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FoundersHK was created to strengthen Hong Kong’s startup community, which has weathered more than two years of political turmoil, along with the COVID-19 pandemic. Today the nonprofit, which started as an events and mentoring network, held the first demo day of FoundersHK Accelerate, its equity-free accelerator program, which was created to help prepare Hong Kong startups to raise funding and scale globally.
Eleven startups (a full list is below) representing diverse sectors — pet care, fintech, insurance and education, to name a few — pitched an audience of about 500 mentors and investors. They were chosen from a pool of 150 applicants by FoundersHK’s creators, including Alfred Chuang, co-founder of BEA Systems, which was acquired by Oracle for $8.5 billion in 2008, Edith Yeung, former 500 Startups general partner and Philip Lam, co-founder of Homecourt. Chuang and Yeung are also partners in Hong Kong-based venture firm Race Capital.
One of FounderHK’s goals is to restore hope to Hong Kong’s startup ecosystem. When asked what that means to her, Yeung said, “In 2019, I landed at the airport in Hong Kong, where thousands of young people were protesting. I was overcome with sadness and even took a photo so I wouldn’t forget how I felt about the turmoil there. As a person born and raised in Hong Kong, I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing. I realized mobilizing entrepreneurship and helping founders build their startups was the best way to contribute and help, so FounderHK was born to do just that.”
One of its goals is to help Hong Kong startups secure more funding. “A lot of active investors in Hong Kong don’t invest in local Hong Kong companies. The part that is very ironic is that all unicorns in Hong Kong raised money from overseas,” Yeung said.
FoundersHK connects startups with mentors, many of whom are from Hong Kong, and work at major venture firms and tech companies like Facebook, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Apple and Grab. It held its first event in 2019, before the pandemic hit and has since continued hosting educational events online.
One reason why FoundersHK is equity-free is because it wants to focus first on creating a culture change. “Hong Kong is a very money-driven place, so when you say that none of this will be money-driven, people are shocked,” said Chuang. “One of the things we really want to fix first is the networking issue, because people learn from other people, but they are not connected and it’s very hard to learn.”
Even though Hong Kong founders might be reluctant to talk about their challenges at first, they are eager for the opportunity, he added. “After the first person has shared what their biggest problem is, everyone else shares, because they now know they all have common problems. That brings a lot of teams together and that’s a culture-changing thing.”
Chuang says that hundreds of startups have gone through FoundersHK’s mentorship program. One reason it started its accelerator program was because many teams wanted more support before approaching investors. Bonnie Cheng, a former venture partner at 500 Startups, was recruited to run FoundersHK Accelerate. The program includes weekly check-ins with FounderHK’s leaders, and a mentorship network that includes people from Sequoia Capital, Goldman Sachs, Alibaba, Monks Hill and Matrix Partners.
“We’re finding a lot of Hong Kongers from everywhere who want to help support the community and check out these companies,” said Yeung.
The past few weeks were spent prepping startups for demo day and making sure they don’t sell themselves short in pitches, another culture change FoundersHK wants to encourage. “Fundraising is a really big part of this accelerator, really the main thing is to teach them what they need to do, what attractions do they have and how to pitch it,” Chuang said. “A lot of our work is connecting them with investors to pitch.”
Part of FoundersHK’s work is helping startups find partners in the right markets. Since Hong Kong is a small market, most startups begin thinking about international expansion from the start, including Southeast Asia, the United States and mainland China.
More than 100 investors from those markets attended FoundersHK Accelerate’s demo day.
“To get 100 investors from around the globe in front of a bunch of Hong Kong startups, that’s never happened before,” said Chuang. “This is a first and we’re hoping this will lead into future programs. Bonnie is a mastermind and our goal is to spiral these kind of events and do more and more.”
People from FoundersHK Accelerate's leadership team and first batch of founders. Image Credits: FoundersHK
Meet FoundersHK’s first batch:
Sleekflow is a B2B sales platform created specifically for social commerce companies. Most social commerce sellers rely on WhatsApp and other messaging apps to talk to customers and close sales. Since they don’t have a centralized hub, that means social commerce sellers need to do a lot of busywork, while missing out on valuable data that can boost conversion rates. Sleekflow is a SaaS selling platform for businesses that enables them to build customer flow automation (for example, sending offers if a shopping cart has been abandoned) and analytics to keep track of sales performance. It integrates with messaging apps, social media networks and CRM software like Salesforce. Sleekflow, which works primarily with midmarket and enterprise companies, plans to expand internationally by working with channel partners.
DimOrder is a “super app for restaurant management” that says it is now used by 5% of restaurants in Hong Kong. Co-founder Ben Wong comes from a family of restaurant owners and said he wanted to create a solution to reduce the amount of labor spent on operations, while increasing profit margins. DimOrder’s front end includes ordering, delivery with integrated logistics providers throughout Hong Kong and marketing tools. On the back end, it can handle inventory purchasing, payment and analytics. DimOrder plans to add central kitchen and school lunch box ordering for 108 schools in Hong Kong next year to its front end, along with working capital loans, inventory management and an HR system to its back end. It will expand to Southeast Asia next year.
