EIT Digital student turns her PhD project into a business

Yuping Yan's relationship with EIT Digital has seen her go from enrolling as a master's student to working on her PhD, while also developing a cutting-edge machine learning business that ensures data privacy. She says her career has benefitted from EIT Digital's philosophy of combining top-level academic training with hands-on entrepreneurship experience.

The EIT Digital PhD programme's preparation for running an enterprise included practical business courses, according to Yan.

"This business experience actually helps a lot. It helps us to build business models and cases and it was useful when I started my enterprise," she says. "We also learn to present our case to other investors or to get funding, and that's very important."

The enterprise Yan is developing involves the brand-new field of federated learning, a technique for providing security and privacy during machine learning.

"Federated learning is a machine learning approach that enables training models across multiple decentralised devices or systems while keeping the data local," according to Yan's paper describing the project. In a federated learning system, the data is not pulled onto one central server. Instead, the machine that is learning has individual sessions with separate data sets, thereby ensuring that the data stays private.

Yan's business, called FedlabX, makes a unique GDPR compliant machine learning platform available for other companies to use.

Starting as practical PhD work

Yan started FedlabX as her PhD project, which she developed while working with E-Group, an EIT Digital partner who gave Yan a training possibility and is now benefitting from the new business she generated. Working with the Hungarian company is convenient because Yan’s PhD work is based at ELTE University in Budapest, another EIT Digital partner.

"I did my master’s thesis and my internship with E Group, and they kept asking if I wanted to work with them again," said Yan. "When I applied for my PhD, I chose to work with them on the topic of federated learning, which was already interesting to me."

Yan's familiarity with federated learning, and other recent advances in computer science, came from her master's studies with EIT Digital. She says this market-oriented approach is unique to EIT Digital, and it contributes greatly to the strength of the programme.

Yuping Yan"What's very good for me is that I know what is popular in the market - I know what the market is looking for," she says. "This is harder for other students who are not in the EIT Digital community, because their training is focused exclusively on technology, but they don't learn how to realise this technology."

What's more, EIT Digital students are invited to various events, where they meet EIT Digital partners and alumni, and are exposed to the latest trends. "The EIT Digital community gives us an opportunity to validate our ideas with a knowledgeable audience," she explains.

For Yan, and other qualified students, there is also help with the programme's tuition. She has received EIT Digital scholarships in both her master's and PhD studies.

Looking to the future, Yan is hoping to build the business of FedlabX, which already has two important clients, and to undertake more fruitful work with E-Group.

Meanwhile, her academic career is also thriving, with more than 10 articles published in leading journals and conferences. Yan has mentored five master's students on their theses and worked as the instructor for three courses.

Her exciting academic and entrepreneurial journey is off to a great start, but it seems only fair to say that the best is yet to come.

Sign up for updates

Receive the latest news and events updates by subscribing to our newsletter.

Sign up for our Newsletter

For media contacts

Are you a member of the media and would you like to contact us?
→ Get in touch with us here

Continue reading

Scroll up

Co-Funded by the European Union