20 June 2016
Rising to the Challenge
The second edition of RISE 2016, held 31 May-2 June at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, drew some heavy-hitters from the worlds of business and technology, including HTC Chief Content Officer Phil Chen, DST Global’s John Lindfors, and serial Forbes Midas Lister Jenny Lee, who’s Managing Partner of GGV Capital. Designed as a platform for start-ups to raise their profile and build connections, RISE allows innovators, coders, creators and venture capitalists to network and exchange ideas.
More than 8,100 people from 88 countries took part in the three-day event, featuring some 220 speakers offering their insights on such hot topics as Fintech, enterprise, e-commerce and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Experts also discussed Hong Kong’s start-up environment, the mindset of venture capitalists and the emergence of women in Fintech. “We are a financial centre; most of the financial guys didn’t invest in start-ups three years ago,” says Ray Chan, 9GAG Chief Executive. “But now we have seen more growth speed and angel investors here. When global talent coming from Europe and the United States look at new opportunities in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong would be one of the places they would consider,” says Mr Chan.
Hong Kong Now
The event itself is evidence of Hong Kong’s growing prominence in the start-up landscape. Speakers at the event, including GoGoVan co-founder Steven Lam and Jonathan Zeman of the Lan Kwai Fong Group (LKF Group), highlighted some of the significant strides the city has made in attracting global talent. Relatively new companies, such as mobile delivery van hailing app GoGoVan and the online social media site 9GAG are evidence of a developing ecosystem.
“We are just a microcosm of what Hong Kong is,” says Mr Zeman. “Hong Kong is a super-connector, connecting businesses to mainland China, but also connecting China to Southeast Asia and the rest of the world.”
Mr Zeman said that the LKF Group has been a pioneer in social networking long before it was a digital-only exercise. It is helping turn Hong Kong into an ecosystem for start-ups with its Metta club for start-ups and businesspeople in California Tower, located in Hong Kong’s iconic entertainment district. Run by start-up incubator Nest, Metta is a space where start-up founders and the tech-minded meet.
Hong Kong is also an emerging hub for the IoT industry. The city’s close links to Shenzhen and Greater China offer significant advantages for IoT start-ups, attracting IoT incubator Brinc, to set up in the city, as well as start-ups such as smart climate-control developer Ambi Labs, Kello, and Soundbrenner.
“As far as the location goes, Berlin is not a bad space for hardware, but it’s definitely not the best space,” says Florian Simmendinger, a German national who relocated to Hong Kong to develop the world's first wearable smart metronome for musicians. “If you wanted to be in the best place in the world to build this [sort of] company, I think Hong Kong is definitely a contender for that.”
At the top of Hong Kong’s advantages, say these entrepreneurs, are its proximity to the manufacturing base in the Pearl River Delta, its logistical advantages and talent.
Keeping it Simple
Many participants said they came away from the conference with important learnings from the Startup University discussions, including on the importance of keeping things simple when it comes to attracting investors. “I would say the best thing you can do is a vanilla term sheet,” says Vinnie Lauria, founding partner of Golden Gate Ventures, a venture capital fund with offices in Singapore and San Francisco.
“If you have an investor who is trying to insert oddball things or a lawyer who’s not experienced in his career and they end up putting in very odd things, that just really ends up biting you on the butt later on. It causes so many problems when you bring the next round of investors in,” says Mr Lauria.
Common to the discussions that took place during RISE was a sense of enthusiasm for the opportunities that Hong Kong offers, including support for female entrepreneurs. Among them was Nicole Denholder, who’s founder of Next Chapter, a product-based crowdfunding platform exclusively focused on businesses run by women in Asia.
“What is important about crowdfunding is that you are there to raise funds, but you are also there to get your product out,” she said at a panel on women setting up start-ups in Hong Kong. “You really need to be thinking about not just raising funds, but also what you are doing to take your business forward. Hong Kong has a lot of good organisations that support that.”
Meeting of Minds
The number of RISE participants more than doubled this year compared to the inaugural event last year, which attracted about 3,000 people. Organisers of the Web Summit, Europe’s largest tech event, is also the group behind RISE.
“Some people say great things about RISE and Web Summit, and at the core of this is our mobile app,” says Mike Harvey, Web Summit’s Head of Strategic Communications. “It suggests the best talks suited to your interests and automatically finds the most relevant people for you to connect with.”
Web Summit Chief Executive Paddy Cosgrave says the emphasis was on improving RISE. “After an event, one of the first things we’ll do is ask our attendees what they liked, what they didn’t like and how our events could be better,” he said. “We’re looking forward to getting the results of our RISE start-up survey and using them to improve the event next year.”