Hong Kong’s Project st@rt-up: 7 Years On

How has one of the great articles on HK’s nascent startup scene held up over the past 7 years?

Facebook reminded me of this story I posted on its platform 7 years ago today about the early days of the Hong Kong startup ecosystem.

What a great story back in 2013! Seems like a lifetime ago, but they chose the right people to be in this photo since everyone has thrived since. It was published in the South China Morning Post’s (pre-Alibaba) MONEY magazine — which is a glossy magazine-sized supplement written by Jenni Marsh with photos by May Tse.

First, a few quotes from the story that I thought were worth pointing out — to be honest it’s very quotable; just to see how either right or wrong we were — so if you haven’t read it, it’s worth a read:

“About one year ago, there was just 1,000 square feet of co-working space in Hong Kong. That was BootHK — it could fit 60 people and was packed. Today there is 100,000 sq ft of co-work space spread out across the city owned by different people.”

Orlando has co-founded AcceleratorHK, the first accelerator program in Hong Kong (the US has hundreds). The three-month scheme for early stage start-ups offers HK$15,000 in seed capital, mentorship and co-working space.

“Funding is hard to get almost everywhere in the world,” Orlando says. “The different thing in Hong Kong is that while there is still a lot of money here, it historically has not gone into technology investment.”

Chinese families have been reluctant for their offspring to spend their twenties in the high-risk start-up scene, preferring they enter reliable professions, such as banking or law.

Ray Chan could be the David Karp (Tumblr) of Hong Kong, a new media fameboy sipping Grey Goose in dragon-i with products to back up the partying, but he’s remained refreshingly low key.

He sees Hong Kong-based socially orientated stocks-trading portal 8 Securities Limited as an inspiration. After two seeding rounds of US$1.5 million and US$8 million it closed another US$3 million round last December, with 100 per cent follow-on from its original eight investors. The firm has now launched a Tokyo office, and boasts 5,000 accounts holding US$1 billion in assets. The idea isn’t as sexy as Facebook but the numbers are a turn-on.

“It’s hard to predict what will be the next big thing. But we run a lot of pitch clubs and the young people coming along have seriously good ideas. It’s not hard to learn to code or programme. You just need someone who sees an opportunity and captures it. It’s that simple.”

Where are they now?

I asked people on my social what has changed since 2013? No takers yet as you can imagine what a sensitive question to ask and a wasp nest to kick but I can tell you about the people in the photo:

Wai-lun Hong, Snaptee

OK so Snaptee is still around and counts investors from just about everyone in the Angel game in HK including NEST, Groupon’s Danny Yeung, Joel Neoh, Big Bloom, 8Securities’ Mikaal Abdulla, Outblaze’s Yat Siu, 6waves’ Chris Lee, Fresco Capital, and William Lee. Alongside designing your own t-shirt from your smartphone, as well as from kiosks all over Hong Kong! Get your own t-shirt here.

Elaine Tsung, Garage Society

Elaine Tsung left The Hive one year after this story to set up her own co-workspace called Garage Society. She now has 4 Hong Kong locations and ones in Cambodia, Singapore, India, Thailand and The Philippines so an amazing step forward that didn’t get crushed by 100 other co-workspaces brands in Hong Kong or by global titan WeWork — proving that not everyone wants the same type of coffee.

Tytus Michalski, Fresco Ventures

Tytus is still doing well and has expanded his fund and his portfolio includes Pipedrive, Make School, General Assembly, Glints, Little Bird, and Snaptee. See more at Fresco.vc. See Tytus and me on a panel interview with recently acquired 8 Securities.

Yat Siu, Animoca

Yat and I are Generation 1 startups, and he sold Outblaze to IBM ages ago and has has built Animoca into a powerhouse games company and now is all over the blockchain, AI and mobile technology. Always at the forefront of tech and one of the main “posterpeople” of HK’s startup scene.

Felix Lam, WYNG43

I have not seen Felix in years, but I did a quick LinkedIn check and he is still in the VC game as a director at WYNG43 social investments in HK. Amazing to hear he believes that Hong Kong has the potential to become a more socially cohesive, equitable, resilient and culturally diverse city.

Me, StartupsHK

My own venture has now evolved into StartupsGBA and is in the process of launching a new community + news resource to unite the 4 kingdoms (Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Macau and HK) and allow for more transparency to global startups. At the time of this story I was employed by SoftLayer which allowed me a massive opportunity to expand my network around Asia which I will be eternally grateful for, which in turn got me on the radar of Web Summit and allowed me to show-off Hong Kong to the world via RISE — arguably the largest tech conference in the entire Asia-Pacific region.

What will this story look like in 2027?

thoughts on everything from startup ecosystems, conferences, anime, video games, comic books, digital entertainment to cats and ninjas.

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