Young bi­ol­o­gist pur­sues en­tre­pre­neur­ial dream

Ig­nor­ing the taunts of oth­ers, a for­mer lot­tery ticket seller and re­cent univer­sity grad­u­ate set up his own lab to cul­ti­vate a rare mush­room, for which he now owns the in­tel­lec­tual copy­right.

Outlook - - CONTENTS - Told by Ngoâ Kim Lai, re­ported by Löu Vaên Ñaït

Ig­nor­ing the taunts of oth­ers, a for­mer lot­tery ticket seller and re­cent univer­sity grad­u­ate set up his own lab to cul­ti­vate a rare mush­room, for which he now owns the in­tel­lec­tual copy­right.

Ihad an ex­tremely hard child­hood. With­out my eight years of sell­ing lot­tery tick­ets in HCM City, I wouldn't have had the courage to breed the cordy­ceps mush­room, a rare medic­i­nal herb.

Poverty forced me to help my fam­ily in the cen­tral prov­ince of Phuù Yeân. My fa­ther was a pro­fes­sional gam­bler, and my mother said that some­times he brought home a lot of gold from his vis­its abroad.

My mother told me that neigh­bour­ing house­holds had be­come wealthy from shrimp farms. So she in­vested in a shrimp farm, but an epi­demic oc­curred and farm­ers had big losses, in­clud­ing our fam­ily. My mother had to sell some prop­erty to pay debts.

At that time, I was a sec­ond-grader. I went to HCM City and sold tick­ets for a lot­tery agency dur­ing the sum­mers. My work­ing days started at 6am. At noon, I had a 30-minute break for lunch. After lunch, I re­sumed wan­der­ing around the city till 4pm, and after din­ner, I worked un­til mid­night or 1am.

I love my mother so much, so I sup­ported her for eight years. I quit the lot­tery job when I was in the 10th grade. Par­ents asked me to tu­tor their kids, so I did this un­til I fin­ished high school and en­tered univer­sity.

Five years ago, when I be­gan study­ing univer­sity, my mother moved to HCM City to work to support me. My fate to­tally changed when I fin­ished my first year as a chem­istry ma­jor at the HCM City Univer­sity of Food In­dus­try, and took another en­trance exam to study biological tech­nol­ogy at the same school, with­out in­form­ing my mother.

I made the decision be­cause I thought I had made the wrong choice. Dur­ing the first year of study, I heard some­one talk about cordy­ceps, or win­ter in­sect sum­mer grass. I thought it was sim­i­lar to gin­seng. I went on­line and dis­cov­ered that the price was more than 1 bil­lion ñoàng (US$48,000) per kilo­gramme. That was a shock to a 20-year-old stu­dent like me.

Maybe at that time, due to my in­no­cence, I had the courage to start the re­search my­self. I had a rented room but I slept on the bal­cony, re­serv­ing space in the room for a mini-lab. Ev­ery­one scolded me and said I was crazy.

I was con­fi­dent be­cause I had grown mush­rooms such as abalone and lingzhi. My first chal­lenge was to find the mush­room strain. I wan­dered around the city and vis­ited more than 20 med­i­cal herb shops, but I couldn't find real cordy­ceps.

So I used Google Trans­late and my limited lan­guage skills to search on­line for peo­ple with ex­per­tise in cordy­ceps in South Korea, Thai­land and Ja­pan. Fi­nally, I found a place sell­ing cordy­ceps in Ja­pan at a good price of $245.

I sent money to friends I knew through Face­book who could help me buy it. They took my money and fled. I then had to bor­row money, and I asked another per­son for help. I got the strain after I met the sev­enth per­son who agreed to help me.

I cried when I saw it take root in my lab that I had built my­self. I put it in a bot­tle and shook it to fill it with oxy­gen. How­ever, I have now dis­cov­ered another way to give oxy­gen to the cordy­ceps.

My next task was to cre­ate con­di­tions for the mush­rooms to grow. After up to hun­dreds of at­tempts, I was able to dis­cover the right method. Re­cently, I har­vested the first batch, and I am go­ing to sell it in the mar­ket soon for 100 mil­lion ñoàng ($4,800) per kilo. I know nat­u­ral dry cordy­ceps sells for more than $50,000 per kilo in the mar­ket.

I am the first Viet­namese to reg­is­ter and re­ceive an in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty cer­tifi­cate for a cordy­ceps cul­ti­va­tion process. I could not find a real cordy­ceps here, so I am try­ing to make high-qual­ity, made-in-Viet­nam cordy­ceps to be sold in the mar­ket.

Re­cently, sev­eral strangers from Haø Noäi, Caàn Thô, and the prov­inces of Bieân Hoøa, Phuù Yeân and Ñaék Laék wanted to meet me to ac­quire tech­nol­ogy or work to­gether. Some peo­ple pro­posed to pay me 500 mil­lion ñoàng ($23,800) for the know-how, but I want to pro­duce the cordy­ceps my­self be­cause this is my dream. On my farm in HCM City's Hoùc Moân Dis­trict, I plant lingzhi, pez­iza and other mush­rooms. I have opened a company named Naám Ta in Dis­trict 8 with a loan from the fa­ther of one of my stu­dents.

I also have another plan. I want to teach tal­ented stu­dents about sci­en­tific re­search. I got a 9.4 mark (on a scale of 10) for my grad­u­a­tion the­sis on ex­tract­ing oil from drag­on­fruit seeds. But I didn't feel happy with the score and my find­ings. I think I had spent too much time col­lect­ing cordy­ceps and other mush­rooms.

Ngoâ Kim Lai, who owns the in­tel­lec­tual copy­right cer­tifi­cate for pro­cess­ing cordy­ceps, at work at his company’s new lab­o­ra­tory.

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