The Tatler 10: Natalie Chan of OWN Academy
Despite receiving a world-class education at local, international and boarding schools in Hong Kong and the United States, Natalie Chan felt that it didn’t prepare her for the challenges she faced in the real world.
It was after graduating from the University of Southern California, in her first job at Deloitte, that she decided to make a change and relocated back to Hong Kong to pursue a masters degree in education at the University of Hong Kong, which lay the groundwork for her to found OWN Academy.
OWN Academy is gradually changing the landscape of education in Hong Kong by encouraging students to take ownership of their learning—and what initially started as a summer camp and weekend programme in 2016 now has had a full-time student.
In our latest edition of the Tatler 10, where we pose 10 questions to Hong Kong-based entrepreneurs about their businesses, Natalie tells us why she embraces the freedom that comes with running her own business and how OWN Academy is the first step in changing the scope of education for generations to come.
What does Hong Kong mean to you?
I’m constantly fascinated by the energy and possibilities this city has to offer. I’m proud to be from Hong Kong and there is so much I want to give back to the place I call home.
Summarise your business in one sentence.
OWN Academy focuses on real-world learning with a mission to help students identify their passion and purpose, then provide them with the skills and opportunities to master them.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
To be able to create a product that people see value in and support, like the OWN Future Fair. OWN Future Fair is OWN Academy’s flagship event created for students and parents to explore the future together. We invite dynamic professionals representing new industries to paint an authentic picture of today’s working world and share challenges and success stories to inspire.
Our goal is to partner with schools and support their career counselling departments. For our inaugural fair last year, we partnered with the SCMP Education Post. This year we were able to do two fairs with French International School and the English Schools Foundation. Next year, we’re looking at taking the fair abroad.
See also: The Tatler 10: Betty Ng
What do you love most about running your own business?
There is a sense of freedom in knowing I have the potential to make a difference in the world and to do it my way. OWN Academy is a dream come true, it is everything I ever imagined and more when I decided to leave the corporate world to move into education six years ago. I love that I’m fulfilling my passion and that I can do it with no constraints.
What advice can you offer budding entrepreneurs?
There are three things anyone looking to start their own business should take into consideration. First, think value creation before you think money. Ask yourself, what value are you adding to the world? If you can generate value, you have a good business.
Second, nothing is impossible. Don’t let what you don’t have hold you back. Resources are of abundance, it’s all about the ability to connect the dots, identify what you need and be creative with your approach.
Lastly, there are no successful businesses without the people behind it. No matter what, always be kind, humble, never forget those who helped you along the way and pay that forward.
As an entrepreneur, what do you think sets you and your business apart from the competition?
Hong Kong’s education landscape is academics-based and results driven; quantity over quality. Rather than a focus on grades and how many afterschool activities a student can do, we focus on the long-term development of the student and personalise a learning journey as well as empower them to learn with a purpose.
Who inspires you and why?
My mother, because she is an unconventional woman and nothing, seems to be a challenge for her. Her energy and selflessness for her family and the people around her is something I admire. Growing up, she always told me that education is the best gift she can ever give me.
See also: The Tatler 10: Kelly Lo
Looking back do you wish you had done anything differently?
I wish I had started sooner as I only started thinking and asking questions about my purpose and what I really wanted to do when I did not like my first corporate job. From that point onwards, it was a tough battle to get to where I am today.
What's your end goal?
For OWN Academy to become a leading education and innovation company that creates an alternative model for learning. At some point in the future I would love to launch the OWN School.
What are your words to live by?
“The only thing that stands between you and your dream is the will to try and the belief that it is actually possible” – Joel Brown
See other Tatler 10 interviews with Pearl Shek, Stephnie Shek and Christy Liang