High-technology start-ups are a key component of Hong Kong’s economic transformation – and start-ups belong in the future, by definition. As many commentators have pointed out, the only certainty about the future is uncertainty. An ability to plot the way through this murky environment is critical for all players in the start-up ecosystem – hence the interest in futurists.With change proceeding at the speed of light some aspects of futurists’ work are very easy – they just need to point out what is happening all around us but we have been ignoring. Renowned Swiss futurist Gerd Leonhard, CEO of The Futures Agency, often points out that the future is already here – “we just have not paid enough attention to it!“Many of us are far too busy coping with present challenges to explore the future in any real depth – and when we do, our hopes and fears often run away with us, resulting either in utopias or in dystopias,” he said.
When he addresses the 12th edition of HKTDC Entrepreneur Day (E-Day), organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), on 16 July, Mr Leonhard will exemplify the future-is-now concept –remotely through video link from Switzerland as the COVID-19 outbreak restricts travel.Mr Leonhard will be the first futurist to address an E-Day audience when he discusses emerging issues in the post-COVID-19 era in a seminar titled “T-Chat – Futurizing Your Business: Renaissance from the Age of Digitalisation”. Mr Leonhard will shed light on future trends in such areas as business, society and governance in the context of exponential technological progress.The virtual session exemplifies COVID-19-accelerated digitalisation, which puts “remote everything” as the default setting in-a technology-dominated era when automation and artificial intelligence are becoming the main drivers for many businesses. Speaking from Switzerland, Mr Leonhard will share how the future of jobs, work and commerce is being redefined amid the challenges and transformation brought about by the pandemic; examine the role of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship in creating major breakthroughs in a technology-dominated future; and look at what start-ups and entrepreneurs can do to be future-ready. He will be joined by Karena Belin, CEO & Co-Founder of WHub, Dr Toa Charm, Associate Professor, Business School, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Herbert Chia, Venture Partner at Sequoia Capital China, to discuss how COVID-19 will shape decision-making for start-ups, incubators and venture capitalists in Hong Kong and Asia. They will also answer questions from the floor.Mr Leonhard is one of the world’s leading futurists whose work focuses on the future of humanity and technology, digital ethics, artificial intelligence, future-leadership and communications. He has taken part in about 2,000 engagements in more than 60 countries since 2004, boasting a global audience of more than 2.5 million people.
E-Day will be held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) on 16 and 17 July 2020. Under the theme “Revive‧Redefine”, the two-day event will bring together more than 30 speakers and 180 exhibitors, highlighting the practical and inspirational aspects of start-ups that can help to ensure the survival, growth, transformation and sustainability of the current business ecosystem in the face of significant changes and challenges.As the anchor start-up initiative run by the HKTDC, E-Day serves as a one-stop platform for start-ups to become inspired, seek funding, source talents and build connections, and for investors to discover innovative new products and services. In light of the current pandemic, E-Day has undergone a transformation in terms of both content and format. Seminars held as part of E-Day will be broadcast live to reach a broader audience around the world, while the HKTDC will also arrange online meetings between start-ups and investors.
Challenges lead to opportunities
Another seminar “From Crisis to Chances” will examine how entrepreneurs are able to turn challenging situations into opportunities, offering inspiration to the audience. Highlighting Hong Kong’s research excellence and the city’s experience in containing the COVID-19 outbreak.Professor Yeung King-lun from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology will share how his team reacted to the challenges presented by the global pandemic to develop a smart anti-microbial coating, the Multilevel Antimicrobial Polymer (MAP-1) coating, to control infectious diseases. Designed for use on different surfaces including wood, glass, metals, concrete, plastics, fabrics, leathers and textiles, the coating provides lasting protection and surface disinfection against microbial contamination for a period of up to 90 days. The university, in collaboration with industrial partner Chiaphua Industries Limited, has applied the smart coating in more than 70 day-care centres, homes for the elderly, kindergartens and primary and secondary schools. In addition, Professor HC Man, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, will share on how his team launched the General Use Face Shield, to provide enhanced protection for the public and minimise the risk of virus transmission within the community.Business opportunities are also arising for start-ups in fields such as fintech, smart city and education technology. Katherine Cheung, Chief Marketing Officer of on-demand online tutoring platform Snapask, will share on how recent social distancing measures have unleashed opportunities for the Hong Kong-based start-up in both local and overseas markets.Founded five years ago, Snapask now serves more than 3.2 million students with more than 350,000 tutors across eight Asian economies – Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and Korea. The start-up has registered an increase of 1.3 million users over the past 12 months, including a big surge due to the suspension of classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In Hong Kong, the platform currently has some 40,000 tutors and 200,000 active users, most of whom are high school students with a high percentage of them preparing for the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examination. Some parents also seek advice while helping their primary school children with their homework. Understanding the demand from students studying late at night, Snapask has pushed the boundaries of traditional tutoring to offer a 24-hour service. Apart from its app, Snapask is also developing business-to-business (B2B) solutions using AI technology to provide personalised learning resources through big-data analysis.
Pioneering ideas help redefine industries
The E-Day plenary session, “Revive‧Redefine”, will feature two start-ups that are helping to redefine their respective industries through pioneering ideas. William Ip, Managing Director of Carousell Hong Kong, will discuss how the company has promoted the concept of a “sharing” future through its customer-to-customer (C2C) marketplace, which has recently been evolving into a business-to-consumer (B2C) Platform. Crystal Pang, Co-Founder of Pickupp, will introduce how the start-up is redefining the delivery industry and expanding its business in the Asian market. Pickupp also works with genetic testing and digital health company Prenetics to provide a door-to-door saliva specimen collection service for patients who need to undergo COVID-19 testing.
The newly launched Enterprise Connect series – featuring Arup, Fung Group and P&G – will showcase how enterprises can join hands with start-ups to create shared value and revive businesses across different industry pillars. The series offers unparalleled opportunities – including speaker sessions, networking sessions and business matching activities – for corporations and start-ups to connect and explore potential collaboration.