Start-ups get insights into overcoming challenges

July 30, 2020 - 08:49
Start-ups get insights into overcoming challenges

Futurist sheds light on ‘new normal’ at E-Day seminar


HONG KONG, CHINA - Media OutReach - 30 July 2020 - Localstart-ups have been rising to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemicwith agility and creativity. This year's HKTDC Entrepreneur Day (E-Day),organised by the Hong Kong TradeDevelopment Council (HKTDC), underwent a transformation in terms offormat and content, with a series of seminars broadcast live on 16 and 17 Julygiving start-ups valuable insights into finding a path forward during thisdifficult time.


Running under the theme "Revive Redefine",the 2020 E-Day invited a high-powered panel of speakers to speak at 19online seminars, offering insights into areas such as entrepreneurship,regional opportunities and technological developments to equip start-ups forfuture challenges. Virtual business matching sessions werealso arranged, connecting local start-ups with companies in Japan, Korea,Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States to help them continue to capturebusiness opportunities amid the current economic adversity.


Renowned futurist Gerd Leonhard (Centre) addressed the"T-Chat: Futurising Your Business: Renaissance from the Age ofDigitalisation" seminar


Insights into the future: four "bigs" and 10"game changers"

Broadcasting from Switzerland, globally renownedfuturist Gerd Leonhard, CEO of The Futures Agency,shared in "T-Chat:Futurising Your Business: Renaissance from the Age of Digitalisation"the trends for entrepreneurship and opportunities for start-ups to thrive inthe "new normal". Mr Leonhard explained that there would not be apost-COVID-19 return to normality, and that the new normal would be verydifferent.


The world is undergoing a Great Transformation, he said,with four "bigs" playing a leading role -- Big Tech, Big Media, BigState and Big Health. "Technology is everywhere. Without technology, wewouldn't be working from home, we couldn't find new ways to address the crisis.We couldn't analyse all the data. Without the AI (artificial intelligence), wecouldn't have early warning systems," Mr Leonhard said. He added that thestate helps to figure out how to restart the economy and to support the people,and that healthcare is becoming the number one issue. "We are going tohave to put more money, more research into healthcare development andbiotechnology," he said, "We all are addicted to the media now becausewe are at home. Big media is exploding. These four things together have hugeopportunities." The result, he said, would be "HellVen",explaining it could be heaven or it could be hell, depending on how it ishandled.


The future presents utter uncertainty, Mr Leonhard posited.Businesses needed to abandon traditional, pre-COVID ways of doing things andadapt to the VUCA normal -- volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.He advised entrepreneurs to flip VUCA and turn around the threats of thepandemic with "velocity, unorthodoxy, co-creation and awesomeness -- torespond with speed and come up with new ideas, to work together, and to createsolutions that can make a difference."


Technologies are developing extremely fast, and the COVID-19pandemic is accelerating this further. The crisis and technological potentialwould drive extremely rapid and very disruptive change, he said, with moreprogress over the next decade than the world had seen over the previouscentury.


Mr Leonhard said 10 game-changers would shape developmentsover the coming decade, with the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating the impetus forchange. The first game-changer would be "data everything" -- withdata as the "new oil", businesses need to have the numbers at hand togo forward. "Lots of start-ups in Hong Kong and all over the world aredealing with data," he said. This leads to the second game-changer --"cloud everything", with vast amounts of data calling for copiousstorage space. The next game-changer would be "connected everything"-- through the Internet of Things (IoT) not just everyone but everything, be itappliances or vehicles, will be connected through the internet.


Another game-changer would be "computeeverything", with quantum computers that are virtually unlimited incomputing power. The next game-changer is "understand anything",whereby natural language processing will enable us to speak to machines as ifthey were humans. "Smart everything" will see machine learninggreatly increasing the ability of machines and systems to adapt to change.Transactions will join communications as a game-changer, as blockchaintechnologies greatly expand the scope for, and reliability of, transactions.


Mr Leonhard said another game-changing development that willhave great relevance to anyone trading in goods is the distribution ofproduction. Improvements in the scope and quality of 3D printing mean items canbe produced anywhere. "We will be able to print anything, from our tennisshoes to our wrist watches," he explained. Massive increases in the powerof media technologies will expand the scope of media offerings, enabling peopleto "see everything" in the future through technologies such asvirtual reality -- and the current trend for working from home had given this abig boost. Improvements in genetic engineering mean it will be possible to"change anything" -- a development that has massive ethicalimplications.


Panellists who appeared alongside Mr Leonhard at the seminarincluded Karena Belin, CEO & Co-founder of WHub; ToaCharm, Associate Professor, Business School, the Chinese University ofHong Kong; and Herbert Chia, Venture Partner at Sequoia CapitalChina. Mr Charm said that many Asian conglomerates rejected technologicalinnovation in the past, and it was only when faced with growing competitionthat they began to open their doors to change. Referencing the current rapidlytransforming business environment, hesaid: "All Asianconglomerates are opening up their doors to new technologies. They arethinking: 'I don't know about this, but I need it because my shopping malls, myhotels, my properties -- nobody goes there to buy now'. I think this presents agolden opportunity for all of us -- start-ups and technology companies, andenablers like incubators and accelerators."


