Viola Lam, 2015's Young Entrepreneur of the Year, set up a unique tutoring business in Hong Kong that has helped over 30,000 children enjoy maths
Viola Lam comes from a family of entrepreneurs, so it was perhaps no surprise when she pursued a similar path. Leaving behind a successful career in events management, Lam set up a unique tutoring business in Hong Kong in 2011 to help children learn, but also enjoy, maths. Four years and more than 300,000 happy students later, Lam has won the prestigious Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, bestowed by Youth Business International (YBI).
For the first time, the finals of the prize took place in the Middle East, in Dubai on March 10. “It means a lot to me and I want to give credit to my mentor and to Youth Business Hong Kong (YBHK) and YBI because without them I am just a tutor,” Lam said of the accolade.
At FS Education Centre, Lam’s teaching methods employ visual learning, using image memorisation instead of rote learning. Infographics, flowcharts and pictures enable a more enjoyable and effective learning experience, and the centre also offers students access to a free online maths platform, known as the Star Programme, which Lam developed herself. The online tutorials teach calculation and provide practice questions.
The most important thing is we calculate really fast... it’s more fun and gives the kids an adrenaline rush
Lam herself had a difficult time studying as a youth. Her parents were of the view that girls needed to be independent from a young age, and so she started juggling part-time jobs when she attended secondary school.
“I only had a short time for studying every night so I had to think of new ways to study in an effective way,” she recalls. “At first to get more money I worked in media and for a long time I earned a lot, but I wasn’t happy. But tutoring made me feel happy. The most fascinating moment is when you talk to a kid and he understands something.”
The secret of her method’s success, she says, is that it’s “really fun”. By using neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) techniques and visualising and memorising methods, learning math becomes much more efficient, she insists. Games imbedded in the exercises also make it easier for children to understand.
“The most important thing is we calculate really fast. The kids can find out the formula within 10 seconds. Then they can check their answers within three seconds so they know if it’s right or wrong. It’s more fun and gives them an adrenaline rush,” she says.
Another advantage of online learning is the ability to collect data and analyse the patterns to determine where children face difficulties. This helps teachers address those challenges once in the classroom, says Lam, whose methods are used in two centres in Hong Kong, online by students, and at more than 30 primary schools as part of extra-curricular activities. Two additional centres will open in the second quarter of the year, and Lam has even greater ambitions for the future.
“If it works out, we hope to set up more than 100 centres and then have partnerships with different nations. We hope to look for an IPO in three years’ time,” she says. She plans to expand to mainland China and also sees a good opportunity for growth in the Middle East. “The system can be used everywhere. We want to help a larger group of people so we really need an investor to help us speed up the process at the moment.”
In addition to her daily responsibilities at FS Education Centre, Lam and her team are developing the largest maths database in Asia, with tutors submitting questions that are then filtered for quality. She is also working with YBHK on setting up the E-Hub, or the Entrepreneurship Hub, with an incubation programme in Qianhai, an economic zone in Shenzhen in China.