What is next for Hong Kong after its first billion-dollar start-up?
City’s start-up community needs support from a bigger pool of funding resources, while it should sharpen its focus on building an international business, industry experts say
Hong Kong will need to step up development of a sustainable ecosystem for a growing hi-tech start-up community to help foster the city’s next US$1 billion “unicorn”, according to industry experts.
It would mean plugging the city’s big gaping hole in funding resources to support these entrepreneurs, said Gary Chan Shueng-han, director of the Entrepreneurship Centre at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
“The ecosystem in Hong Kong will remain incomplete without a large pool of funding being established and made widely available to the start-up community,” said Chan on the sidelines of a forum on innovation and entrepreneurship on Wednesday.
New ventures remain hard-pressed to raise cash, particularly for expansion and development after the initial start-up period, despite government incentives and early support from the city’s small band of angel investors, according to participants in a panel discussion under the “One Step Ahead Series” organised by the Asia Society of Hong Kong and sponsored by J P Morgan.
Brandon Ng, co-founder and chief executive at local start-up Ampd Energy, said his company is an example of one that tapped investors from overseas to push forward its business, which aims to make diesel generators obsolete with its advanced battery-powered energy storage system.
Both Ng and Chan said they are hopeful that Hong Kong logistics company GoGoVan’s recent success in joining the ranks of unicorns – start-ups valued in excess of US$1 billion – would encourage the city’s banking sector to increase its support of local technology entrepreneurs.
“We’re not going to see the effects of that in the next few weeks, but we’ll certainly start to see that over the next few months,” Ng said.
GoGoVan last month agreed to a merger with 58 Suyun, the freight business of mainland Chinese online classifieds giant 58 Home, to create the city’s first unicorn.
Both Ng and Chan said hardware-based start-ups, including those in the electronics sector, have the potential to follow the path of GoGoVan because these companies’ business models would potentially cover a broader, global market than just Hong Kong.
Nicolas Aguzin, the chairman and chief executive for the Asia-Pacific at J P Morgan, said Hong Kong start-ups should look at scaling up to create an international business.
“Investors are more interested in the business model and potential of a start-up than where it is based,” said Aguzin. “That means Hong Kong’s start-ups compete with their peers from all over the world, particularly mainland China, to secure funding. To become a viable investment proposition ... Hong Kong start-ups need to look beyond domestic opportunities. Investors are attracted to start-ups that can grow and be scaled.”
Chan pointed out that travel technology start-up Tink Labs has the potential to be the next Hong Kong unicorn based on its international business model.
Founded in 2012, Tink Labs is best known for its “handy” smartphones and online services which are on track to be placed in 1 million hotel rooms around the world this year.
Last year, Tink Labs raised US$125 million in a round of funding from FIH Mobile, veteran investor Lee Kai-fu’s Sinovation Ventures and Cai Wensheng, the chairman of smartphone app provider Meitu.
There are 214 total unicorns worldwide with a combined valuation of US$740 billion, according to the latest estimates from venture capital database service CB Insights.
The CB Insights unicorn ranking includes many mainland Chinese start-ups, such as ride-sharing giant Didi Chuxing, smartphone supplier Xiaomi, online finance service provider Lufax and commercial drone manufacturer DJI.