12 Jan 2024

Starting a Business Before Graduation — Find Out Samuel’s Path to Success

Student Translator: Seto Yi (TRAN/3)

Chan Sze Nok Samuel, a Year 5 Computer Science student, has made a name for himself among university students and was recently awarded the CUHK Outstanding Students Awards 2023: Innovation and Invention. He leads OAO Limited, an entrepreneurial team founded by six CUHK students, to change the way anatomy is perceived and taught worldwide through the innovative GIMII platform, which preserves organ specimens in the form of 3D scans. In just two years, Samuel and GIMII platform have partnered with the CUHK Faculty of Medicine and School of Chinese Medicine, laying the groundwork for the creation of the world’s first 3D specimen library, mapping the new contours of interactive teaching in anatomy.

GIMII is a high-resolution and high-accuracy platform for real 3D organ modelling. This highly interactive collaborative channel not only clearly demonstrates the relationships between different body systems and organs, but also features note-taking and embedded images and videos to enhance learning experience.

Internships Drive to Road of Entrepreneurship

It is common for university students to seek out different types of internships, and Samuel’s idea to start his own business was inspired by his internship experience. “When I was an underclassman, I spent most of my time interning at start-ups in the Science Park, which allowed me to familiarise myself with how start-ups operate,” says Samuel. Samuel, who studied Computer Science, developed the GIMII platform from his interest in anatomy to his work as a student assistant at the CUHK library. “I was in charge of 3D scanning of specimens and had the opportunity to enter the anatomy lab and witness the surgical and dissection process. These experiences sparked my curiosity in this field. Once I even had the opportunity to touch a lung, or to be handed a surgical procedure. These are rare experiences that I hope to continue to be a part of.” Later when he learnt that the library wanted to grant students access to the scanned 3D specimens, and even create a related platform for this, Samuel and a group of friends began discussing, “Why don’t we try to start a company that meets that need?”

The decision process was not as serious as one might expect, “it was just a group of friends getting together having a hotpot meal and chatting, and then we suddenly thought, why don’t we do something about it? So, we hurriedly made a pitch deck late at night and submitted it to CUHK, and they accepted it. I also found out that the university actually provides a lot of venture capital support, so we decided to give it a try because we had nothing to lose anyway.”

In the end, it was a team of six, led by Samuel as CEO, who started the experiment. “In the beginning, I remember I was in charge of almost all the work, but it became too much, and we gradually learned to divide up the work. All of us came from different majors, with those who studied AI doing the programming and those who studied business doing the business-related work. In fact, the other five partners are now able to do most of the work, and I’m responsible for monitoring our progress and setting goals.”

From a Desk to an Office

For university students, youth is one of their assets, and they can seek support from universities or colleges in starting their own business. For example, the PI Centre, where we were on the day of the interview, provides a base for students or professors to start their own business. However, they often face a lot of scepticism, and Samuel is no exception, “once at CUHK, I asked a professor for advice, but he thought the platform was useless and ineffective. I didn’t feel too frustrated with this opinion. After all, it was just his personal opinion. In retrospect, I’m even more determined to prove our worth to him.” Samuel admits that he’s heard a lot of this kind of advice and scepticism from professors and investors along the way, but it’s all been able to point out some of the practicalities, which has helped them to go further.

Two years on, the scepticism may still be there, but with a lot of hard work, the GIMII platform has already brought Samuel and his team a number of awards and partnership opportunities, such as first place in the Vice-Chancellor’s Cup of Student Entrepreneurship (VCCE). But the most rewarding moment was when the company got its own office in the Science Park. “This is the biggest and most tangible sense of fulfilment, as we never imagined from the beginning that we would go from a desk in the PI Centre to having our own office.”

Looking to the future, Samuel wants to go even further, “we are currently focusing on the application of GIMII in the medical field and are working on both Western and Chinese medicine. In the future, we hope to expand into other areas, not just human, but possibly animal as well. There is a wide range of needs in this area, possibly involving applications in veterinary medicine and even STEM in secondary schools, which is a clear goal for us in the short term.”