HKBU Spin-off Company Highlight: From Research to Impact – Pathway to Commercialisation – Prof Zhang Hongjie

Self Photos / Files - Prof Zhang Hongjie720X488


Prof Zhang Hongjie
Co-founder and Director of Gihon Biotech Limited (Gihon)


Chinese medicine skincare has been well-respected since ancient times. What is the magic behind it? In this article, we would like to share with you the entrepreneurial journey of a Scientist, Prof Zhang Hongjie – the Co-founder and Director of Gihon Biotech Limited (Gihon), who is also a Professor from School of Chinese Medicine at HKBU, on how he turned his research findings into a commercialised product and started his business in cosmetic application.


From scientist to entrepreneur

Prof Zhang has more than 30 years of research experience in the isolation, identification, structure elucidation, analysis, synthesis and biological evaluation of small molecules of natural products. He is an expert in phytochemistry and drug discovery from natural resources. He always longs for advancing his research to benefit human health, adding values to public wellness.


Supported by the Technology Start-up Support Scheme for Universities (TSSSU)*, Prof Zhang founded Gihon Biotech Limited (Gihon) in 2016, which is a green biopharmaceutical company launched to develop skin and healthcare products enriched in natural ingredients. With advanced health aging biotechnology, the company aims to provide high standard products for improving the quality of life. With the support from the start-up fund, they successfully launched their Chinese medicine skincare products to market and gained positive feedback from the public. Gihon was also recognised by the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation and admitted to the Incu-Bio Programme in 2017.


“We thank all who assisted us in going through the business journey. We named our skincare product line as SHINE AND LAUD (S&L), which was launched in 2018. We then expanded our distribution channels including but not limited to online shops and retail shops.” Prof Zhang said. 


Know your customers

Being a start-up, to maintain a steady sales growth is not easy. Prof Zhang understood that customer feedback is important to every business. He humbly told us that they have learnt a lot from their customers. Gihon reacted fast to all sorts of challenges ever since the first product was launched. For example, the customers reflected that the face mask packing was not user-friendly, the company immediately added a tear-off mark on each package to improve customer experience. There was another feedback that the herbal scent of the products was too strong for users. The company then well-adjusted the product formula to cater customer needs.


Prof Zhang is glad that their customers always provide useful and practical suggestions and recommendations on their products, which inspire them to generate ideas for new products. He also understood that reaching out to more customers with innovative products is the key to a sustainable business. Thus, Gihon has strived to refine and diversify their products in order to retain customers.


Insights for bringing research to commercialisation

To run a business from an academic setting, Prof Zhang shared with us three key insights.

First, protect your innovation. He always bears his motto in mind - Never stop innovating. He explained “Innovation is the most important element for research. Filing a patent is the first step to preserve the rights of your innovation. Once your technology is protected, investors are more willing to sit down and talk to you.”


Second, Prof Zhang finds that team work matters a lot in entrepreneurship. Scientists are rewarded for pioneer scientific findings. On the other hand, entrepreneurs are rewarded for collaborative works with a talented team. Prof Zhang is proud of his team and he has no hesitation to put his trust in his team members and rely on them.


Last but not least, Prof Zhang thinks that the biggest obstacle for most scientists is their stereotyped thinking. Their mindsets are usually bound by scientific research. However, in entrepreneurship, being open-minded and listening to customer feedback always bring business opportunities and enhancement in business development.


Opportunity for traditional Chinese medicine

Nowadays, Hong Kong people pay more attention to Chinese medicine, and natural skincare has become a hot topic among the world. It is believed that skincare products made from Chinese medicine ingredients would be a new trend in the Hong Kong market. Led by Prof Zhang, Gihon wishes to expand the business to China and other Asian markets, build up a world famous brand and promote Chinese medicine based skincare products to the world. We look forward to seeing Gihon’s success in the near future!


* HKBU TSSSU aims to bring R&D results from campus to the real world, by encouraging more entrepreneurial activities at the University and facilitating more commercial development of HKBU’s intellectual property rights (IPR) and technology developed at the University. It is a “company start-up” scheme designed to encourage spin-off companies to commercialise the IPR and technologies developed at HKBU.