AIT opens entrepreneur centre
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AIT opens entrepreneur centre

Mr Habibullah (left), Mr Anwar (centre) and Mr Woon discuss their partnership.
Mr Habibullah (left), Mr Anwar (centre) and Mr Woon discuss their partnership.

The Asia Institute of Technology (AIT) is opening an entrepreneurship centre for graduate and doctorate students at its campus in Rangsit to offer students real-world business experience, promote innovation and provide collaboration opportunities with private business.

"We believe many young people will be interested in launching a startup and starting a business," said Eden Woon, president of AIT. "Students who come to AIT are very socially conscious because they study fields in social impact areas. Some might want to start a business so the centre can provide education, leads, mentorship and information to whoever's interested."

Much of AIT's programmes and degree opportunities focus on social impact fields like sustainable development and civil engineering, with many of the students moving on to work in consulting firms, said Mr Woon.

The new entrepreneurship centre, which opened last week, allows students an opportunity to bring what they learned from other fields and apply it to starting a business and working in business settings.

The centre, acting as a bridge between the university and the private sector, also wants to use more university research to help businesses, as about 90% of university research is stored away and forgotten.

"It's definitely a two-way street, but I would recommend more industries go to universities and take advantage of some of the amazing research that's sitting on the shelves," said Ashraf Habibullah, chief executive of the structural and earthquake engineering software company Computers and Structures, Inc (CSI), a business partner of the new entrepreneurship center. "A facility like this makes that possible and I think it will be very effective."

CSI has been working with AIT for close to 20 years, collaborating to use university research to improve its software, and recently gave the university a US$650,000 grant to make AIT more entrepreneurial and innovative.

AIT does not have access to the state's common funds, accessible by other universities.

"We usually don't give big grants like this to anybody. This is based on our association with AIT, which has been very positive over the years. We have faith in their capabilities," said Mr Habibullah.

AIT, which celebrated its 60th anniversary this year, is facing the same challenges as every other modern educational institution: preparing students for the digitally disrupted job market, where artificial intelligence replaces a large number of careers, while many future positions have not been invented yet.

Naveed Anwar, vice-president of AIT, said the skill set necessary for the next generation has changed and the educational system must adapt to these changes.

"With the rapid changes in innovation, people fear what they learn in university may become obsolete," he said. "This fear leads people to try to reskill or upskill themselves, but thinking beyond that, the skill set needed for the future has changed."

Mr Anwar said the areas in highest demand for innovation are agricultural technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, drones and the Internet of Things. AIT is working to find ways to integrate these technologies for a better society in terms of producing foods and processing waste to make a more circular economy.

According to Mr Woon, the best approach for an uncertain future is through multidisciplinary education that prepares students to be adaptable in the future and prepared to take on unique challenges.

"We don't want to produce people who only know how to produce one widget, because that widget could be gone in the future, replaced by [more advanced] technology," he said. "The grandest challenges are not solved by only chemistry or only physics, they are solved by an assortment of fields."

AIT has already begun collaborating with local startups and businesses, most recently through its "100 Innovations x Entrepreneurs" event last Friday, held in partnership with the Thailand Tech Startup Association. At the event, students, startups, entrepreneurs from various industries, development agencies, NGOs, as well as investors and venture capitalists came together to discuss new innovations and ways to combine social impact research with new business ideas.

"This is the first important collaboration we have done with the Thailand Tech Startup Association and all the partners we have here today believe what we are doing will have a good impact," Mr Anwar said.

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