SUGAR 2019/20 Kicked-off in China: The SUGAR GKO Hot Pot Recipe

From October 28 until November 2, the SUGAR Network’s Global Kick-Off (GKO) took place in Hefei, China. For the second time, the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) hosted over 170 students and lecturers from 20 different universities. For the SUGAR novices among the readers, the GKO is the beginning of the 9-month long academic course on Design Thinking that is taught synchronically in all universities belonging to the SUGAR network. Every year the SUGAR GKO has its own flavor. So, let’s see, what it was made of this year:

THE SUGAR GKO 2019 Crowd

The Basis: Getting joint projects going

A key element of the SUGAR program, and thus the GKO, is a series of collaborations between two universities and a corporate partner. In each case, students from both universities receive an innovation challenge from their corporate partner and develop aim to find a solution to it and create a proof-of-concept prototype until the end of the program. At the GKO in Hefei most teams met for the first time. Correspondingly, getting their project going was their major objective for the week. In order to facilitate this endeavor, several representatives from the corporate partners accompanied their teams to Hefei. Among others, this year’s partner corporations include Bosch, ucb, enable Ireland, Georg Fischer, Trumpf, Kaimen, NKC, BMW Group, Medicover Stomatologia, Takeda, HUK Coburg, Yanmar, Rohde & Schwarz, Sanofi Genzyme, Trinity College Dublin, Mumbai, IBM, Generali, Postfinance, and the Evangelische Kirche des Kanton St. Gallen.

A hall full of student teams working on their challenges

Meat & Veggies: Education and Inspiration

In addition to getting the projects going, the GKO is about education and inspiration. Thus, this year’s event featured some keynote speeches by (former) senior executives from leading Chinese companies such as Alibaba or Unicom China, as well as a presentation by Eric Byler from the Stanford University.

Moreover, faculty members from the SUGAR universities provided talks, lectures, and break-out sessions on benchmarking, prototyping and needfinding techniques, communicating with executives, team dynamics, and latest developments in AI. In terms of inspiration, visits to local companies and high-schools complemented the program and provided insights into the Chinese work-routine and education system.

Throughout the GKO faculty members of SUGAR universities provided lectures to the participants

Adding some spices: Fun, team spirit and networking

What would a hot pot be without some spicy sauces? At the GKO the spices are the various social events, in particular the legendary “paper bike race”. For this, students of each university build vehicles from paper or cardboard and bring it to the GKO in order to compete against each other in a sort of race. Rumors have it, that these races turned out to become more and more material intensive and battle-oriented in recent years. Thus, major modifications were made this year. Inspired by Leonardo DaVinci, the students were asked to create a paper-based launching system that was able to hurl an uncooked egg without breaking it when it lands. For more intercultural communication, students teamed up in globally dispersed groups. The development of the system was split, so that the teams had to communicate with each other while going through several iterations of prototyping. Consequently, the local teams either worked on a “launcher” or a container for the fragile goods. Two types of competitions were put forth: Distance shooting and precision shooting. The furthest shoot of the paper-based launching systems reached an impressive 54,25 meters.


Moreover, joint dinners, exploring the Chinese club scene, and a scavenger hunt gave participants the opportunity to create strong bonds with the global community in a fun and engaging atmosphere.

Cultural visit to a local high school in Hefei
Due to this year's 'egg hurl challenge' the KIT students dressed up as KITchen impossible team

So, these were the ingredients of the GKO 2019. If this sounds tempting to you and you are not yet a SUGAR participant or partner, please get in touch with us!

Martin Kauschinger (TUM), Maia Kuhnen (SUGAR), Niels Feldmann (KIT)