In response to a question about leadership and how humanskills are becoming more valuable, Mr Chia, said: "At thismoment, when talking to a lot of CEOs in the field, I find there's a gapbetween the knowledge they already have and the knowledge needed to translate abusiness problem into a technology solution. Or, the other way round, where Ihave a technology solution, but I don't know what to fix." He believessuccessful leaders will be those who can bridge this gap and give theircompanies a clear direction.


Agility and understanding social norms

At the "Revive‧Redefine" plenarysession, William Ip, Managing Director of Carousell Hong Kong,and Crystal Pang, Co-founder of Pickupp, shared tips onentrepreneurship and their personal experiences of turning creative ideas intoviable business ventures.


Mr Ip shared three tips with the audience: be agile, be agood listener and keep your business alive. Quoting celebrated scientistStephen Hawking, who said that intelligence is the ability to adapt to change,Mr Ip highlighted the importance of agility for start-ups andentrepreneurs, especially in a challenging climate. He said that businessdrivers will change, and that development teams must be ready to adapt."Being a start-up, we need to act very quickly and stay very close to themarket. Sometimes you make decisions that seems to be correct at the time, butwe also have to be prudent, agile, and humble -- if that decision doesn't turnout to be the right decision, we need to change quickly," Mr Ip explained.


His second tip was to be a good listener.Businesses have to listen to their target audience and address the needs of themarket segment, he said. As the retail sector has been hit hard by the COVID-19pandemic, Carousell has been leveraging its platform to help small andmedium-sized enterprises get online and connect with more customers. Lastly, MrIp said the most important goal for start-ups must be to stay alive asa business. Enterprises need to prepare for an uncertain future and thinkahead to understand what the world will be like tomorrow.


Ms Pang offered insights into the classic question of howboth technology and understanding social normscan be used toimprove services. Customers want things cheap, flexible and traceable. Shenoted that while it is now very inflexible to operate a traditional logisticsfleet, crowdsourcing was a viable option. "There is a lot of idle capacityin the city, and a lot of people with downtime," she said. "Students,maybe they work until 3pm then have four or five hours of downtime.Semi-retirees, they are still very healthy and can run around and doneighbourhood deliveries. Are we able to utilise them effectively, as long asthere is good technology to trace and do quality control?"


Ms Pang also explained how advanced computerised systemswere necessary when employing a more flexible and dynamic delivery system. ForPickupp's platform, thousands of deliveries will go out at any given time, allwith different weights and dimensions, which need to be bundled together at thelowest cost.


Creating happiness can lead to growth

Katherine Cheung, Chief Marketing Officer at onlineeducation platform Snapask, shared on how the start-up has been able to growits business in a difficult environment at a seminar titled "FromCrisis to Chances: Unleashing Opportunities in Challenging Times". Shedescribed online education as "hard to start, harder to win".


With the goal of offering the best online learningexperience, the Snapask team conducted in-depth research and ran numeroussurveys to identify what would make users happy. They found that an instantexperience and instant support were important for online learners, especiallyduring the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the start-up made one small productchange, to move all the fast-responding and always-online tutors to everysingle page possible whenever users log in so they can offer immediate support.Ms Cheung said that faster matching of students and tutors has resulted in morereferrals and retentions, so "creating happiness means growth," shesaid.


Photo download:


Photo 1: Running under the theme "Revive×Redefine", the 2020 E-Day invited a high-powered panel of speakers to speak at 19 online seminars

Photo 2: Renowned futurist Gerd Leonhard addressed the "T-Chat: Futurising Your Business: Renaissance from the Age of Digitalisation" seminar and was joined for the discussion by (from left) Karena Belin, CEO & Co-Founder of WHub, Toa Charm, Associate Professor, Business School, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and Herbert Chia, Venture Partner at Sequoia Capital China

Photo 3: At the "Revive‧Redefine" plenary session, Crystal Pang, Co-founder of Pickupp, shared tips on entrepreneurship and their personal experiences of turning creative ideas into viable business ventures

Photo 4: Katherine Cheung, Chief Marketing Officer at Snapask, shared on how the start-up grows business in hard times during the "From Crisis to Chances: Unleashing Opportunities in Challenging Times" seminar

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The HongKong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) isa statutory body established in 1966 to promote, assist and develop Hong Kong'strade. With 50 officesglobally, including 13 in Mainland China, the HKTDC promotes Hong Kong as atwo-way global investment and business hub. The HKTDC organises internationalexhibitions, conferences andbusinessmissions to create business opportunities forcompanies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), in themainland and international markets. The HKTDC also provides up-to-date market insightsand product information via tradepublications, researchreports and digitalnews channels. For more information,please visit: us on Twitter@hktdc and LinkedIn