A record turnout of more than 17,600 visitors, 3.5 per cent more than the previous year, attended Entrepreneur Day on 19-20 May at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC). Organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), the two-day event hosted more than 270 exhibitors from various sectors for its ninth edition.
"Vision Explorer: Venturing into the Future" was the theme of the Start-up Runway forum which took place on both days of the event, featuring successful entrepreneurs from a wide range of industries who shared start-up experiences and insight. Opening day plenary session speakers included Ming-wai Lau, Chairman of the Commission on Youth and Gene Soo, Co-founder of StartupsHK, joining local start-up entrepreneurs Simon Loong of FinTech giant WeLab Holdings, Shing Chow of logistics platform Lalamove and TravelTech pioneer Terence Kwok of Tink Labs Limited.
- Age Doesn't Matter
"Starting up a business is not just the dream of the youth," said Mr Lau. "According to some overseas surveys, the average age of entrepreneurs is about 40. It's never too late if one wants to start their own business."
Mr Loong recalled quitting his job at the age of 36 to become an entrepreneur after he came up with the idea of building his online loan platform WeLab Holdings. "I used to work in the loan department of a bank and found that personal loans could solve one's financial difficulties. However, loan applicants had to go to the bank in person to sign documents and their application might eventually be declined. So, the idea of combining the strengths of traditional banks in risk management and treasury management with innovative big data technologies popped into my head," he recalled. "Capitalising on big data and loan applications that can be approved round-the-clock without face-to-face contact, a deeper understanding of people can be achieved."
A straight-A student and Stanford University graduate, Shing Chow of Lalamove wanted to change the world as an entrepreneur. "The process of hiring a van is no longer a manual task since digital took over, and I saw this change as the opportunity of a lifetime. There is an old saying about how if you don't study hard as a child, you will end up as a transport worker - but studying hard led me to this sector. In the past, people thought this city was only strong at property development and finance, but as Hong Kong becomes more tech-driven, we can change the way people think."
- Taking on the World
Fast-growing start-ups should view the global market as part of their recipe for success, according to Mr Lau of the Commission on Youth. He encouraged entrepreneurs to develop not only in Hong Kong, but on the Chinese mainland and in overseas markets as their personal goals, business nature or products and services lead them. "Global connectivity is a double-edged sword," he said. "This means that global interaction becomes more frequent as competition increases, and entrepreneurs with a focus on the worldwide market can take things to a higher level."
Targeting youth aged 25 to 30, WeLab has built up a base of more than 17 million users, according to Mr Loong, who has learned that some start-ups can enjoy exponential growth when they are not dependent on face-to-face contact. A report called "Fintech 100 - Presenting the world's leading Fintech innovators for 2016" by KPMG, ranked WeLab sixth on the mainland and 33rd in the world. "Every country or region has its own regulations. So, we chose to open the huge market in our vicinity, the Chinese mainland," said Mr Loong.
Mr Chow of Lalamove said his entrepreneurial team has a strong commitment to success and his team members are willing to live in different cities to expand their business. While Mr Kwok of Tink Labs recalled studying philosophy and Arabic at the University of Chicago before dropping out to try and cater to the needs of travelers. He started with a service offering mobile phone handset rental at airports before widening the offer to include rental handsets and tablets at hotels around the world. He said a focus on "how to kickstart a business" was "not important, since the business model keeps on evolving."
- No Pain, No Funds
Speaking about persistent cash-flow problems entrepreneurs face, Ming-wai Lau noted that a range of sources should be pursued, with Hong Kong SAR Government assistance schemes and events such as Entrepreneur Day offering potential avenues for fundraising.
"The performance of the financing market is more volatile than that of the real economy. In 2014, O2O went hot, and investors responded swiftly with an actual investment amount. However, the trend reversed in late 2015," said Shing Chow of Lalamove. "We met with over 50 prospective investors, but none showed any interest. Venture capitalists have been hunting for unicorn start-ups (with an estimated valuation of US$1billion or above), and this is one major reason why we were being rejected."
But even Hong Kong's prospected "unicorn" start-up, Tink Labs, has hit fundraising roadblocks. "We were turned down more than 50 times. Don't take it too seriously when being rejected. Sticking to your beliefs and persistence counts," Mr Kwok said.
A popular method of fundraising is pitching, and Entrepreneur Day offered a forum for entrepreneurs in the form of pitching events, organised with StartHub, Hong Kong Startup Council and Cocoon, connecting start-ups with potential angel investors.
For more information about the Entrepreneur Day visit www.hktdc.com/eday