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Future tech

Start-ups duke it out in US$3m pitching showdown in Hong Kong

Three start-ups knock out 70 others in the third semi-final of the pitching competition, which focused on wearables, IoT devices and education technology products

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 July, 2017, 5:21pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 July, 2017, 10:22pm

Hong Kong’s answer to Google Glass, an environment-sensing safety helmet – these are start-up ideas that have emerged victorious in the latest round of a pitching competition, and vying for up to US$3 million in investment.

The Jumpstarter competition, intended to give the city’s start-up scene a shot in the arm, was launched in April by the Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund, Alibaba Group’s not-for-profit initiative, together with the city’s Cyberport and Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks.

Three months in, the competition is firing on all cylinders, as it concluded last Thursday its third semi-final out of a total of eight separate semi-final pitches, covering a slew of trending technologies such as fintech, e-commerce and artificial intelligence.

In last week’s showdown, three start-ups, BeeInventor, Mad Gaze and Robo Wunderkind, toppled 70 other startups in their category, which focuses on wearables, IoT (internet of things) devices and education technology products, to advance into the final.

At the final in November, there will be three winners and each is promised up to US$1 million of investment from the fund.

Mad Gaze, a winner from last week, is a Hong Kong-based company which produces smart augmented reality headsets à la Google Glass.

Its X5 model, which resembles an MP3 player in appearance, can be lodged onto the frame of a pair of glasses. Users can use the gadget to take pictures, play augmented reality games and set reminders.

Jordan Cheng Man-fai, the firm’s founder, said while Google’s decision to scrap Google Glass scared many entrepreneurs off from developing their smart glasses, the future for smart glasses was bright and remained largely overlooked.

“Google terminated the project because it saw that such products couldn’t be sold in a large volume,” he said.

“But for a start-up like ours, if we can turn a profit with a smaller batch of such products, we are already motivated to go ahead with it.”

“Nine out of 10 users said our products are better than Google Glass,” Cheng said. The X5 is sold at HK$4,999.

Nine out of 10 users said our products are better than Google Glass
Jordan Cheng, Mad Gaze

He added that Hong Kong startups, like his, could capitalise on the city’s proximity to many hardware manufacturers in the mainland.

BeeInventor is another Hong Kong-based wearable producer that grabbed the spotlight at last week’s competition.

It produces an environment-sensing headset which could be attached to a construction worker’s safety helmet.

Founder Harry Chan said as a civil engineer, he had regularly interacted with construction workers who work in dangerous environments and saw a need for a smarter work helmet that can warn workers of potential danger and monitor their biometrics for better work safety.

“The injury rate in this line of profession is very high. And I want to help address that issue,” he said. According to Hong Kong government statistics, roughly about 40 construction workers out of 1,000 sustain injuries each year. Since 2012, there about 20 death associated with construction work every year in the city.

Alibaba launches US$3m start-up competition with Cyberport and Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks

Besides local start-ups, Cindy Chow, executive director of Alibaba Group’s HK$1 billion Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund, said the competition had also attracted many overseas start-ups looking to set up operations in Hong Kong.

“We want Hong Kong to become a playground for start-ups both at home and abroad,” she said. “I was surprised how some Canadian start-ups flew over immediately upon invitation.”

Three fintech companies – Bambu, FundPark and Lattice – and three robotics companies – Bubble, the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Neurorehabilitation and Robotics Laboratory and Inovo Robotics – won in the previous two semi-final pitches dedicated to fintech and robotics respectively.

Herman Lam, chief executive of Cyberport, said, “We firmly believe that start-ups and digital innovation will drive Hong Kong’s new economy development. That’s why we strive to offer the best opportunities to help start-ups grow.”

Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.