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Shucking the world oyster

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Helping Hong Kong start-ups go global.



The global population is a neat 1,000 times larger than Hong Kong’s, but most start-ups in the city create innovations that could be used anywhere in the world. These firms know they have to quickly scale up and go global if the world is really to be their pearl-bearing oyster.

The Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), which runs several start-up support programmes including the Start-up Express development scheme, recently launched two new initiatives to nurture further growth.

Entrepreneurial fiesta

The HKTDC last week inaugurated the Hong Kong Start-up Fiesta campaign, which runs in May and June. Comprising a full range of activities organised by the HKTDC and other organisations, the campaign aims to support the start-up eco-system and help innovative new companies capture business opportunities amid the challenges of the pandemic. The Fiesta incorporates the Start-up Express Master League, a new scheme organised by the HKTDC.

Stephen Liang
Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) Assistant Executive Director Stephen Liang said the HKTDC is working with different organisations to co-create a series of start-up-focused activities in May and June

The start-up count in Hong Kong has more than doubled over the past six years, surging from 1,558 in 2015 to 3,360 last year. To empower local start-ups, the HKTDC works with different organisations for Start-up Fiesta, including Cyberport, Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks, Invest Hong Kong, universities and the start-up community, to offer about 20 start-up-focused activities. Anchored by the Start-up Express Master League and annual Start-up Express Pitching Final, the campaign also features a series of booster workshops, mentorship programmes and networking events.

Speaking at the campaign opening, HKTDC Assistant Executive Director Stephen Liang said the HKTDC would continue its commitment to help entrepreneurs expand their businesses, in addition to promoting Hong Kong’s capabilities in innovation and technology.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on the global economy, which means start-ups need our help more than ever. Giving start-ups the chance to use their creativity to explore business opportunities will help them continue to grow during this challenging time,” said Mr Liang.

“The debut Start-up Fiesta campaign enlists the support of different organisations in the ecosystem, co-creating an array of activities to promote local entrepreneurship.”

Scale-up promotion

Contact Beverage
Contact Beverage combined new technologies with traditional wisdom to create the Lify smart brewing device

The Start-up Fiesta kicked off with the Start-up Express Master League, which offers an extra year of marketing support to selected Start-up Express alumni that have demonstrated the most vigorous business growth.

The 10 alumni, now scale-ups, were selected based on business resilience, growth and expansion strategy.

At the opening ceremony, the companies discussed how they overcame obstacles and achieved breakthroughs during the pandemic.

Incus has developed source-separation technology that can recognise specific human voices in complex environments, enabling hearing aids to distinguish targeted voices from background noise

Among them was Contact Beverage, which has combined technology with traditional wisdom to create the Lify smart device that brews herbal tea within one minute. The product uses the Internet of Things (IoT), big data and smart mobile technologies.

Another Master League company, Incus, has developed a sound source-separation technology that can recognise specific human voices in complex environments, enabling hearing aids to distinguish targeted voices from background noise.

Also in the league is Smart-glasses company MAD Gaze, which employs mixed reality (MR), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to create next-generation eyewear and has expanded its global footprint with the HKTDC’s support.

MAD Gaze
MAD Gaze deploys mixed reality, virtual reality and augmented reality for next-generation smart eyewear

Also in the league is Smart-glasses company MAD Gaze, which employs mixed reality (MR), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to create next-generation eyewear and has expanded its global footprint with the HKTDC’s support.

The Start-up Express Master League scale-ups will be arranged to join a range of local and international activities and events, exploring networking opportunities with potential investors, buyers and business partners. This includes participation in exhibitions and conferences organised by the HKTDC in Hong Kong that have a dedicated start-up zone, such as the Asian Financial Forum, the HKTDC Hong Kong Electronics Fair (Spring & Autumn Editions) and HKTDC Hong Kong International Medical and Healthcare Fair. The beneficiaries will also have the opportunity to join the Hong Kong Pavilion at international exhibitions, including the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in the United States and the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona in Spain, to broaden their connections and experience.

Helping start-ups grow

Meanwhile, Start-up Express, will return for its fourth edition to help entrepreneurs build connections, explore markets, seek partners and develop brand awareness. Application is open until 12 May and the programme will culminate in the Pitching Final on 29 June, with winners given the opportunity to join local and overseas trade promotions and activities organised by the HKTDC, and to exhibit at international start-up events to expand their business networks.

“Start-up Express has been giving tremendous support to local start-ups over the past three years, helping them explore global markets, seal major orders and win international awards, assisting them in growing their businesses to the next level,” said Mr Liang.

“With the global economy severely impacted by the pandemic, it is harder than ever for start-ups to find funding and business partners, making it all the more important to assist them in promoting their innovative technologies to corporations,” Mr Liang said.

Leading entries in last year’s Start-up Express mainly focused on artificial intelligence, big data, biotech, IoT, fintech and robotics. In 2021, more new technologies are covered, including AR, VR, green tech, health tech and retail tech. Also new this year is the Social Impact Award, which recognises innovative and ground-breaking start-up ideas that create social impact, reflecting the increasing importance of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria among venture capitalists and corporations in selecting start-up partners.

The success stories of Start-up Express alumni will be compiled in the Start-up Express Digital Book: A Journey to Success.

Holistic support

Other Fiesta events include Enterprise Connect: Solution Day, where start-ups in medtech, food tech and wellness tech will present their well-being tech ideas to business users for potential commercial applications. Jointly organised with the Hong Kong Startup Council, the mid-June event aims to foster collaboration between start-ups with user enterprises.

The Fiesta also features the Young Founders’ Camp co-organised with The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, The event aims to equip young entrepreneurs via brainstorming workshops and mentorship sessions, offering them a testing ground to implement their start-up ideas through HKTDC-organised events such as the HKTDC SmartBiz Expo and HKTDC Entrepreneur Day.

Furthermore, partner organisations of the Start-up Fiesta, including W-Hub, Entrelink, Advantage Austria, Junior Achievement Hong Kong, will organise seminars and workshops to provide networking opportunities to support start-ups.

Related links
Hong Kong Start-up Fiesta
Start-up Express

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