Entrepreneurship Week 2019 Connects Innovators and Social Entrepreneurs for Sustainable and Inclusive Belt and Road Region

Faiz Shah1, Pradeep Ray2, Rowena Alcoba1, Sam Ro2 
1:Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand
2: University of Michigan- Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute, China

The second Entrepreneurship Week event was held at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Bangkok, Thailand on September 3 – 6, 2019, jointly hosted by the AIT and the Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE) of the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute (UM-SJTU JI). Nearly 200 people from over 20 countries attended this event. Participants included academics, (social) entrepreneurs, experts, government officials and students and they immersed in in-depth discussions about the world’s most ambitious infrastructure project called the Belt and Road Initiative, and the opportunities it could bring for social impact and sustainable development. 

Building on the tradition set by the first Entrepreneurship Week (EW2018) in Shanghai in 2018 [1], EW2019 offered a unique meeting place for academics and practitioners of sustainable development in the region. The event started with conference plenary sessions with experts and practitioners, followed by a study visit to start-up incubator and a pitching competition on the next day. The rest of the program was focused on technology-based social entrepreneurship, especially mHealth (healthcare using mobile wireless technologies), along with the countries and regions in the Belt and Road Region. As part of EW2019’s innovative design and to support local social businesses, the Thailand Social Enterprise Association was invited to provide the conference services and showcase their products and entrepreneurial projects. 

Picture 1. Dr. Faiz Shah addressing the participants during the EW2019 opening ceremony

Days 1 and 2 (Sep. 3rd and 4th)
Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Sustainable Belt and Road

The opening ceremony started with a video message by Professor Md Yunus, Nobel Laureate and Father of Social Business, welcoming the delegates to this major initiative in social business. It was followed by a welcome speech by Dr. Eden Woon, President of AIT, announcing AIT’s leadership in the region through a new Research Centre on Belt and Road (RCBR) and a Centre For Entrepreneurship. AIT’s Dean of Engineering and Technology, Prof. Dieter Trau, introduced the new centres and invited other universities for collaboration and partnership in the field of technology entrepreneurship. In his opening remarks, Dr. Faiz Shah, Director of Yunus Center AIT (YCA), emphasized the importance of finding social business opportunities to achieve sustainability and inclusivity in the belt and road.

The keynote address was delivered by Prof. Biliang Hu, Dean, BRI Institute, Beijing Normal University, and President AIT Alumni Association (AITAA) China Chapter. He shared his experience on the economic development of the belt and road region and clarified many questions on the BRI from the perspectives of technology entrepreneurship, infrastructure, and economic development.

The first panel, “Belt and Road Initiative as a Development Pathway”, was chaired by Dr. Jonathan Shaw, Executive Director, AIT Extension, with five panelists; Gen. Surasit Thanadtang, Director- Thai-Chinese Strategic Research Center, Dr. Verapong Chaiperm, Chief Expert in Targeted Industries Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) Office, Dr. Sandro Calvani, Senior Adviser Strategic Planning, Mae Fah Luang Foundation, Prof. Biliang Hu and Prof Pradeep Ray of UMJI, China. This panel discussed some of the ongoing infrastructure and social business projects being undertaken through the collaboration between China and Thailand.

Picture 2. Entrepreneurship Week 2019 Panel

The second plenary, “Educating for Innovation and Cooperation in the BRI Region”, was chaired by  Dr. Naveed Anwar, Vice-President Knowledge Transfer AIT with panelists; Prof. Mukand Babel, Faculty, AIT School of Engineering & Technology, Dr. Tariq Ahmed, Dean of Management, Balochistan University of ITE & Management, Dr. Yanxin Liu, Associate Director, Health Management Research, Tsinghua University, Dr. Qiang Wang, Deputy Director, Yunus Center, Renmin University and Dr. Lavanchawi Sujarittanonta , Lecturer, Nakhon Phanom University. This panel deliberated on how the BRI could facilitate education across the region to “Make Asia Great Again” to top the civilization after 2000 years.

