MTR innovation push

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Innovative startup ideas help make MTR shopping malls a better place

The first-ever #propUP Programme initiated by MTR has been a huge success; the opportunities for expedited Proof-of-Concept (POC) in MTR Malls were lauded by winning startups, while the corporation promises the second edition next year.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 October, 2018, 12:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 October, 2018, 9:49am

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The MTR #propUP programme was concluded last week with the scheduled final Demo Day and presentation of five winning teams amid shouts of encouragement and recognition. It was a startup programme offering unique opportunities for young and promising technology companies to pitch and to get their ideas exposed to a diverse group of professionals and investors, and more.

The five winning teams had been named in August. Each of them was then given a rare POC to put their ideas into test in the real-world environment of selected MTR malls for eight weeks. The corporation also provided on-site support and funding during the period. All five startups have successfully completed the POC within 8 weeks, which is not a common case in most of the accelerator programmes.

As closely linked to Hong Kong people as it is, MTR is possibly not the first name with which people associate as far as innovation is concerned, admitted David Tang Chi-fai, Property Director of MTR Corporation Limited. Yet, deep down, the company has embraced innovation as one of four pillars that help shape the corporate culture.

In recent years, MTR found itself being in company with the technology community. One can look at the external crowdsourcing activity HackTrain HK two years ago and what Tang calls the "internal crowdsourcing" Innovation Bootcamps held last year and again this year.

With the support of Corporate Strategy Department, Tang, who is also a member of MTR's Executive Directorate, set out last year to work on a project cut from the same crowdsourcing cloth for the corporation's property business. He ponders the possible system to disrupt the property business which, in his own words, does not seem to have undergone fundamental change over the decades.

The chartered surveyor also feels the urge to explore ways to do things better, more efficiently and to delight the people in the malls, including customers, tenants and colleagues. That could be done by thoughtful startup entrepreneurs, Tang reckons. In return, MTR would be prepared to offer support to the vibrant startup community in and beyond Hong Kong.

Before long, the theme for the first #propUP Programme was determined: How do we enhance both the environment of and the customer experience in the malls? "MTR wishes to introduce innovations into the portfolio of 13 MTR shopping malls," explained Tang, who believes malls in Hong Kong can be the 'third place' for Hong Kong people following their home and workplace, adding: "Innovations that can be related to environmental protection, sustainability, customer experience, and so on."

In no time following the decision to push forward the project, MTR put together organising team and internal mentors. In conjunction with co-organisers Techstars, which boasts a global network of entrepreneurs, MTR assembled a team of community mentors as well.

With the help and reach of the programme's four strategic partners and over a dozen community partners, including representative offices of the Australian and Canadian Governments, 130 entries from 18 different countries were received by the organisers ahead of the selection processes in June/July.

It was thanks to the effort of a judging panel comprising senior management from the organisers MTR and Techstars, along with the Executive Director of Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund, that a list of 11 finalists was then announced in July. They were to pitch their ideas, trying to impress MTR management, potential investors and stakeholders alike. As mentioned, five winners earned their deserved places.

The five winning startups were then given 8-week for expedited POCs, each in a selected MTR shopping mall to prove their idea's worth. At the same time, they could benefit from close collaboration and communication with the #propUP organising and project teams.

Oxpecker Labs, co-founded by Dr Bob Chen and Dr Kandy Yeung, was the first POC deployed, in just 10 days after winning the competition, as its smart hydration monitoring system derived from years of their research projects was being tested for its effectiveness by outdoor working colleagues of Popcorn Mall in Tseung Kwan O.

HM Environment got the opportunity to evaluate the company's innovative waste-reducing "two-way system" with tailored made sustainable solutions at MTR's Telford Plaza. Co-founder Danny Chen said the experience would speak volumes about the capability of the company.

Similarly, the Acoustic Metamaterials Group put to the test the innovative sound absorbing products at MTR's Maritime Square, offering workers a safe and more comfortable working environment. The expedited access to the MTR facilities has eased part of company co-founder Vincent Fong's concerns that big corporations in Hong Kong are generally indifferent about offering startups commercial access. Fong has established or co-established a number of enterprises in both the US and Hong Kong, he spoke out of his own experience.

Also checking out its development at Maritime Square was MobiJuce, which offers on-the-go mobile charging. The company has accumulated 3 million charging minutes since the launch of the service. On the programme's merits, CEO Alexis Wong went further. "The #propUP Programme allows us to meet great people. We have learned how to be intelligent to present our business case to large enterprise, and this programme also provided us with a grounded success case to further develop the business."

In addition to the connection earned by working with MTR, Nav Singh, CEO of Stamplet spoke highly of the support by the POC team: "The kind of support given in #propUP is amazing. Communication has been really, really good – we asked for a meeting the next day at 7pm and they confirmed that at 10pm." Summing up his experience, he added: "I'd just tell anybody to join this programme, as it is a rare opportunity to test your products with such a big company. You can't beat that."

While the five winning teams have treasured their actual working experience following the programme, other startups will get a new chance to impress in the near future as MTR pledges to continue to support innovation. The second #propUP Programme will be held next year as MTR continues to look for more innovative ideas to change the MTR shopping malls to be a better place.