Spaceship is a logistics platform focused on the fragmented cross-border courier, express and parcel services market. With more than 100,000 customers so far, Spaceship lets sellers compare providers, declare shipment content, chose time slots for shipments, make payments and track packages end to end. It also offers consumer services like logistics booking and relocation and moving services, and will launch other verticals, including a marketplace and travel planning. Spaceship plans to expand into Taiwan before entering other markets like Singapore, Thailand and Japan.
FindRecruiter is a bounty recruiting platform to help businesses find talent much more quickly than traditional recruiting methods. Co-founder Lawton Lai was a recruiter for a decade before launching the startup and said it typically takes about 52 days to fill an opening. FindRecruiter can reduce that to about 17 days by working with more than 500 on-demand recruiters across six Asian countries who specialize in particular fields. The platform broadcasts job openings and matches employers with recruiters based on their sector, expertise and needs. FindRecruiter says its recruiters can earn 25% more in commissions and save 30 hours on cold calling every month. Its clients include startup unicorns and bluechip companies.
PowerArena is a deep-learning analytics platform to help monitor manufacturing operations. It currently focuses on the electronics and automotive sectors, with clients like Wistron and Jabil. Even on manufacturing floors with many automated machines, more than 72% of the work is still done by people, says PowerArena’s founders. To use PowerArena, manufacturers install 1080p cameras and connect them to the platform for real-time analytics. For example, if there is a sudden slowdown in production, PowerArena can home in on the cause, like maintenance being performed in one part of the factory.
WadaBento helps restaurants expand their operations and increase profit margins with automated vending machines in well-trafficked areas. It has sold 140,000 bento boxes in Hong Kong so far. Restaurants that want to expand usually have two costly options — opening new locations or delivery apps. WadaBento takes lunch boxes prepared by restaurants and puts them into their patented vending machines. Food is kept above 65 degrees during delivery and while they are in the machines, and hygiene is monitored through IoT devices. WadaBento has received patents in Japan, U.S. and China and recently signed a deal with Hong Kong’s largest fast food chain. It also recently shipped a machine to Japan, its first overseas market. It plans to deploy more than 200 machines by the first half of 2022.
Retykle wants to reduce fashion waste by making it easier to resell maternity and children’s wear. Co-founder Sarah Garner, who spent 10 years working at luxury fashion companies including LVMH, said kids on average outgrow 1,700 of clothing by the time they’re 18, but only about 5% of children’s clothing reaches the secondary market. Retykle’s goal is to keep as many items in circulation as possible. Retykle carries items for babies to midteens. All items are sold on consignment: Sellers send clothing to Retykle, which then inspects each piece before listing it on the site. When an item sells, users get an email alert and cash or credit transfers. The company plans to launch in Singapore next month and in Australia in 2022.
Preface Coding is a tech education platform that provides scalable but customizable coding classes. Students can make on-demand bookings with teachers, and either meet with them virtually or at an offline location. The platform helps train teachers and most classes are 1:1. It serves a wide range of students, including kids aged 3 to 15, university students (especially Asian overseas students in the U.S. and Australia) and senior professionals in the financial, management and consulting industries. It's also made partnerships with universities and banks, and plans to scale globally.
ZumVet is a pet care startup that offers video vet consultations, house visits and pharmacy deliveries, including medication and home-based diagnostic tests. Co-founder Athena Lee said ZumVet was created to help pet owners who don’t have a regular vet or live in areas where there aren’t a lot of veterinarian clinics. Vets perform consultations, create treatment plans and offer support remotely, or make house calls. Zumvet works with a network of independent vets and offers subscription plans to make pet care more affordable.
Big Bang Academy was created to address increasing demand for STEAM education and wants to make learning as “compelling as a movie, fun as a theme park and educational as a classroom” for kids. Its accredited curriculum includes videos and personalized lesson plans for each student. It also encourages a hands-on approach with experiment kits that are delivered to kids’ homes. The platform currently has 200 interactive sessions and a 70% course completion rate, a high number for an edtech platform. It business models include B2B, partnering with educational organizations, and B2C subscription models, and about 80% of its customer base is recurring. Big Bang Academy plans to diversify its content and create learning toys, too.
YAS Microinsurance is an insurtech startup with policies that can be activated in as little as five seconds, including coverage for running, biking or hiking accidents. It also recently signed its first partnership with Kowloon Motor Bus, one of the largest public bus companies in Hong Kong, to cover its passengers, including loss or theft or accidental medical expenses. YAS Microinsurance launched four months ago and says it now has $800,000 in committed revenue. About 6,300 policies were activated over the past couple of months, and it currently activates about 600 new policies per week.
Update: Story corrected to reflect that Philip Lam, not Phil Chen, created FoundersHK.