Hong Kong sets the stage for global tech talent to move forward under the new normal – The Straits Times

Covid-19 has no doubt forced a complete change in our ways of living, and millions of businesses are being disrupted. While the world’s economy has been slowing in the past few months, a number of innovation and technology (I&T) events in Hong Kong carry on, but in a different way.

If there is a silver lining in this devastating pandemic, Hong Kong’s leading I&T ecosystem has made the most of it — by forging a virtual way forward to bring up opportunities and create collaboration platforms free of geographical, travel and social distancing constraints.

Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP), as the city’s largest R&D base that bridges innovators with investors, corporates and industry leaders and other stakeholders, has made virtual events the “new normal”.

Its annual Career Expo and another business and investment matchmaking event, held online earlier this year, proved successful with overwhelming response and demonstrated the city’s resilience and strengths.

An exciting way forward for tech entrepreneurs

The next to go virtual, and bigger, is the Corporation’s annual flagship event, Elevator Pitch Competition (EPiC 2020).

In its fifth year, EPiC will, for the first time, be staged online and extended to a week-long startup and investment matching programme incorporating three distinct events — the Final Pitching Competition, the Global Matching programme and the Investment x Corporate Innovation Conference.

Albert Wong, chief executive officer of HKSTP, is heartened that the virtual format will make the events more accessible to global startups, investors and corporate partners to empower entrepreneurship through corporate innovation and partnership.

“EPiC is a major startup event to strengthen the Hong Kong’s I&T ecosystem. At last year’s event, we brought together more than 1,000 entrepreneurs, investors and industry players. Startups need more of this kind of event to tell people what they are doing, instead of doing it in the laboratories alone, and to have their ideas verified through winning over investors,” he adds.

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HKSTP chief executive Albert Wong sharing his perspectives at last year’s event. PHOTO: HKSTP

In this year’s online format, the participating startups will pitch their innovative business ideas via a 60-second video to a judging panel of major investors and industry leaders. The best 10 startups will make their final pitch live online on Nov 6 to vie for a total of US$200,000 cash prizes.

Gordon Yen, one of EPiC 2020’s judges and the founding managing partner of Radiant Tech Ventures, says: “This is a great opportunity to get a good sample of startups around the world in many different sectors. We could pick out some potential winners that can identify a problem in a potential market, and provide an efficient solution to address that problem.”

More than just pitching, participating startups will also get to explore business and investment opportunities in the Greater Bay Area and Asia Pacific with thousands of active investors and corporate leaders during the online “Global Matching” programme, to be held from Nov 9 to 12.

The “Investment x Corporate Innovation Conference” on Nov 13 to explore regional investment opportunities and collaborative innovation and partnership will mark the end of the EPiC week.

“The conference will connect traditional venture capitalists, best-in-class corporate innovators and entrepreneurs to facilitate cross-regional investment and collaboration in I&T. Startups can then gain insights into how they should craft their business to fit the needs of investors and corporates,” Yen says.

Gordon Yen, founding managing partner of Radiant Tech Ventures and one of the judges at EPiC 2020. PHOTO: HKSTP

Setting the stage for innovation

Pitching to potential investors has always been the litmus test of the viability of entrepreneurs’ ideas, pandemic or no pandemic — and the first step towards seeing their ideas come to fruition.

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Singapore-based corporate services firm Osome took the plunge and participated in EPiC 2019 to get through the litmus test.

As the winner of the Fintech category, its founder Vladislav Sharuda credits the competition for the opportunity to network and build up the company’s brand at an early stage of its launch in Hong Kong.

He says: “Multiple partners we have started working with mentioned that they remembered us from the event. I would definitely recommend participating in EPiC to any startups that are about to enter or are at an early stage of their Hong Kong expansion.”

Founder of corporate services firm Osome Vladislav Sharuda was last year’s proud winner in EPiC’s FinTech category. PHOTO: HKSTP

EPiC has been growing every year since its inauguration in Hong Kong. The 2019 event drew a record 650 applications from 48 countries and regions despite heightened uncertainties in the city.

Hong Kong, Wong notes, has four universities ranked among the top 50 in the world, grooming quality researchers, professors and scientists. “The challenge for us has always been turning science into technologies, innovation and eventually commercialisable products. Events like EPiC create an opportunity for discoveries in science to gradually become commercialisable products,” he says.

Last year’s champion, BionicM Inc, successfully capitalised on this platform to surge ahead and quickly get their innovations to the wider markets.

Its founder and chief executive officer Sun Xiaojun says winning EPiC 2019 helped the company attract the attention of investors, as well as the tech and healthcare communities to expedite the commercialisation of the company’s innovation.

The Japan-based startup provides mobility technology and related solutions such as high-tech artificial legs for amputees. Sun says: “EPiC served as a launchpad for us to expand into overseas markets, riding on Hong Kong’s advantage of close proximity to the Greater Bay Area and Asia markets.”

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Only months after winning EPiC 2019, BionicM has established a subsidiary in China and secured some US$5 million in a Series A funding round. The company plans to mass produce powered prosthetic legs and launch the product commercially in 2021.

Founder and chief executive of BionicM Sun Xiaojun taking home the top prize at EPiC 2019. PHOTO: HKSTP

Shaping the future of startups and business

From an investor’s perspective, EPiC 2020 offers a glimpse of how the startup ecosystem and businesses are evolving through opportunities arising from the pandemic-induced new normal. It also allows startups to get a feel for the current investor sentiment in a very efficient manner.

“Due to the impact of the pandemic and slowing down of the economy worldwide, investors are obviously a lot more selective in making investment decisions,” Yen says.

“To stand out amid this year’s challenging environment, startups will need to have a very clear plan about how they would efficiently deploy capital to make themselves sustainable.”

The world is now being disrupted by technology and this growth momentum is expected to continue.

“HKSTP is at the forefront of driving the development of I&T and economic recovery. By fostering collaboration and co-creation between innovators, investors and corporate partners in Hong Kong and beyond, we hope to propel Hong Kong to become an international I&T hub,” says Wong.

“At the end of the day,” adds Yen, “I think investors want to help Hong Kong’s I&T sector continue to develop and grow, and bring more value to the business world and the community at large.”

Register here to join the Final Pitching Competition, the Global Matching programme and the Investment x Corporate Innovation Conference at HKSTP’s EPiC week 2020.

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