Albert Liu, a graduate of the Department of Electrical Engineering, NCKU, founded his company Kneron in the United States in 2015. Within 2 years of founding the company, Liu won tens of millions US dollars’ worth of financing from numerous investors such as the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund. Moreover, Liu participated in the 2019 Face Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT) hosted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of the United States and excelled in the lightweight face recognition algorithm section. These spectacular feats have made him the pride of Taiwan in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), but he remains pragmatic as a true NCKU alumnus. “Nobody knows what will happen in the future; all that you can do is make the most of every day,” says Liu.
Kneron, a startup that has made it big in only a few years
Liu graduated from the Department of Electrical Engineering in 2003. Subsequently, he received his PhD in Electrical Engineering from UCLA and went on to found Kneron in San Diego, California, after working in the United States for several years. The company became successful and a leader in edge AI solutions in only a few years. It won the financial support of numerous venture capital funds in 2017, notably the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund, Sequoia Capital, Qualcomm, Himax, and China Development Financial. In April 2018, it received 180 billion US dollars’ worth of investment from Horizons Ventures, the final investment project of Sir Li Ka-shing before his retirement. Overall, it has attracted 330 billion US dollars’ worth of capital. Kneron’s face recognition software has entered the market and is selling well. Liu’s success raises the question of why he felt the need to participate in the FRVT.
“Many world-class AI companies participate in NIST competitions, and I knew that our face recognition software was very competitive. More importantly, I wanted to learn Kneron’s place in the international market. In the end, Kneron outperformed many tough competitors in the lightweight division, which was quite unexpected.” The outcome was a heartening surprise for Liu.
His seemingly trouble-free road to entrepreneurship was in fact filled with frustrations and setbacks. For example, one client deliberately picked on the company on numerous occasions because the company did not know the importance of giving a client’s representatives a treat, which is an unspoken rule in the industry. Another example is that when a manager went on a business trip, all of the manager’s subordinates suddenly resigned. Thinking back on why he started his business, Liu confided without hesitation that he had intended only to help put together a team for a friend who wanted to start a business. However, his friend failed to attract any investment, which was a problem for numerous members of the recruited team who had quit a good job in Taiwan and travelled to the United States. To take up the responsibility and because he sensed an opportunity, Liu quit his job and threw his lot in with the team. “There is no telling what will happen in the future. You can only listen to the voice in your heart. Starting a business was a decision made on a whim.”
“There is no telling what will happen in the future. You can only listen to the voice in your heart.”
Startups are becoming a worldwide trend, and Liu advised ambitious NCKU students to “follow your heart and do not put a limit on yourself. Never allow yourself to be shackled by limitations, and never underestimate yourself. Keep fighting and exploring even in adversity, and you will eventually prevail.”
Liu cautioned that although NCKU graduates are favored in industry, if a person aspires to achieve great things and have the power to attract and influence people, they must always be sincere and have passion. Partners in entrepreneurship are often close friends made during various stages of life. Honesty, pragmatism, guilelessness, frankness, modesty, sincerity, kindness, and tolerance are all qualities that enable an entrepreneur to gather old friends around them and work together for a common goal.
Liu believes that his four years in NCKU played no small part in helping him endure the trials in the early stage of his business. “The four years were very special. In the whole history of Taiwan, we were the only class that had neither a school opening ceremony [cancelled because of the great earthquake of September 21, 1999] nor a graduation ceremony [cancelled because of the SARS outbreak].”
The colorful four years in NCKU prepared Liu for the challenges in later life
Liu remembers how everyone leapt out of bed and rushed outside in wild panic on the day of the great earthquake. Two years later, the September 11 attacks brought another shock. “It was as if the whole world was on the brink of war.” Upon his graduation, the SARS outbreak occurred. “We felt that something as trivial as having a meal in a restaurant was taking a great risk, because we could suddenly be infected by an unknown virus.” Additionally, the NCKU MP3 incident occurred in his senior year, in which prosecutors seized the computers of numerous NCKU students. “I wrote an article titled ‘What was the crime of the students?’ online and mobilized many people to participate in a several-day sit-in protest on University Road. We won widespread support and compelled the then Ministry of Justice, Ma Ying-jeou, to pay us a visit. In the end, the students got their computers back without further trouble.”
“These extraordinary experiences prepared me for all the challenges I encountered in my studies overseas and in later life,” Liu says with a smile. It appears that Liu can always tell an anecdote or two regarding his colorful university life. Not long after becoming a freshman, he was appointed the general event coordinator of his class and was thus responsible for planning joint activities with other departments. He soon organized a winter expedition to eastern Taiwan together with students from the Department of Nursing. He also established a team that achieved first place in the Freshmen Cup and established and coached the department’s first girls' volleyball team. His other exploits included winning prizes in the university’s karaoke and music competitions, visiting all the well-known tourist spots in central and southern Taiwan with a few friends, and serving as administrator of his class’s BBS board. He admits that he did not always adhere to what was taught in class or textbooks, sometimes skipped classes, and often prepared for an exam at the very last minute. However, in his sophomore year he took some courses offered by other colleges of the university, notably the College of Management, out of his interest in learning and exploring new things. Overall, he was a somewhat atypical student.
Liu has vivid memories of his university days. The freedom to take various courses and the abundance of after-school activities offered him ample opportunities for exploring different domains, and these experiences became resources in later life. Moreover, he made many life-long friends at the university.
Kneron is a startup company that provides edge computing solutions featuring the company’s unique Reconfigurable Artificial Neural Network technology, which improves computation efficiency and thus helps clients lower their costs. Unlike conventional cloud-based solutions, edge computing solutions allocate a portion of computing tasks from the cloud to a terminal device for real-time audio and visual recognition. This approach enables offline recognition, which is stable and offers favorable privacy protection. It can be applied to smartphones, smart homes, and smart security systems.