Startup Gets Thumbs-up from Alibaba’s HK Entrepreneurs Fund
[Sponsored article] Technology and business have made a fruitful partnership in the HKUST Business School as evidenced by an innovative partnership formed by three MBA alumni to develop a completely new kind of wearable device - the world’s first vibration powered, voice enabled smart ring.
Kevin Johan Wong, Marcus Leung-Shea and Yan Shun Li combined their talents and new know-how learned in the MBA program to form their company Origami Labs. The firm’s smart ring, called ORii, pairs with smartphones and uses “bone conduction technology” to deliver sound via bones, so users can listen to calls or messages and start talking just by putting their fingertip next to their ear.
The device uses Bluetooth to connect and sync with a smartphone’s voice assistant so users can open apps and dictate messages through a built-in microphone, without looking at the screen. The product was inspired in part by Kevin’s father, who is visually impaired.
“We sought inspiration from visually impaired groups in Hong Kong,” says Kevin. “They have similar requirements for the technology as the general public.”
The ring format also addresses the problem that earpieces are not designed to be worn all day long because they can create long-term discomfort in the ear, he says.
Ready to Grow
With its creative idea and potential to grow, Origami Labs took home US$120,000 in Asia’s first “Elevator World Tour” last October – a startup pitching competition organized by Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation and Canada-based StartupFest.
In early 2017, the company’s founders were also honored to be selected among one of the seven Hong Kong based companies to be supported by Alibaba’s Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund. The Fund is a not-for-profit initiative that provides entrepreneurs with investment capital and strategic guidance to help them grow their businesses and penetrate global markets by utilizing Alibaba’s ecosystem.
“We are honored to be a portfolio of company of the Alibaba’s Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund, and the first hardware company to receive such support,” says Marcus. “As our lead investor, we have been delighted to have such a supportive and brilliant partner in Alibaba.”
He says his company’s willingness to learn quickly, together with the perseverance of the team, have kept the door open for opportunities.
Origami Labs now has total investment funding of about US$500,000, which will enable the partners to add key capabilities to their team and to start production.
Alma Mater Support
Marcus says when they look back at their journey, the HKUST community and their experiences in the MBA Program have definitely been an integral part of their success.
“The MBA program is what brought the three of us together and gave us a platform of self-cultivation and a thirst for adventure.”
“We also benefited from HKUST's business and startup competitions. They helped us to refine our business model and go-to-market strategy by providing an initial framework that forced us to ask a lot of challenging questions about our own business model.”
Today the HKUST community is helping the team source talent, as two of their interns come from the university. Origami Labs’ founders say they are grateful for the wonderful support they receive from the MBA Program and the Business School.
“That’s why it’s important for our team to continuously give back to the School. We will make sure to spend time to encourage and advise other students on how to look into and begin their own startup,” says Marcus.