The Next Big Thing

Hong Kong start-ups should look to China, not Silicon Valley, says Seedcamp founder

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 July, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 July, 2015, 6:23pm

Hong Kong's start-up scene should play into the city's strengths as an international hub and its proximity to the world's largest market in China rather than trying to following a Silicon Valley model, according to a London-based investor working with a start-up accelerator in the city.

Carlos Eduardo Espinal, partner at acceleration fund Seedcamp, is working with start-ups at Swire Properties' accelerator Blueprint to help the young companies iron out any early issues in their team or business model.

Espinal views the current bid to replicate the success of Silicon Valley in other cities, such as London, as distracting individual locations from defining their own success.

READ MORE: Silicon dreams: Can Hong Kong cultivate a successful start-up culture?

“Hong Kong can do Hong Kong far better than Silicon Valley can, because it is the gateway to Asia, it is far more capable of bringing together various different markets into the biggest market globally than Silicon Valley ever could.”

Founded in 2007, Seedcamp has invested in 170 companies at the early pre-seed and seed stage as they start to grow and build up customers.

It mixes investment fund with the mentorship and support of an accelerator, calling itself an acceleration fund.

Seedcamp has partnered with Swire Properties’s Blueprint business-to-business technology start-up accelerator programme, which welcomed its first batch of firms in January this year.

Unlike start-ups in many European countries, where the dominant nationality in a team will be a native of that country, Espinal said he welcomes the diversity among Hong Kong’s start-ups.

“Here, what I’m surprised about is the volume of people who have come from all over the world to start their company here,” Espinal said.

“That highlights the highly international nature of Hong kong’s hub, it’s definitely positive for sure because it’s a collision of different ideas, go-to-markets and relationships.”

Before Seedcamp, Espinal was a venture capitalist at Doughty Hanson Technology Ventures, and an engineer focusing on wireless and mobile trading platforms for the Advanced Communications Technologies group of the New York Stock Exchange.

Seedcamp’s investors range from venture capitalists such as Index Ventures, which has invested in Soundcloud, Dropbox and Skype, to angel investors including Skyscanner founder Barry Smith.

Hilary Szymujko, who runs the Blueprint accelerator, said Seedcamp’s eight years of experience has provided useful insights for start-ups taking part in the programme.

“Having experience working with founding teams, early stage teams, going through those processes with them, it adds really great depth and dimension around conversations about funding, team building business models and universal themes start-ups grapple with,” she said.

Espinal said he views personal relationships as integral to the success of a start-up and also Seedcamp’s work as the acceleration fund seeks out local investors to form partnerships with to help track down the next hot investment.

Seedcamp has invested in Hong Kong recruitment start-up Jobdoh, which links short-term workers with employers and is looking to invest in more companies in the city.

The 20,000 square foot blueprint co-working space in Quarry Bay hosts the six-month accelerator programme is set to announce its next batch of incubatees next week.