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HSBC, Science Park launch start-up accelerator with a twist as hunt for Hong Kong’s next ‘unicorn’ heats up

The two-year ‘Sprinter’ programme provides an ‘accelerator track’ for technology start-ups and a parallel track to mentor early-stage investors

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 7:30am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 7:30am

The race to develop Hong Kong’s next “unicorn” may be heating up, with the launch on Monday of a start-up accelerator with a difference.

Unlike the city’s numerous existing incubators, the two-year Sprinter programme will focus on both start-ups and the angel investors who typically provide their capital between the seed and venture-capital funding stages.

With an overall aim of fostering a sustainable ecosystem of innovation and astute early-stage investors, Sprinter offers an “entrepreneur track” for at least 120 technology start-ups and a parallel “business angel track” for mentoring 40 individuals on how to evaluate deals.

It is a three-way initiative between HSBC, the Hong Kong and Science Technology Parks Corp (HKSTP) and the Hong Kong Business Angel Network, and will be open for applications at the end of November.

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“Technology companies need knowledge and resources in various fields to develop strong business acumen, as they turn their innovative ideas into marketable products,” said Albert Wong Hak-keung, the chief executive of the HKSTP, at the launch of Sprinter on Monday at the sprawling Hong Kong Science Park in Sha Tin.

“The investor community also requires an extensive network and domain expertise for generating quality deals.”

The Hong Kong Business Angel Network, a non-profit organisation, was formed in 2010 by the HKSTP, the Hong Kong Venture Capital Association and four of the city’s largest universities to serve as a platform to match investors with entrepreneurs. There are about 100 active angel investors working with the network.

While HSBC has been one of the most active banks in supporting accelerator programmes in Hong Kong, Sprinter is its first to involve an investor-education component.

“We believe the Sprinter programme can attract talented and ambitious people, helping enhance the city’s competitiveness,” said Terence Chiu, the head of commercial banking at HSBC in Hong Kong.

HKSTP chief technology officer George Tee said the number of start-ups in the programme will be pared down to 10 after five months, and receive intensive training on business expansion and fundraising strategies.

“We are open to all disciplines, not just fintech or electronics,” said Tee. “We’re hoping to have more unicorns develop in Hong Kong, but more importantly, see the city established as a regional innovation and technology hub.”

As part of China’s Greater Bay Area plan, Hong Kong’s economy is to be closely integrated with those of the mainland’s rich coastal provinces, while finding more opportunities to boost research and development.

Paul Haswell, a partner at international law firm Pinsent Masons, said Sprinter’s goal of nurturing both investors and start-ups was “a solid step to prove Hong Kong was serious about becoming a tech hub”.

“I’ve seen a lot of angel investor programmes, but never one that combined start-up training,” Haswell said.

Total deal activity in venture capital-backed companies in Asia reached US$16.5 billion across 747 transactions in the third quarter, according to data from PwC and CB Insights’ recent MoneyTree report.