free. By getting a recommendation letter from X-Lab, we were able to get these contacts to agency and services as well.


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