ENTREPRENEURS
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Alibaba

Alibaba begins search for next generation of Hong Kong entrepreneurs

E-commerce giant launches HK$1 billion fund to support aspiring businesses

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 November, 2015, 7:21pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 November, 2015, 7:21pm

E-commerce giant Alibaba began its search for the next generation of Hong Kong entrepreneurs on Thursday with the formal launch of its HK$1 billion fund to support aspiring businesses in the city.

The Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund, a not-for-profit initiative that Alibaba chairman Jack Ma Yun flagged in February, will see qualified start-ups gain access to capital and be able to build their businesses on the mainland company’s various e-commerce platforms, affiliated companies and other enterprises, such as logistics and financial services.

“This is not a charity,” Alibaba vice-chairman Joseph Tsai said at the launch. “(Qualification) is exactly the same process that any other entrepreneur goes through to get funding from a venture capitalist. This is not easy.”

My mandate is very simple: find the best entrepreneurs, help them become successful, make money and put that back to the fund to help more people
Thomas Tsao, Gobi Partners

The fund has appointed Shanghai-based venture capital firm Gobi Partners as its first investment manager.

“My mandate is very simple: find the best entrepreneurs, help them become successful, make money and put that back to the fund to help more people,” said Thomas Tsao, a managing partner at Gobi.

He said that having access to Alibaba’s large network of e-commerce businesses was “a huge competitive advantage for entrepreneurs in Hong Kong”.

Founded in Hangzhou in 1999, Alibaba runs the world’s largest online and mobile marketplaces in retail and wholesale trade. Its US$25-billion initial public offering in New York last year was the biggest stock market flotation in history.

Tsai said the company was keen to “help aspiring entrepreneurs realise their dream”, just as Alibaba built up its business 16 years ago on the mainland.

The company also launched in Taipei yesterday its Taiwan Entrepreneurs Fund, which has earmarked NT$10 billion (HK$2.37 billion) to support start-ups on the island. A subsidiary of China Development Industrial Bank was named the Taiwanese fund’s initial investment manager.

Tsai said there were no plans to establish similar funds in other markets where Alibaba has operations.

Among the criteria for participants in the Hong Kong fund are that most of a start-up’s founders must be permanent residents here, the proposed business has high growth potential to expand outside the city, and it will be developed on one of Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms or its broader business ecosystem.

Cindy Chow, the Hong Kong fund’s executive director, said “participating in Alibaba’s ecosystem will help them make use of resources and more importantly, learn from the experience of our business leaders”.

The fund has no pre-set limit on the number of start-ups to be supported.

Early next year, the fund will start an annual internship programme for 200 new graduates or students in their final year of tertiary education to work at Alibaba or companies in its business network.

“There is a desire by young people in Hong Kong to learn what it’s like to work and live in China,” Tsai said.