Published on 31 May 2021

A Dialogue with Dr Shi Xu – From Academic to Tech Tycoon

Choosing to leave a successful career and focus full time on his entrepreneurial journey turned Dr Shi Xu, Founder and Executive Chairman of Nanofilm Technologies International, from an academic to a tech tycoon.


Speaking at a dialogue session on 6 May by NTU’s College of Engineering, former associate professor Dr Shi spoke about his experiences as a technopreneur over the past 30 years. Having been encouraged by the University to spearhead the tech start-up in 1999, Dr Shi recalls being persuaded that he should invest his efforts in Nanofilm because of the potential industrial applications of his research and the numerous technological breakthroughs he had under his belt.

Eventually deciding to pursue his passion and focus his full attention on Nanofilm, Dr Shi took his research out of the lab and into the world, driving the company to become a leader in nanotechnology with a current market capitalisation of S$3.2billlion. Today, the public listed Nanofilm provides solutions for several prominent industry partners and customers, including Fuji Xerox, Microsoft and Huawei Technologies.

However, it was not always smooth sailing for Dr Shi, who encountered numerous setbacks and challenges since the birth of Nanofilm. During the initial commercialisation of the company’s innovative technologies, “there were times when he would come home and say he had failed,” said Dr Shi’s wife and Nanofilm assistant vice president, Mdm Jin Xiao Qun. “To solve all the different issues, he had to take a salary cut for years. This was to a point where he was earning much less than I was,” she added.

Dr Shi remained resilient and eventually overcame the hurdles. Looking back at the roller coaster ride of emotions he says his journey has been, he expresses no regrets on choosing his path. “At the age of 35, life became predictable, and I didn’t think it was a good thing. I have no regrets taking this step forward and have never really looked back.”


Two layers to success

Taking questions from a virtual audience of 800 participants, Dr Shi shared his insights into the key attributes that he believes all aspiring technopreneurs need.

“I would say for technopreneurs themselves – there are certain attributes that they should have. There are two layers, and the first includes passion, determination and execution. The second layer includes technology, business astuteness and financial knowledge.”

Elaborating on each attribute further, Dr Shi spoke of the importance of having financial knowledge. Although he categorised it in his secondary, more technically driven layer, he noted how it is possibly the most crucial technical skill that all entrepreneurs should have if their long-term goal is to run a sustainable business.


Nanyang Professor of the Practice


Upon the conclusion of the session, Dr Shi was appointed the Nanyang Professor of the Practice. This is a rare university title conferred upon senior professionals who have an international reputation and a high level of expertise and skill in their respective fields.

You may view a recording of the dialogue session below: