Little did Sandra Sobanska know when she left her native Poland in 2014 to join HKUST’s Global Business undergraduate program, that within three years she could be part of a team staging anything quite like Hack Horizon. However this unique international - and airborne – hackathon is only the latest stage in the exciting journey Sobanska says she’s been on since her arrival in Hong Kong.
Sobanska worked with Global Business graduate Johannes Jaeger and two other HKUST-linked collaborators on Hack Horizon. Spotting the air travel industry was lagging behind when it came to digital innovation, the team decided to generate a little creative turbulence. Held in May this year, their three-day hackathon began in the air, on the flight from Hong Kong, and continued in London. The winning idea was a mobile app which could enable in-flight users to book accommodation, and more, at their destination. (For more on this unique event see here)
It’s unlikely that any app, however, could have prepared Sobanska for what lay ahead when she touched down in Hong Kong to begin her studies at HKUST. Having lived in Poland her whole life, discovering and exploring Hong Kong’s culture was a transformative experience, she admits. “My mind was opened to new ways of living and thinking, which really enriched me personally.”
Her first choice for tertiary education had been Oxford, but she says she has no regrets that her application for the prestigious UK University was turned down and she was compelled to look further afield.
“I probably wouldn’t have been exposed to startups so quickly [if I’d gone to Oxford],” she says. “Here in Hong Kong, I am able to work on unique projects at a scale that would not have been as easily available back in Europe.”
Growing up, she explains, she never really considered entrepreneurship as an option. But, from networking with C-level executives to taking coding classes, attending marketing workshops, and learning about the methodology of innovation on the Design Thinking course, Sobanska has eagerly seized the unique opportunities offered to her at HKUST to explore forms of business that allow more scope for individualism and can create a greater impact.
“I think some of the biggest shifts for me were taking part in hackUST and in the SIGHT course, where we used design thinking to develop a digitalized e-health system. Since then, I have got closer to the technology community here, learned more about the startup process and realized that despite being a student, I could do something that has a real impact.”
Now, as she completes the final year of her studies, she is also working with an education-related startup, on an AI platform that helps parents track and support their babies’ development. Unsurprisingly, she was recruited via another HKUST connection.
Prior to coming to HKUST, Sobanska had envisaged a traditional corporate career on graduation, but this no longer appeals to her. “I’d find it too slow, too political - and I like seeing the impact of the work I do.”
Instead, she wants to go on to work in either a very innovative and flexible company, or a startup, where “everything you achieve depends on how much you commit to it.”