January 23, 2023 • By Keith Giles
Sally Chou is a double Specialty Masters Program student from a small island in east Asia called Taiwan. "If you have an Apple iPhone, the chips are likely made in Taiwan, where I was born," she says. Chou’s education growing up in Asia was totally different from what she has experienced in the United States.
My educational experience in the past made me afraid of taking calculated risks or challenging the authority,” she says. “But when I came to UCI and the Merage School, I feel like I am not afraid of making mistakes. I think it’s because everyone encouraged me to speak up and share my experiences and my opinions. This is the best moment for me to take calculated risks because I'm a student and I'm learning something and so I feel more confident when I study here.”
Chou planned to complete her double specialty master's program many years ago before she ever started to study abroad.
“I’ve always been fascinated by how the financial market operates to support the development of business economics,” she says. “My rising interest in financial investment, focusing on innovation started with an online session with Cathie Wood, the CEO and Chief Investment Officer at ARK Invest when I was working as an investment banking intern in BNP Paribas. Her investing strategy really impressed me a lot. It’s very simple, but it’s powerful.”
What really inspired Chou about Wood’s elegant investing strategy was the focus on something called ‘disruptive innovation.’ “When I heard that, my first question was, ‘What is disruptive innovation?’”, she says. “Eventually, I discovered that it refers to innovation in technologies that make expensive or sophisticated products and services accessible and more affordable.
Strictly speaking, disruptive innovation potentially changes the way the world works. For example, the invention of the smartphone was a disruptive innovation because now people can browse websites whenever they want without needing the computer, or can watch videos at any time without needing a television. Our lives have been totally changed because of these handheld computers.”
Chou believes that investing in companies that focus on solving some of the world’s most persistent problems will really help to shape the future and open the gates for more innovative global consumer markets.
“After my experiences in the investment banking industry, I felt like I wanted to start my own business,” she says. “So, I was thinking about what kind of skills and knowledge I would need to make my dream come true, specifically about making investments. The first thing I would need is expertise in finance, and the second one would be an understanding of the whole process of starting a company from an idea.”
With her eyes focused on those two objectives, Chou started looking for the right Master’s Program to help her achieve her goals. “I think UCI and Paul Merage School of Business are perfect for me,” she says. “I can do double programs here in this amazing environment with excellent resources, including strong connections to real-life businesses that offer great opportunities to engage in a local community. That’s why I’m here to study both my Master of Finance and Master of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UCI and the Merage School.”
The Master of Finance program enriched Chou’s experience when she first came to the United States and helped prepare her to do business in the U.S. Capital Markets.
“Not only did I learn so much from the Investments and Derivatives class, to understand how to make wise investment decisions, but I also learned a lot from my Wealth Management and Risk Management courses. The Venture Capital and Private Equity classes were so helpful in learning how to evaluate a company and how to see the value of the startup or the existing company,” she says.
In addition to those courses, Chou got the opportunity to work on a major project with J.P. Morgan in her last quarter. “We got to work to help them make their wealth trend projections for the next 10 to 15 years in the local area,” she says. “This was an amazing opportunity to work with the local businesses and help them make wise investment forecasts, although I was very nervous when I was making my presentation in front of so many JP Morgan executives. But it allowed me to apply the knowledge and skills I gained from school in a real-life business setting.”
Now that she’s completed her MF at the Merage School, Chou is already working on her next challenge. “One of the best experiences in my education journey so far has been the MIE program,” she says. “It’s extremely special. Not only because of the academic insights and the great professors but also the interaction with my peers. There are so many amazing people here. They are very ambitious, and they love to collaborate so we can all be the best we can be.”
One refreshing facet of the MIE program for Chou has been the responsiveness to new ideas. “So far I’ve noticed that no one will laugh at your imagination,” she says. “Everyone here is open to amazing new business ideas. It’s also really cool to have 60 people sharing our ideas and giving each other recommendations and support. These are the kinds of people you want to work with to help you make your dream come true.”
From another perspective, what Chou has learned at MIE so far is very practical. “We have a class called Lean Startup which is very different from the traditional start-up approach where the entrepreneur develops a multi-year business plan and uses that to raise money and fund the product development activity,” she says.
“The new MIE methodology calls for entrepreneurs to start their business ventures by searching for a business model, and then testing their ideas first. It’s like getting feedback from potential customers and then adjusting your ideas as you move forward. I think this kind of startup class is really useful for me. I can understand the whole process of a business startup from top to bottom, like how to find the value proposition and how to use a business model for my company, and how to pitch to potential investors, so the MIE program is a perfect match for me.”
After graduation, Chou’s goal is to start a private equity firm that invests in the innovation industry. “I want to focus on the innovation industry, and primarily on companies developing Autonomous Vehicles, FinTech and Artificial Intelligence,” she says. “I want to focus on Asia and North America.”
If Chou’s plans succeed, she might inspire the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to follow their dreams, too. Perhaps one day another young girl might find herself watching Chou give a TED Talk about how her investments in disruptive technologies have transformed our world.
“I hope that will happen,” she says. “I really believe that one day we might change the world, although it might sound ridiculous right now. I think it’s possible.”