The university of Waterloo wants to become a leader, not a follower, says president and vice-chancellor Feridun Hamdullahpur.
The institution in Ontario is renowned for quantum computing, nanotechnology, clinical psychology, engineering and health sciences research. It has 35,000 students at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
It now offers over 40 academic programs in partnership with institutions such as the Beijing Institute of Technology, the University of Mannheim in Germany and the University of Warwick.
"Our priority is to partner with like-minded universities and contribute not just to our institution, but to the world as well," Hamdullahpur said.
Waterloo has had close rapport with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. A case in point is the cotutelle that allows doctoral students from various disciplines, including engineering, to acquire a dual PhD degree from both schools.
To further exploit their combined expertise, the two parties recently signed two new agreements covering a strategic partnership, alongside a memorandum of understanding to increase collaboration in artificial intelligence, biomedical research and other areas. "Students will have the best of both worlds," he said.
Waterloo also signed an agreement with Lingnan University to run an undergraduate exchange program.
Hamdullahpur was recently in Hong Kong to celebrate Waterloo's 60th anniversary. He was joined at a dinner reception by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngo, Secretary for Innovation and Technology Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung, as well as Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury and alumnus James Henry Lau.
Lam said she was impressed by Waterloo's reputation for innovation and reinforced her commitment to innovation and technology to stimulate the city's economic growth.
Over the next two years, Waterloo plans to establish an artificial intelligence research center in Hong Kong, revolving around translational research, AI training and entrepreneurship. Subjects like healthy aging, robotics and smart cities will be explored.
"As one of the top global innovation universities, we are fueling our democracies through new technologies, inventions and businesses that create a better world," Hamdullahpur said.
Details are not ready yet. But he is optimistic in the synergy between Hong Kong and Waterloo.
His recent visit also included a trip to Cyberport, where start-ups from Waterloo's entrepreneurship program Velocity presented their products to investors and the media.
Established in 2008, Velocity started with the ambition to "enable academically-strong students to start something new."
It now houses 90 companies and provides support on product development and commercialization.
Examples include financial technology start-ups Salient Energy, Amina Health, as well as Qidni Labs which seeks to improve the quality of life of kidney patients.
With artificial kidneys, end-stage renal disease patients need not be attached to dialysis machines and they can travel wherever they want. The replacement therapy will not only solve the health issue, but also cut the costs of using obsolete machines, he said.
Notable Velocity alumni include instant-messaging app Kik, online video platform Vidyard and technology company Maluuba which was acquired by Microsoft last year. "Our companies have a four-year survival rate of 66 percent. Some have even become unicorns - start-ups valued at over US$1 billion (HK$7.8 billion)," he said.
He said more start-ups are likely to emerge and existing ones will become full-fledged companies.
More graduates have turned down job offers from Google, Apple and Microsoft as they have their own start-ups.
Hong Kong students should not hesitate to join Waterloo, he said. Being mature, diligent, adaptable, respectful and proficient in English make them ideal candidates to become entrepreneurs in the future.