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Start-ups reach out

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No longer niche players, entrepreneurs pitching at the HKTDC’s Start-up Express now represent a broad cross-section of the economy.



The serial information technology revolutions – transistors (1950s), integrated circuits (1960s), personal computers (1970s, 80s), Internet (1990s) and mobile devices (2010s) – had a profound effect on the global economy because of their breadth. The jump in communication, data processing and storage capacity transformed every field from accounting to zoology. 

Just as the hardware and resultant software revolutions began in garages and research labs and extended into high-technology firms before becoming everyday devices, business models have changed to keep track.

The IT-revolution workhorse, the start-up, is similarly moving from its traditional space in high-technology to the broad economy, working in every sector from agriculture to waste management.

Broad field

Vivek Mahbubani
Renowned stand-up comedian Vivek Mahbubani, the event host, talked to entrepreneurs from some of the participating start-ups

The range of finalists at Start-up Express, the entrepreneurship development programme organised annually by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), reflected this broadening in scope for start-ups.

The Pitching Final of the fourth edition of the programme concluded this week as a judging panel selected exceptional Hong Kong tech start-ups that presented inspirational ideas and innovative solutions to help overcome social and environmental issues.

For the second consecutive year, the Pitching Final was livestreamed online amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Social Impact Award, established to recognise innovative and sustainable start-up ideas that create real social impact, was awarded to Breer, a craft brewer using surplus bread. The “My Favourite Start-up Award”, decided through live online polling, was awarded to smart veggie cultivator maker Growgreen. The “AMTD SpiderNet Start-up Award” went to healthcare innovator HK Bio-Rhythm R&D and offers the winner open access to the AMTD SpiderNet ecosystem. The 10 Pitching Final winners will participate in local and international activities that will help them develop their businesses by building connections, exploring markets, seeking partners and enhancing brand awareness.

Stephen Liang, Assistant Executive Director of HKTDC, said: “As the pandemic situation gradually begins to ease, and global trade and economic activities continue to recover, innovative business models and ideas will become a new stimulus for the economy in post-pandemic times. The enrolment for Start-up Express 2021 reflected the great enthusiasm of local entrepreneurs, with shortlisted start-ups coming from a broader spectrum of fields than ever before, including new areas such as green tech, health tech and retail tech. Start-up Express has given tremendous support to local start-ups over the past three years, helping them explore global markets, seal major orders and win international awards. The HKTDC will continue its quest to spread the spirit of entrepreneurship in Hong Kong, assisting start-ups in growing their businesses to the next level.”

Social innovation

Raymond Yung
Raymond Yung, Vice Chairman, AMTD Global Advisory Committee; Board Director, AMTD International

The shortlisted companies in this year’s Start-up Express mainly focused on new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, smart city tech, fintech and big data, with other emerging technologies such as green tech, health tech and retail tech also covered. In the Pitching Final, contestants put forward innovative business ideas and responded to questions raised by a distinguished panel of judges as well as the online audience. This year’s judging panel comprised Raymond Yung, Vice Chairman, AMTD Global Advisory Committee; Board Director, AMTD International; Duncan Chiu, Co-founder, Radiant Venture Capital Limited; Herbert Chia, Venture Partner, Sequoia Capital China; Hendrick Sin, Co-founder & Executive Director & Vice Chairman, CMGE Technology Group Limited and Norma Chu, Founder, DayDayCook
The winners of the 2021 Start-up Express Pitching contest are: Kin Shun Information Technology (HK) (logistics), PanopticAI (AI vision), HK Bio-Rhythm R&D, CLAIRE Clinical AI Research, Wizpresso (fintech), Growgreen, Aurora Tele-Oncology (healthcare), Kamakura Foods (food tech), Dayta AI (retail), DeepTranslate (language).

Attracting investors

AMTD Group is the Sole Strategic Partner of Start-up Express for the third consecutive year. Calvin Choi, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of AMTD Group, shared his perspective on the contest. "I am impressed by the performance of our city’s young entrepreneurs in this year’s Start-up Express Pitching Final presentation. We shortlisted more start-ups from a broader spectrum of fields this year. Among the product design and technology solutions, the area of environmental, social and governance (ESG) was heavily featured, with numerous innovative ideas and practical solutions presented, showcasing the unique business ideas of the participants and demonstrating the innovative power of the young generation in Hong Kong."