The last panel of the day, “Social Entrepreneurship & Disruptive Technologies for an inclusive BRI”, was chaired by Mr. David Galipeau, Director, Near Future Lab and Visiting Expert, Yunus Center AIT. The panelists were Mr. Sam Lee, CEO Blockchain Global, Ms. Nikki Liu, Youthink Center, Mr. Michael Biedassek, CEO Bangkok Vanguards, Ms. Ke Lin, Consultant, UNDP Youth Economic Empowerment and Mr. Robert Gibbons, Former Global Director, AirBnB. The panel discussed the tension between social entrepreneurship and for-profit disruptive technology startups.

Picture 3. The signing of partnership agreement YC Renmin University, Youthink Center China, and YCA

The day ended with the signing of a partnership agreement between Yunus Centre, Renmin University, and Youthink Center, China, and Yunus Center AIT, represented by Dr. Qiang Wang, Ms. Nikki Liu, and Dr. Faiz Shah, respectively.  This partnership ushered the launch of the BRI Social Business Development Network. 

Finally, Prof Pradeep Ray of UMJI-Shanghai and Co-Chair of the EW2019 provided a brief overview of Entrepreneurship Week event and the Workshop on mHealth for Belt and Road region (mHBR) scheduled on Sept 5-6, involving 12 countries to showcase Technology Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development (TESD) with mobile technologies in social business area of healthcare, involving one Belt and Road country (Bangladesh) and Belt and Road Province of China (Guangxi). Dr. Zhigang Zhang, the Founder, and CEO of neoBAY (an innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem located in Shanghai) and founding member of EW2018, presented the concept of a network of ecosystems/Centres for Entrepreneurship across the Belt and Road region to promote entrepreneurship, essential for sustainable development, utilizing the infrastructure being setup through BRI.

Field Trip and Hackathon

On the second day, participants went on a field visit to the Startup Ecosystem at neighboring  Thammasat University. The day ended with an interesting pitching competition “Three Zeroes Hackathon – Enterprise Solutions for Tomorrow’s World” participated in by around 60 students and entrepreneurs from various countries (Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Japan, Pakistan, Thailand, and United Kingdom, among others). Divided into six teams, the participants were given the challenge to come up with social business solutions that contribute to the attainment of the three zeroes, leveraging the opportunities that will be provided by the BRI.  The business pitch applied the social business model canvas to various social problems in the areas of transportation, urban planning, environment, and healthcare. This was led by Dr. Faiz Shah, Director, Yunus Center AIT and his team consisting of: 

  • Mr. Chris Oesterreich, Lecturer, School of Global Studies, Thammasat University
  • Mr. Callum Mackenzie, Senior Program Manager, SDG Lab, Yunus Center AIT
  • Mr. Lukas Posegga, Project Manager, AIT Analytics Academy, Yunus Center AIT
  • Mr. Pathit Ongvasit, Project Manager, Corporate Action Tank, Yunus Center AIT
  • Ms. Panchica Koonchaimang, Logistics Manager, Yunus Center AIT
  • Mr. Yumu Ma, DBA Candidate, Graduate Assistant, Yunus Center AIT
Picture 4. Participants of Three Zeroes Hackathon brainstorming on social business solutions
Picture 5. The winners of the Three Zeroes Hackathon

Days 3 and 4 (Sep. 5th and 6th
Mobile Healthcare for Belt and Road region (mHBR)

Day 3 and 4 focused on the mobile health for Belt and Road Region (mHBR) projects in a continuation of the ‘social entrepreneurship sessions’ of the first Entrepreneurship Week. In the period of a year, the number of projects increased from 5 to 6, with the previous ‘information system for mHealth in developing countries’ project developing into two projects of ‘mHealth for chronic illness’ and ‘mHealth for the elderly’ projects. The latter absorbed the robots for the elderly project which had been grouped with the drones project in the previous year. The drones project, on the other hand, has now expanded and renamed as ‘sustainable and resilient mHealth services’. 

