Start-ups

Luxury carmaker Infiniti targets future ‘unicorns’ with new start-up accelerator programme

Early-stage venture capital firm Nest joins forces with Infiniti in hosting a 10-week boot camp in Hong Kong for seven consumer retail tech start-ups

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 October, 2017, 7:10pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 9:22am

Infiniti Motor Company, the Hong Kong-based luxury vehicle division of Japanese carmaker Nissan, aims to add another name to the city’s nascent billion-dollar-start-up club, with the launch of a new accelerator programme focused on consumer retail innovation.

“It’s going to take some time. But if we do our job right, these start-ups should go on to raise more equity, grow their business and get themselves in a position to become the next unicorn,” Dane Fisher, the general manager for global business transformation and brand at Infiniti, told the South China Morning Post on Thursday.

Fisher said the point of accelerators is to help nurture more good companies to challenge the status quo and create an ecosystem built on fresh concepts and new business models wanted by consumers, which are attributes exemplified by on-demand logistics services providers GoGoVan and Lalamove.

GoGoVan became the city’s first unicorn – a start-up valued at US$1 billion or more – in August after merging with 58 Suyun, the freight business of mainland Chinese online classifieds giant 58 Home.

While this week Lalamove raised US$100 million in its latest funding round to lift its valuation at close to US$1 billion, providing a boost to its expansion plans across Asia.

Infiniti has teamed up with Nest, the city’s pre-eminent early-stage venture capital firm for technology start-ups, to launch Infiniti Lab Global Accelerator 3.0, which follows their 2015 accelerator in Hong Kong that focused on so-called smart city development.

Seven start-ups, including local firms Cove and actiMirror, were selected from more than 130 applications received around the world. Other participants are from Canada, Germany, Mexico, Sweden and the United States.

“Start-ups helps us see into the future, so our programme is constantly evolving and improving as a test bed where daring happens,” Fisher said.

It’s going to take some time. But if we do our job right, these start-ups should go on to raise more equity, grow their business and get themselves in a position to become the next unicorn
Dane Fisher, the general manager for global business transformation and brand at Infiniti

Lawrence Morgan, the chief executive at Nest, said the 10-week Infiniti Lab accelerator included intensive business coaching and mentoring, as well as access to the luxury carmaker’s network of executives and ecosystem partners.

The programme will conclude with a so-called Demo Day on December 13, providing the start-ups a platform to pitch their ideas to a panel of investors.

One of the promising on-demand retail tech start-ups taking part in the programme is Toronto-based Rover Parking, which founder Tim Wootton described as “the Airbnb of parking” – providing a similar concept to the popular online marketplace for short-term lodging.

“We are helping increase the supply of parking spaces, without having to spend money on building new car parks,” Wootton said.

Total global funding for on-demand tech start-ups grew 455 per cent to US$10 billion across 87 deals in the second quarter, up from US$1.8 billion in the same period last year, according to venture capital database service CB Insights.