He added: "As the pandemic begins to ease, entrepreneurs with strategic foresight and flexibility can adjust their business plans according to the current market landscape so as to overcome challenges and maintain ongoing development, exploring new opportunities amid this ever-changing business environment." With the support of AMTD Group, the SpiderNet Start-up Award was established to recognise the top performer selected by AMTD in the Pitching Final. The award aims to give the winner a unique and rare opportunity to access the resources and network of the AMTD SpiderNet ecosystem, a benefit in terms of future business development and creating synergies with other entrepreneurs within the ecosystem.

Duncan Chiu
Duncan Chiu, Co-founder, Radiant Venture Capital Limited

Duncan Chiu, Co-founder, Radiant Venture Capital Limited and a member of this year’s judging panel, said: "There are bound to be challenges in every entrepreneurial journey and the strength of a true entrepreneur is the ability to fight their way through the hard times. The global economy has been affected by the pandemic, so I am delighted to see so many Start-up Express applicants amid this uncertainty, showing their determination to fight through the adversity and succeed. Each start-up has its own strength, and their innovative ideas could help to boost social development. Regardless of the result, we hope all participants will embrace new opportunities in the international market through Start-up Express’s unique support system, building connections and seeking opportunities with potential investors and partners. The entrepreneurial journey is never easy, but the results can definitely be fruitful."

Brand reputation, awareness

Herbert Chia
Herbert Chia, Venture Partner, Sequoia Capital China

A key draw for start-up entries is the opportunity  Start-up Express offers to enhance brand awareness while also connecting with mentors, partners and investors through HKTDC-organised local and overseas events, and extensive highly curated marketing exposure. This provides start-ups with the chance to learn from experts and strengthen their core business.

Past Start-Up Express winners have benefited from new opportunities, including Return Helper, which offers a data-driven return management solution that optimises the item return process and aftermarket activities for online retailers; and Gense Technologies, which develops portable imaging devices for patients’ continuous health monitoring.

Hendrick Sin
Hendrick Sin, Co-founder & Executive Director & Vice Chairman, CMGE Technology Group Limited

Roy Wan, Co-founder and CEO of Return Helper, said: “With the assistance provided by the HKTDC, I successfully connected with e-commerce associations and organisations in Taiwan and Guangzhou, meeting almost 200 e-commerce representatives last October. These are the kind of valuable opportunities open to Start-up Express winners.”

Justin Chan, Co-founder and CEO of Gense Technologies, said numerous media interviews were arranged through the HKTDC, which greatly enhanced his company’s brand awareness and enabled more people to know its products and technologies.

Local start-up support

The HKTDC has always given its full support to Hong Kong’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, helping maintain the city’s status as a competitive business centre and hub for innovation.

Other programmes include:

  • The Hong Kong Start-up Fiesta, held in May and June, a full range of activities to support and foster the local start-up ecosystem and help innovative new companies capture business opportunities amid the challenges of the pandemic.
  • The Start-up Express Master League, concluded in May, selected the programme alumni that had demonstrated the most vigorous business growth since joining the cohort.
  • Co-organised with the Hong Kong Startup Council in mid-June, Enterprise Connect: Solution Day invited start-ups in the areas of medtech, food tech and wellness tech to present their ideas under the theme “Well Being Tech”, pitching to business users and fostering collaboration between start-ups and user enterprises.
  • Co-organised with The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups in mid-June, the Young Founders’ Camp equipped young entrepreneurs via brainstorming workshops and mentorship sessions, offering a testing ground for them to implement their start-up ideas.
  • The success stories of various Start-up Express alumni have been brought together in the Start-up Express Digital Book: A Journey to Success. 
Norma Chu
Norma Chu, Founder, DayDayCook

In addition, to helping enterprises the HKTDC runs the “HKTDC Transformation Sandbox (T-box)”, offering free support on branding, e-commerce, manufacturing relocation and new market development. The “Voice of Start-ups” series has been launched on the HKTDC online platform to promote the success stories of local start-ups and show how their creativity and versatility help them thrive and capture local and overseas business opportunities. As well as organising Start-up Express, the HKTDC will give more support to start-ups by hosting the annual Entrepreneur Day in December.

Related link
Start-up Express

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