Heat of the Moment

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After decades working behind the scenes, Dr Yeung Wing Yu finally took off his lab coat to run a hi-tech firm. A glimpse into a company on the cusp of starting a (thermal appliance) revolution

Filled to bursting. That would best describe the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center one Thursday afternoon.

It was this year’s second installment of the Hong Kong Electronics Fair (October 12–16), the venue of frenzied transactions by countless participants.

Four floors of booths not only occupied every spacious hall, but hundreds lined the aisles outside and hundreds more were clustered in alloted free space. Among the throng was AME, or Advanced Materials Enterprises Co. Ltd, proud patent-owners of Nanoheat, a pioneering brand and technology it is eager to license abroad.

Dr Yeung Wing Yiu, Ph.D. is seated inside his booth as two salespeople try to engage the streams of buyers walking past. Yeung is tall, with close-cropped hair and the self-effacing demeanor of a man more comfortable in a lab environment. He hardly fits the stereotype of a swashbuckling entrepreneur. Instead, he likes to wear many hats.

“I put in long hours,” he says with a laugh. “My background was manufacturing and research and academics. A hybrid of all, if you will. The investors are Hong Kong people and they wanted to build a hi-tech company from scratch. So they contacted me.”

AME is a startup, barely six years old, but it has the advantage of having a great product to propel its growth. “What we do is apply a multilayer system on the underside of the glass.”

This multilayer system is so robust, energy efficient, and modular it can be applied to a broad variety of appliances. A half-second perusal of the AME booth shelves reveals the bestselling Hotplate that could be mistaken for a bulky tablet computer, but is ideally suited for warming afternoon tea. Its laboratory-centric sibling is the Ex-Hotplate. For heavy-duty meal preparation, however, the Diamond Toaster Griller is capable of a well done steak or a sandwich.

Nanoheat technology works beyond the kitchen too, be it a compact, battery-powered pocket heater for personal use or a towel rack that looks like a gadget from the Tron universe. But Yeung is proudest of the Milk Bottle Warmer Mark II, a recent innovation, whose milk white cocoon adjusts the temperature of an inserted bottle, readying it for baby consumption.

Despite the growing product line, AME is eager to license their technology abroad. It explains why Yeung is so enthusiastic about establishing a presence in the European market. This expansion plan was in place when the firm started, when Nanoheat was fresh from joint development with Hong Kong think tank Applied Science and Technology Research Institute. Thanks to seed funding from Hong Kong’s Small Entrepreneur Research Assistance Program, AME was launched in 2006 as a hi-tech venture that could compete globally.

Owing to his connections with investors, Yeung became a CEO after previous stints in manufacturing and the academe. “I was working for companies making electric cables and also optical fiber,” is how he explains his past. He never relinquished the classroom either. To this day, he still maintains his position as a guest professor in a Chinese university.

Nanoheat came about after several years of development. The patent belongs to AME and Yeung’s role is broadly defined as a balancing act between developing new gadgets and improving revenue. As he puts it, “Certainly we have a very strong portfolio. But we need to generate more income. In the next five years, we believe we can dominate a few sectors. Like lab equipment or baby care. We also want to impact the medical field because of our advantage over conventional technology.”

Yeung never forsook his roots in gritty, cutting-edge engineering. He describes the ideal engineer, the type who would fit perfectly with AME: “There are a lot of technical hurdles we have to overcome. [So] we’re always looking for fresh talent. I want engineers who can do the job, enjoy doing the job, and be proud of it after. It’s not easy to get those kind of people.”

Revealing because it could very well describe Yeung, who remains unmoved by the promise of corporate power. Yeung declares, “My position or title isn’t important. I simply want the company to be successful.”

Print ed: 11/11

 

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