Winners of the HKTDC Start-up Express receive marketing and capability building support at one of the development stages they need most assistance.

Start-up programme for Hong Kong's next-generation game-changers

Offering young entrepreneurs a wide range of marketing and capability building support, the HKTDC Start-up Express welcomes locally-based start-ups with open arms.

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In extreme and difficult times such as the current novel coronavirus (COVID-19) incident, young entrepreneurs and start-ups are pressured like no other more established organisations. As such, market participants' assistance directed to start-ups may make the difference between thriving growth and costly failure. Start-up Express organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) gets start-ups equipped with the right ingredients for much needed resilience.

In today's digital and connected world, some of the most exciting and fastest-growing companies are certainly start-ups. Dynamic and disruptive start-ups often represent a reliable source of innovative solutions for opening up new market.

Yet, start-ups are also comparatively more vulnerable in many ways. At various stages of development, they face the pressure of capital and other resources and, to flourish, need help from many other market participants, including investors, accelerators, various service providers, to name a few.

Held since 2018, Start-up Express targets start-ups offering innovative products or services suitable for the mass consumer market. The young companies that set sights on the overseas markets will find the programme particularly attractive, as winners benefit from sponsored marketing events in and outside of Hong Kong.

For two years in a row, the programme has attracted hundreds of entries. In the previous 2019 edition, ten winners were selected, with each offering innovative products or services to customers, and forming partnerships across countries. The programme has also successfully bolstered the winners' resilience in difficult times.

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Praiseworthy and comprehensive programme

Audio signal processing start-up Incus Company Limited was established in 2016 by a team of scholars and alumni of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. The company has developed a technology tackling the 'bad experience' associated with the use of hearing devices; its patented technology allows the users to focus on the person they want to hear louder and the system — which can be packaged in 'jewelry-like' earphones — can treat both human and non-human voices, said the company's Product Manager and Software Engineer Sigurd Anders Berg.

"The company's core technology is software, but for people to benefit from it, the solution comes in the form of hardware as well," added Berg, who also completed his studies (Dual Degree Programme in Technology and Management) at the HKUST. Incus will unveil a focused range of products at the upcoming HKTDC Hong Kong Electronics Fair.  

Remembering the experience brought by the Start-up Express, Berg is full of praise for the comprehensive programme featuring workshops, mentoring sessions, and various marketing activities. Only months after being named a winner, the company reaps three important benefits.

Sigurd Anders Berg (pictured, left) of Incus was connected to Jason Chiu of Cherrypicks.
The 'jewellry-like' hearing aid developed by Incus.

The Norwegian native explained: First, the programme allows the participants to meet many fellow entrepreneurs and new friends, cultivating one's entrepreneurial spirit. Second, the programme presents winners excellent local and overseas promotional opportunities in some of the world's most prestigious trade exhibitions free of charge; it is in the cutting-edge CES 2020 in January that Incus' technology attracted the attention of its future partners in the US. Third, with the 'Power Meet-ups', the programme connects start-ups to experienced business leaders, and through confidential chats and other arrangements, young entrepreneurs can get ideas to solve their business problems.

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The latter of which, to an extent, eases the impact of a difficult time associated with the outbreak of the COVID-19. The company now benefits from the greater flexibility as far as supply chain management is concerned.

Berg strongly recommends the Start-up Express to aspiring entrepreneurs. As the key presenter who delivered one of the winning pitches in last year's Start-up Express, Berg urges those who wish to enter the competition to be very well prepared for the 3-minute pitch. "Don't use a lot of slides or PowerPoint files," he said. "You'd better ask someone who can give honest feedback, who can follow the story-telling, and say if the story is compelling and interesting."

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Power pedal up the hills

If the story of Incus is about filling a void (stylish hearing aids with state-of-the-art technology) in the market, that of CYC Motor is more like making a dream product available to keen followers of the brand.

Founded by electric bike enthusiast Jon Chan in 2017, CYC Motor is specialised in developing and marketing motorised systems designed to supplement foot power of mountain bikes. The company's first commercialised system X1 PRO, with a rated output of 3000W, comes complete with an electronic controller with excellent ergonomic performance.

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"We develop everything in-house," proudly explained founder and CEO Chan, a trained architect. "All products are firmly about meeting the needs of enthusiasts." The first-generation X1 PRO retails for around US$1,000 in the US.

With a population size of 7.5 million, Hong Kong is a relatively small and mature market for new solutions and applications. For most entrepreneurs and start-ups, the expansion beyond Hong Kong is an important consideration as far as the strategy to drive growth is concerned.

The targeted market of CYC Motor's product range is, in fact, almost entirely outside Hong Kong. If not for the generous support and assistance of the Start-up Express, Jon could find his young company in a very different and more difficult situation.

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Thanks to the Start-up Express programme, CYC Motor was able to take part in the mega Hong Kong business promotional event, the HKTDC-organised "Think Asia, Think Hong Kong" held in Los Angeles, US, last September. Besides, in this past January, Jon was able to meet the brand's keen followers at the highly prestigious CES 2020.

Now, CYC Motor works with five partners in the US alone, many of which specialist bike distributors.

CYC Motor's Jon Chan (pictured, left) spent time with potential distributing partners in the US at the HKTDC 'Think Asia, Think Hong Kong' trade mission held in Los Angeles.
Developed by CYC Motor team in Hong Kong, the X1 PRO is a premium motorised system for mountain bikes.

Jon also spoke very highly of the programme's organisers. "In various mentoring sessions and marketing activities, the organisers' representatives worked tirelessly for the benefits of the start-up owners and their colleagues."

Through these events, the young entrepreneur has also greatly expanded his business circle. "We find ourselves busy with various missions and visits organised by the newly acquainted business partners," said Jon. In turn, industrial leaders have also shown interest and willingness to help the young company in its development of new systems.

The COVID-19 outbreak has slightly changed the company's development path. "Because of the temporary cross-border travelling restrictions put in place, our travelling programme to Mainland China has been largely suspended," said Jon. "Fortunately, through the introduction of the new contacts, we have been able to start working with small-scale, locally based manufacturers that can produce the products according to our specifications," Jon added that the quality control process is more straight-forward with local manufacturers.

After a round of fresh capital investment (amount undisclosed), the company has been steadily expanding its operation and product range. Later this year, the company will unveil up to five new products, with some of which cater to the more mainstream markets.

The Start-up Express 2020 is now open for entries. Start-up founders with products or services suitable for mass consumer market, as well as with strong desire to enter the overseas markets will have a lot to gain from the programme. Do hurry up, young entrepreneurs! Grab the chance and be ready for a fascinating journey to take the company to a much wider audience. For more details:  http://info.hktdc.com/startupexpress/tc/index.html
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This content has been created under the direction of an advertiser. It contains no editorial input or review from the South China Morning Post (SCMP), nor does it reflect the position of, or the editorial standards used by, the SCMP. The advertiser has paid for and approved the content.
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