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[Hong Kong] Make a Difference Venture Fellows: A New Generation of Asian Entrepreneurs

A new Make a Difference (MaD) Venture Fellows Programme took place in Hong Kong from 24-27 January. The Programme aims to celebrate and support a new generation of 'doing good' and 'doing well' entrepreneurs who seek to change the world for the better. “We take a very board view of what make a difference can mean, because we believe 'doing good' should go mainstream and sustainability should be an integral part of every business,” explains Rachel Chan, Convenor of the MaD Venture Fellows Programme and Founder and Chief Catalyst of InnoFoco. "The MaD ventures can be non-profit or for-profit, but they must have a core purpose other than just making money. They can serve different segments of the society, but they must be innovative, have a viable business model and demonstrate strong impact." Sixteen innovative and high impact MaD Venture Fellows were invited to present at the MaD Ventures Salon on 25 January, pitching to 300 people in the investment, finance and business communities in Hong Kong.  The Salon is Hong Kong’s first international pitching platform to connect start-ups with potential investors and business partners. "I am delighted that Hong Kong is hosting this event which brings each of the key elements; capital, talent and ideas together in a great networking environment to support the entrepreneurial spirit," says John C Tsang, the Financial Secretary of the HKSAR Government and the officiating guest at the Salon. A distinguished panel chaired by the HKSAR Executive Council Member Bernard Chan selected 3 Make a Difference Venture Stars from the MaD Venture Fellows, together with the Salon audience. The three winners were: Insight Robotics, Hong Kong (www.insightrobotics.com) applies robotics technology to the protection of critical infrastructures and key resources around the world. It visualizes remote incidents like forest fire, structural damage in buildings, oil leak, water pollution, flooding, drought and security breach to management authorities and assist them to make the most efficient contingency plans. It also assists the management authorities in disaster recovery and in building a better world with less disaster. “It is very important to have programmes like the MaD Venture Fellows Programme to connect innovative entrepreneurs around the world. This will help build the international links of and facilitate collaboration amongst start-ups,” says Kevin Chan, founder of Insight Robotics. Wibbitz, Israel (www.wibbitz.com) creates a text-to-video technology that automatically turns any text-based article, post or feed on the web into a video in 20 seconds. Its technology introduces a whole new way of consuming content and information in a much more visual and effortless way.  It brings costs and production time down for SME publishers and content providers. It reduces the barriers of language limitations and content complexity. “It is a terrific experience getting to know people who want to make a difference to the world. I have got a lot of business contacts here, which will help us to succeed in the Asia market. ” shares Yotam Cohen, the co-founder of Wibbitz. This Israeli start-up received its Series A funding from K S Li’s Horizons Ventures in June last year. Wifinity Tech, India (www.wifinity.tech) applies innovative wireless sensing, artificial intelligence and machine to machine learning to help enterprises, buildings, hospitals and other organisations to monitor, manage and save their energy and water consumption. Users can save on average 20% of their energy bills. “I have benefited so much from the MaD Venture Fellows Programme,” said Jay Krishnan of Wifinity Tech, “I have got some potential investors and clients lined up and identified some manufacturing partners as well.” Wifinity Tech is looking to set up an office in Hong Kong, in addition to their presence in India and the US.

Building Silicon Valley in Asia

Apart from the young entrepreneurs, international experts were brought to Hong Kong to discuss the key ingredients of a vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystem. Prof Wong Poh Kam of National University of Singapore believed that Asia should not follow blindly the Silicon Valley.  A general consensus arising from the discussion is the importance of nurturing an entrepreneurial mindset and culture. Prof Wong said Singapore has invested in changing the mindset of young people through the education system and establishing deep links with the entrepreneurial hubs in the world. Similar to Singapore, Hong Kong has to develop a new generation of investors with knowledge and experience in the new sectors. Victor Hwang, co-author of "The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley" spelt out the unwritten rules of the Silicon Valley, including a culture that encourage breaking rules and dream, experimenting, sharing and encouragement and the ability to embrace failure. “It is critical to move into a new paradigm of innovation; resembling a rainforest, the best environment for unpredictable weeds to grow”, says Hwang. “To thrive in this rainforest setting, entrepreneurs and investors need what makes us uniquely human – dreams, trust and love.” Yat Siu from Outblaze echoed the comments of Prof Wong: “We need to look at ourselves as global citizens, able to grow relationships, networks and ecosystems across the globe. We should not limit ourselves to the domestic arena”. “Whilst the education system is very important, parents should not abduct their responsibility,” he added. The Salon also sought to encourage more investors in Hong Kong to join the rank of impact investors, in providing funding and mentorship to start-ups that seek to create positive changes to the society, whilst doing well financially. “Passionate start-ups need financial, social and intellectual captial. We would like to appeal to and grow a new generation of investors who seek to make both meaning and money – people who are looking for opportunities to give back to society, to pass on their experience and to leave a legacy.” Rachel Chan said. Brigitte Baumann of GoBeyond Early Stage Investing appealed to the investors in the Salon, “ The practical side of my being an entrepreneur and investor is to make sure that we know what makes good impact. Let’s ensure that we do not impose  heavy-duty impact reporting system on the entrepreneurs that makes them spend more time measuring rather than building.”   This article was first posted in MaD Venture Asia and republished here with permission.

This is an article contributed to Young Upstarts and published or republished here with permission. All rights of this work belong to the authors named in the article above.

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