7 April 2020
Launch pad for start-ups
Hong Kong has a vibrant start-up ecosystem, with inventive entrepreneurs creating innovative solutions in artificial intelligence (AI), fintech, biotech, smart city and much more.
To ensure this ecosystem continues to flourish, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) launched the Start-up Express in 2018. The development programme is returning for its third edition in 2020 to help entrepreneurs build connections, explore markets, seek partners and enhance brand awareness. Under the programme, 20 start-ups will be selected as winners of a pitching contest and arranged to explore business opportunities with potential investors and partners through active participation in local and overseas trade promotion activities, exploratory missions, extensive media coverage, power meet-up sessions with successful business leaders and induction workshops.
HKTDC Assistant Executive Director Stephen Liang said Start-up Express has given tremendous support to local start-ups over the past two years, helping them explore global markets. Some participants have even sealed major orders and won international awards.
“Start-ups can help Hong Kong diversify its economy and facilitate social innovation, which is why supporting them is a priority for the HKTDC. To offer start-ups more opportunities to explore new markets by participating in overseas exhibitions, we have increased the number of Start-up Express beneficiaries to 20 this year, up from 10 in previous years. We hope to promote Hong Kong’s entrepreneurial spirit by empowering relatively mature start-ups and helping them operate at a profit through sustainable development,” Mr Liang said.
Start-up Express targets start-ups with products or services suitable for the mass consumer market and a strong desire to build an international presence. The programme lets start-ups realise their vision by providing a platform to grow through learning and exchanging ideas.
Start-up Express applicants must be tech start-ups that have been established for less than five years, have raised less than US$10 million in funding, and have core or substantial operations in Hong Kong with a focus AI & robotics, big data, biotech, the Internet of Things (IoT), fintech or smart city. The application deadline is 8 May 2020. Finalists will join the Pitching Final in June.
Start-up Express is supported by the AMTD Group as strategic partner. The 20 winning start-ups will have the opportunity to participate in HKTDC-led activities, including trade promotion opportunities in Hong Kong and overseas, exploratory missions to high-potential start-up hubs, power meet-ups with leaders and mentors in small private settings, networking opportunities via business-matching activities with potential investors or partners, and capacity-building workshops with skills training and market intelligence.
Winning start-ups will also be able to build their brands through extensive media coverage, locally and internationally, and become members of the HKStartupSociety, a resource-sharing platform for successful start-up founders and co-founders.
A key driver for Start-up Express participants has been the opportunity to connect with many potential buyers, partners and investors through HKTDC-organised local and overseas events. This has given start-ups the opportunity to expand their client base and helped them strengthen their core business through new market intelligence and insights. The many Start-Up Express success stories include MedEXO Robotics, a developer of wearable devices for movement disorders, and RaSpect Intelligence Inspection, a company providing AI-powered predictive building inspections.
Denis Huen, Founder of MedEXO Robotics, said: “It was a pleasure to participate in Start-up Express, which in our view has distinguished itself as a platform for start-ups aspiring to break into the international market. Thanks in part to the HKTDC’s unique network and international credibility, we’ve managed to win awards such as the CES 2020 Innovation Award (Tech for a Better World) in the United States while also benefitting from international media coverage of our work.”
Harris Sun, CEO and Founder of RaSpect Intelligence Inspection, said: “Start-up Express has been very helpful for our business development. Technology is a fast-moving and ever-changing area, so it’s crucial to be as connected as possible to the global market to ensure we don’t fall behind. The HKTDC’s platform provided us with market intelligence and networking opportunities that helped us realise our vision, as well as giving us direct access to tech industry leaders who shared advice that couldn’t be found elsewhere.”
Mr Liang said: “To drive Hong Kong’s economy forward, we will continue our work to nurture an international entrepreneurial ecosystem to take businesses to the next level.”
In addition to organising Start-up Express and the annual Entrepreneur Day, the HKTDC has dedicated start-up zones at eight of its world-class trade fairs in Hong Kong, including the HKTDC Hong Kong Electronics Fair and HKTDC International ICT Expo. Last year, more than 500 start-ups took part in these fairs, representing growth of 23% compared to 2018. “This year, we will offer a new ‘free-trial’ online package to help start-ups and entrepreneurs expand their network of buyers and partners through the hktdc.com Sourcing platform. Besides, we are launching a ‘Voice of Start-up’ marketing campaign to publicise Hong Kong start-up success stories and promote their brands,” he added.
To help start-ups navigate the current challenging times, the HKTDC is working to enhance their competitiveness and resilience through its new T-Box programme. Mr Liang explained: “Modelled on a sandbox concept, the programme provides advisory services in fields such as legal, accounting, human resources, advertising and marketing, risk management and trade finance. The programme is free of charge, and participants can join other HKTDC events at discounted fees during the three=month participation period.”