  1. Global Challenge 

The Global Challenge session was chaired by Dr. Sam Ro of CFE, UM-SJTU Joint Institute, who is leading a project to integrate mHealth projects for a poverty reduction in Bangladesh. It continues to explore new areas for mHealth technology application while building a global partnership among various stakeholders in sustainable development. Dr. Zhigang Zhang elaborated the case for building a global network of innovation and entrepreneurship network for sustainable development and Dr. Rakibul Hoque of Dhaka university brought a fresh perspective of mHealth from the viewpoint of expats in Bangladesh and in China. 

  1. mHealth Techniques for Privacy and Control

Dr. Raghava Rao Mukkamala of Copenhagen Business School chaired this session to introduce the utilization of blockchain technology for social business. Mr. Sankar Halder, founder, and president of Mukti presented how blockchain applied to his work in India and Ms. Karpurika Raychaudhuri discussed privacy issues of the technology from regulatory dimensions. 

  1. Portable Health Clinic (PHC)

PHC is a healthcare module that contains instruments to provide basic health care check-ups to improve wellness among the poor. Dr. Ashir Ahmed from Kyushu University chaired this session and Prof. Naoki Nakashima and Dr. Rafiqul Islam Maruf of Kyushu University provided an overview of the development so far. 

Picture 6. PHC Session led by Ashir Ahmed
  1. mHealth for Chronic Illnesses

Prof. Pradeep Kumar Ray of the CFE UM-SJTU Joint Institute chaired the session on mHealth for Chronic Illnesses. Among the expanding portfolio under this project, Dr. Babak Abedin of the University of Technology, Sydney, presented his team’s project in utilizing digital technologies, particularly a machine-learning algorithm to help patients diagnosed with cancer and Prof. Tariq Ahmed of Balochistan University of ITE and Management, discussed how entrepreneurship could be the carrier for mHealth for Chronic Illnesses with the examples in Baluchistan, Pakistan. 

Picture 7. Session on mHealth for Chronic Illnesses led by Pradeep Ray
  1. mHealth for the Elderly

Dr. Don Kerr of the University of the Sunshine Coast, Sydney, chair the mHealth for the Elderly session which amalgamated the wearable and robots session in the previous year’s Entrepreneurship Week event. This year the project expanded to include smart speakers. Dr. Rakibul Hoque of Dhaka University, Dr. Artur Serrano of Norwegian University of Science and Technology as well as Prof. Pradeep Ray of UM-SJTU Joint Institute are the leading members of the project. 

  1. Sustainable and Resilient mHealth Services

Chaired by Dr. Yasuhiro Soshino from Red Cross Japan, this session introduced how technologies of drones are being used for sustainable and resilient mHealth services delivery around the globe. Following Dr. Sohino’s introduction, Dr. Ruchi Saxena introduced her experience in working with Flying Labs to use drones for mHealth delivery in India and Mr. Darpan Pudasaini made a presentation on the work done by Nepal Flying Labs. 

Picture 8. mHBR group photo


The Entrepreneurship Week 2019 event continued what had been started in 2018 and added more innovative initiatives such as Three Zeroes Hackathon, creating a platform for even close interaction among participants. It also offered the place as a celebration for social businesses throughout the duration of the conference and saw the signing of a landmark agreement on social business promotion along the Belt and Road Region. Five projects of mHBR have now expanded in both breadth and depth into six projects and the reports of current progress are being consolidated into a book. We anticipate more formal networks among increasing partners around the globe to be born out of this event, and look forward to the 3rd Entrepreneurship Week event to be held at Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan in September 2020. 


[1] S.Ro, D. Brian, P. Ray, Entrepreneurship Week2018, IEEE LEADER, November 2018,, accessed September,2019

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