After a rigorous, six-month selection process, Jack Ma’s Hupan University announced the commencement of its new student class. More than 40 CEOs from Chinese tech unicorns were welcomed to the program, which promises to be one of the most powerful business networks in the country.

A total of 41 freshmen attended the orientation session last weekend in a green tea village located in a suburb of Hangzhou, the capital of the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang, according to a WeChat announcement released Monday (in Chinese). Some of the new students include well-known names such as Yu Kai, CEO of AI chipmaker Horizon Robotics; Dai Kun, founder of Nasdaq-listed used car platform Uxin; as well as Zhu Zhaojiang, founder of Transsion, one of the largest smartphone sellers in Africa. Uxin and Horizon Robotics declined to comment when contacted by TechNode.

New students were required to hand their phones over for the first three days and finish an overnight walk in the village with the intent to “avoid distraction and focus on themselves,” said the university. With the average age of 37.6, 15 of them are “post-’85s,” meaning they were born after the year 1985.

Established by nine Chinese tycoons including Lenovo Group founder Liu Chuanzhi and Alibaba’s Jack Ma in Hangzhou in 2015, the business management program is looking to “discover and develop Chinese business leaders with a spirit of entrepreneurship.” Its teachings will have a focus on “past failures,” promoting hardship as a way to seize the future.

Hupan courses cover topics such as corporate culture, technology and product, and financial management, with history and art classes also on offer. The program emphasizes the personal connections each student will foster during the three-year course program, a major asset for business networking. It also promotes ongoing education, saying the program is for “life-long learning with no specific graduation date.”

However, the program is more famous for its powerful alumni that clearly influence China’s technology business sector. While only 207 Chinese corporate executives are among the school’s alumni, they include many well-known names such as the president of ride-hailing giant Didi, Liu Qing; food delivery platform founder Mark Zhang; and online education service Vipkid’s Mi Wenjuan.

A qualified applicant must head a startup which earns a minimum of RMB 30 million (around $4.5 million) in revenue, has paid taxes for more than three years, and has at least 30 employees. Tuition for the three-year program is RMB 580,000, according to the official website (in Chinese). Candidates must also gain support from one of the 30 referral sponsors named by the university, some of whom include Alibaba co-founder Lucy Peng, Sequoia Capital China boss Neil Shen, and Niu Gensheng, founder of China’s largest dairy company, Mengniu.

“The economic situation was not very good in 2018, but why did everybody here survive rather than others?” Jack Ma, Alibaba founder and the former president of the university, said in a speech at the school at the beginning of 2019. He urged students in his speech to learn from their failures, to assess their problems regardless of current successes, and help the country move forward as economic pressures continue.

Ma has shifted his focus to education after stepping down as the chairman of the Alibaba Board of Directors in September. The former English teacher has so far launched three educational initiatives, including a welfare foundation to improve rural education, a K-15 private school Yungu (including three years of preschool), and Hupan University. China’s richest man, Ma has also sought to increase his presence in adult education by launching online business courses also named Hupan in late 2016. The program targeted small and medium-sized business owners, as well as college students and tech professionals.

As of writing, its audio lessons dubbed Hupan Sanbanfu have been streamed nearly 11 million times on Chinese audio sharing platform Ximalaya FM, with a subscription price of 99 Xi cents (roughly equivalent to RMB 99).

“I have a clearer understanding about business strategy and corporate culture after listening to Hupan’s online courses,” said Tao Ge, a netizen who reportedly works as a human resource director in a real estate company in a post on Chinese knowledge sharing platform Zhihu last month (in Chinese).

“A strong corporate culture will form a more cohesive business team that ensures the effectiveness of its strategies,” said Tao, who linked the course outlines with his previous work experience at a large real estate company, Vanke.

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: or Twitter: @jill_shen_sh

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