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Agile start-ups take on the world

Investors and entrepreneurs have always seen agility as a desirable trait when considering which business models, companies or people to plough their resources into. As Albert Einstein famously noted: “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

In the current febrile times, as businesses re-invent themselves in order to move forward in the post-COVID-19 world, agility is more than just a desirable trait – it is the key to survival. As Charles Darwin noted: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Fortune favours the agile

Vivek Mahbubani
Renowned stand-up comedian Vivek Mahbubani, the event host, talks to participating start-ups

The strong line-up of inventive entrepreneurs presenting their products and services at the Start-up Express Pitching Final on Wednesday showed that Hong Kong is clearly home to an abundance of agile talent.

The contest marked the high point of the third edition of Start-up Express, an entrepreneurship development programme launched by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC). A judging panel selected exceptional start-ups which will go on to participate in local and international activities to build connections, explore markets, seek partners and enhance brand awareness. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Pitching Final was livestreamed online with a live polling of the “My Favourite Start-up Award”, which was awarded to MICology.

 “Start-ups have been affected by the economic downturn like much of the world but the true essence of entrepreneurship is persistence in the face of adversity. There can always be opportunities found amid what otherwise appears to be a crisis Traditional business and consumption models see a new normal amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which in turn can increase receptiveness to new ideas,” said Stephen Liang, Assistant Executive Director of HKTDC. “With outstanding achievements in innovation and technology, local start-ups launched products and services to fight against the pandemic. The HKTDC will continue to support local start-ups in exploring business opportunities amid the pandemic-struck economy, and to promote the city’s capabilities in innovation and technology to overseas buyers.”

Global promotion, market exploration

Start-up Express Pitching Final judges
Start-up Express Pitching Final judges (from the left) Cindy Chow, Executive Director, Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund, Duncan Chiu, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Radiant Venture Capital, Calvin Choi, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer, AMTD Group, Jason Chiu, Chairman, Hong Kong Startup Council and Herbert Chia, Venture Partner, Sequoia Capital China

The contestants propose innovative and disruptive solutions to transform business and social ecosystems through biotech, fintech, robotics, artificial intelligence, big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) and responded to questions raised by a distinguished judging panel and online audience. This year’s juror line-up witnessed the rise of new start-up success stories alongside online spectators.

The panel comprised Calvin Choi, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer, AMTD Group – which is in its second year as HKTDC’s strategic partner in Start-up Express; as well as Jason Chiu, Chairman, the Hong Kong Startup Council; Cindy Chow, Executive Director, Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund; Duncan Chiu, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Radiant Venture Capital and Herbert Chia, Venture Partner, Sequoia Capital China.

This year’s winners of the Pitching Final are: Arical, Arovia Hong Kong, BUG BROS BIOTECH, Gense Technologies, imBee, Inovo Robotics, Open Ocean Engineering, Return Helper, Shopkyo, SPES Tech and Wineworld Xplorer.

The start-ups will be invited to exploratory sessions, power meet-up sessions with successful business leaders, business-matching sessions and local events organised by HKTDC, including Startup Zones at the Asian Financial Forum, spring and autumn editions of the HKTDC Hong Kong Electronics Fair and HKTDC Hong Kong International Medical and Healthcare Fair. The HKTDC will also bring the start-ups to the international stage by organising overseas missions and setting up Hong Kong Pavilions at international technology exhibitions – including CES in Las Vegas and MWC Barcelona.

Networking opportunities

Calvin Choi
Calvin Choi, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer of AMTD, was impressed by the innovative solutions proposed by contestants in this year’s Start-up Express Pitching Final

“I am impressed by the innovative ideas and practical solutions presented by our city’s young entrepreneurs in this year’s Start-up Express Pitching Final presentation,” said Mr Choi of AMTD Group. “This recurring programme serves as a valuable platform for participants to showcase their unique business ideas and demonstrate the innovative power of the young generation in Hong Kong.

“The current business landscape is full of challenges but for start-ups that are agile and versatile in responding to changing conditions and market needs, they can definitely identify and seize the best out of available emerging opportunities.”

With the support of AMTD Group, the SpiderNet Award is established to recognise the top performer in the Pitching Final selected by AMTD. The winner will have a unique and rare opportunity to access the resources and network of the AMTD SpiderNet eco-system. The winner will benefit immensely in future development and will offer synergetic values to other entrepreneurs within the eco-system. imBee won the inaugural prize.

“In every entrepreneurial journey, there are bound to be challenging times and the strength of a true entrepreneur is the ability to fight through the hard times and learn from each setback. This year has been especially trying due to the health situation that has impacted businesses globally but these start-ups have shown the resilience to fight through the adversity and succeed,” said Mr Chiu of the Hong Kong Startup Council.

“It has been great to see how this batch of start-ups have navigated the past few months to present themselves in a shining light, ready to embrace new opportunities on the international market through Start-up Express’ unique support system.

“The programme helps entrepreneurs build connections and seek opportunities with potential investors and partners. I look forward to the winning start-ups joining HKStartupSociety and realise their dreams of not only excelling in Hong Kong but on the international stage.”

Organised by the HKTDC, HKStartupSociety is an online-to-offline community comprising experienced start-up founders, incubators, community builders and investors to foster mentorship, intelligence exchange and business partnership.  They are connected via an online platform that offers content useful for start-ups.  The platform offers a wealth of dedicatedly curated content.

Expanding markets and networks

Michelle Fno
Michelle Fno, Founder & CEO of previous winner Miscato, urges entrepreneurs to be enthusiastic and excited

A key driver for Start-up Express participants has been the opportunity to enhance brand and media awareness, while also connecting with mentors, partners and investors through HKTDC-organised local and overseas events. This has provided start-ups with the chance to learn from experts and strengthen their core business.

Previous Start-Up Express past winners benefitting from new opportunities include Miscato Limited, which developed and patented smart aromatherapy solutions, and Quikec International Limited, which developed a one-stop cloud-based supply chain management solution.

 “The HKTDC’s strong network has helped us land interview opportunities with local and overseas media outlets, which in turn allowed me to share how my company developed our new series of antiviral smart aromatherapy products. Thanks to this increased exposure and the HKTDC’s support, we’ve since been able to capture new business opportunities and expand our clientele,” said Michelle Fno, Founder & CEO of Miscato.

Peter Li, President and Co-founder of Quikec International, also shared his experiences: “Start-up Express has provided us an opportunity to participate in different exhibition and international exchange events. This has helped us expand our client base and find excellent partners despite operating on a tight budget. For example, meeting with Duncan Chiu, a well-known investor, offered many valuable lessons for us as he offered suggestions on business-development strategy.”

HKTDC throws full support behind start-ups

The HKTDC will continue to fully support the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to maintain Hong Kong’s status as a competitive business city and hub for innovation. To support enterprises, the HKTDC has launched the “HKTDC Transformation Sandbox (T-box)”, offering free support on branding, e-commerce, manufacturing relocation and new market development. A “Voice of Start-ups” series has been launched on the HKTDC online platform to promote the success stories of local start-ups and to show how their creativity and versatility help them thrive and capture local and overseas business opportunities.

In addition to organising Start-up Express, HKTDC will support start-ups by hosting the annual Entrepreneur Day on 16-17 July. The Council will also set up dedicated start-up zones at its world-class trade fairs in Hong Kong to help local start-ups reach out to overseas buyers and suppliers for potential partnership opportunities.

Related link
Start-up Express

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