Zhou: Making Connections for Tech Entrepreneurs
Ying Zhou was 15 years old, employed full-time as a lathe operator in a Sichuan
factory, she couldn’t have imagined her future. “My education was very spotty
after third grade,” says Zhou, director of
outreach and internship coordinator for the college’s Tech Incubator. Although
her parents were both scientists, Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution had
overturned the usual social expectations. And so Zhou found herself
figuratively yoked to a heavy machine.
What made her future possible was a
surprise decision by Chinese universities to recruit selected peasants and
workers. Zhou, then 17, was admitted to college as an English major, graduating
in less than three years. Afterward she found employment in a science library
and as an interpreter for many organizations. Five years later, an opportunity
to study Western-style accounting opened up, and Zhou moved ahead to earn an
economics degree with a major in accounting in 1984.
But the road from factory work in China
to helping technology business entrepreneurs and students in Queens is not a
straight or short one. Luck, plus lots of talent and determination, play their
roles. When Coopers & Lybrand, then one of America’s “Big Eight” accounting
firms, partnered with the Chinese government to provide practical training to
accounting students, Zhou seized the opportunity.
“Working as an auditor for a year in New
York is when I became fascinated by
computers and what we can do with technology,” Zhou says. By that time, she
knew she wanted to learn more about computers and study in America. Without a
background in computer science (CS), though, Zhou couldn’t be admitted to a CS
graduate program. Instead, she enrolled in the CUNY Graduate Center PhD Program
in Accounting offered at Baruch, taking as many computer classes as she could.
It paid off. From 1990 to 1997, she
taught computer applications in accounting and auditing as an assistant
professor in QC’s Department of Accounting and Information Systems. A job offer
from Pricewaterhouse, a global professional services firm, was
the beginning of another career phase. Zhou stayed 19 years, traveling widely
to meet clients as director of Business Applications, Technology Advisory
In September 2016 QC opened its Tech
Incubator (TI) in the newly renovated CEP, Hall 2 to help new business
start-ups in Queens and nearby—the first facility of its kind in the borough.
Students play an important role as TI interns, gaining valuable experience for
their own future tech careers.
“The chance to work at Queens College
again, with computer science students, was very appealing to me,” says Zhou.
The TI currently has 20 companies in
residence—more than half of the CEOs
are foreign-born, and two companies are international start-ups. Among the
companies are Kidmoto, a city airport car service that provides car seats for
children; Doppler LLC, a technology consultancy specializing in cybersecurity;
the Italy-based Street Lib USA, an innovator in digital publishing; NewtonX,
which uses proprietary software to connect corporate, management consulting,
and investment professionals with leading technology experts; and one of the
newest, TechClub.nyc. Led by student Charlie Lin, whose team won first place in
Governor Cuomo’s Coding Challenge last March, TechClub.nyc will now develop the
app concept that won the competition.
Zhou, who works closely with Managing
Director Weeks Mensah, is very proud of how far the TI has come. “In just one
year, we’ve built a thriving community of start-ups
and tech companies that use the latest technology for their businesses, such as
artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics,” says Zhou. “We
have entrepreneurs, faculty, and our students working on client projects,
solving complex, real-world problems.” The TI has also benefitted the local
community, offering a series of free lectures and workshops on topics of
interest to start-ups, business owners, and the general public.
The outreach part of her director’s
title keeps Zhou busy, too. She talks to departments within QC and CUNY to
learn about their technology needs, and approaches companies to explore
possible tech collaborations and student internships. Zhou enjoys expanding her
network of tech professionals, tapping them to mentor students. “These
activities help bring new companies into the incubator and establish long-term
partnerships,” she says.
Zhou wears another hat as program
manager for the Tech Talent Pipeline (TTP) Residency, the mayor’s public-private
partnership that offers talented computer science students four weeks of tech
training on campus, followed by paid internships at NYC businesses and
nonprofits. Ninety-nine students have graduated from this highly selective
program in two years; many have received offers of full-time jobs from their
Looking ahead, Zhou envisions the Tech
Incubator as “an ecosystem that connects local communities, start-ups, and
businesses in Queens and in NYC to industry experts, tech professionals, entrepreneurs,
investors, faculty, and students.”
But no technology or virtual meetings
can replace in-person interaction, Zhou firmly believes. “I like to think of
myself as the ‘Chief Collaboration Officer,’ connecting people with people and
people with ideas,” she says. “That’s how exciting things happen.”