Boosting Entrepreneurship in Hong Kong

Boosting Entrepreneurship in Hong Kong

(Image credit: See-ming Lee – Flickr)

Entering the third floor of the Citicorp building near Tin Hau, one instantly feels a touch of intensity and excitement brewing in the air. This is the Final Pitch Night of CoCoon, a co-working community for start-ups in Hong Kong. This afternoon, six companies will showcase their ideas and meet the challenges from the judges, in order to win a series of awards totalling HKD35,000 to kick-start their start-up ideas. The tickets have long been sold out at the price of HKD75. Albeit the spatial 14,000 square feet start-up incubator has been providing a rather appropriate environment for innovative ideas to take flight, it appears completely packed out today, with standing audience filling up the back of the hall.

The finalists for the Pitch Night Final are six groups of entrepreneurs with a main focus on IT development. Half of the votes are from the judges, while the other half are from the audience.

The winner, Uhoo, its name meaning “excellent breathing” in Chinese, prototypes a package that integrates the health sensors and air quality sensors in the market, providing recommendations for people to deal with the challenge of increasing air pollution, and targeting the improvement of maternal care.

The first runner-up, eSCHOOLPAD, provides iPad management services, making iPads more manageable and acceptable for teachers and supporting children’s learning process. Their presentation was both clear and fun, as most of the team members are from the Cartoon Network. “We are a fun team,” said Zorro Cheng, the presentator.

The second runner-up, Bindo, is a New York-based software company that aims at providing e-commerce services for people’s daily purchases, connecting local shoppers to their neighborhood stores online. It also provides information on explicit locations for certain items and on promotions from the merchandisers, making online shopping more convenient for both retailers and shoppers.

The three teams received awards of HKD20,000, HKD10,000 and HKD5,000, respectively.

Theodore Ma, the co-founder of CoCoon, is from a family of jeweller entrepreneurs. Setting itself the goals of de-fringing start-ups in the business world and connecting entrepreneurs with business owners, the CoCoon entrepreneurship community has raised an estimated amount of over HKD15,085,000 for companies with excellent business ideas in need of financial support. The number of CoCoon members is expected to reach 180 to 200 by the end of this year, an increase of 50 per cent from last year. According to Ma, the companies who won the Pitch Night Final have all succeeded, as he defines it: “success is not just about revenue, but it’s also being sustainable, and having an impact. And the way we measure sustainability and impact… the easiest way is to see if they are still around,” Ma said.

For a monthly membership fee ranging from HKD1,500 to 2,000, a start-up can enjoy a space to develop its idea in the face of unaffordable office space prices in Hong Kong. They have daily access to an orange desk, a personal locker, and they are exposed to an innovative synergy created by the entire entrepreneurship community. The membership fee is CoCoon’s only income, bringing in approximately HKD20,000 a month for its basic daily operations.

In addition to fundraising, CoCoon has launched a number of activities to help nurture entrepreneurship, including the Pitch Nights. “None of the other organisations within Hong Kong are doing this,” said Ma. “We are not here just to create a co-working space, we are here to build up a community.” Now CoCoon is holding a pilot program with the University of Hong Kong – and hopefully will organise more in the near future – to nurture entrepreneurship literally from cocoons to butterflies. It is bringing student interns into the start-ups to work with people who make decisions that matter. Instead of being buried under administrative duties in a big-name company, it is more challenging and exciting for students to work in a start-up with more technical tasks, such as setting up a social media webpage and communicating directly with the suppliers. “Entrepreneurship can begin right after college. Literally, at that time one has nothing to lose, that’s when it’s the time to begin,” Ma said.

When CoCoon was launched, there were only three co-worker spaces in Hong Kong. Now, according to Ma, there are 22 around the city. Co-working communities such as NEST, SMART-SPACE Cyberport and Boot.HK provide a cradle for start-ups to survive and thrive. There were 4,000 people coming through CoCoon in the past year and a half, and Ma feels increasing attention from the media and the society.

With more and more entrepreneurs and guests from all over the world joining CoCoon, Ma thinks CoCoon will eventually become more international. “You build up relationships one by one, you can’t build them in mass, you have to do it in small quantities,” Ma said. “I feel that’s when other people care about what we do here, that’s when we will have a certain level of international impact.”

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