Last year, logistics supplier GoGoVan and fintech innovator WeLab became Hong Kong’s first unicorns – companies valued at US$1 billion (HK$7.8 billion) or more. It’s a sign that Hong Kong welcomes not just established businesses, but nascent ones, too.
These nascent businesses will be the stars of the Hong Kong tech stage next month as the RISE technology conference returns to the city.
RISE, which Cathay Pacific is sponsoring, highlights Hong Kong’s burgeoning status as a tech hub. The city is home to a network of incubators – companies that offer bursaries, subsidised workspace and mentoring – and access to investment from all kinds of financial institutions. Hong Kong’s location, close to mainland China’s southern provinces which are home to much of the world’s tech manufacturing, also helps.
As Hong Kong’s flagship carrier, Cathay Pacific has already started to capitalise on this growing reputation as a hub for tech start-ups. For the past two years, the airline has hosted its own hackathon, a two-day event in October that gives young people the opportunity to use technology to improve the overall passenger experience. Young coders learn skills while working to a strict overnight deadline. The winning idea at last year’s event was CX Touch, an app that will enable passengers to request inflight services from their smartphone, the brainchild of students from the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education.
The app is now being developed, while the team also won fast-track access to the airline’s IT Graduate Trainee Programme. ‘The hackathon gives young people the chance to explore their own ideas and improve their skills,’ says Paul Loo, chief customer and commercial officer.
And next month, Cathay Pacific extends its support of the city’s brightest young tech talent by sponsoring RISE. The event is organised by a Dublin company – fitting, given the airline starts flights to the Irish capital this month, making a direct link between the Asian and ‘Celtic tiger’ economies.
RISE, held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre during 9-12 July, is set to attract 15,000 people. It features investors and start-ups from 110 countries, with keynote speakers including Microsoft president Brad Smith, Tinder founder Sean Rad, Cheetah Mobile chief executive Fu Sheng and Cathay Pacific chief executive Rupert Hogg.
RISE also provides young start-ups with an opportunity to meet investors. Paddy Cosgrave, chief executive and co-founder of Web Summit and RISE, says this is critical to the event’s success. ‘The presence of investors is incredibly important – it’s the beating heart of RISE – and the amount of available capital is phenomenal.’
Networking is also taken very seriously at RISE, with events held both during and after that encourage start-ups seeking funding to meet investors in an offline environment.
‘We wanted to be somewhere in Asia that had amazing infrastructure, amazing global connectivity and a thriving tech ecosystem. Hong Kong does those things and is very strongly represented at RISE,’ says Cosgrave.
That’s why the conference is such a good fit for Cathay Pacific.
Edward Bell, general manager of brand, insights and marketing communications at Cathay Pacific, adds: ‘With our increased focus on technology and innovation, it seems natural to reinforce our commitment to young entrepreneurs through the hackathon and now RISE.
‘Start-ups tend to be young companies run by young people and it’s natural for us to support the city that supports us. We see Hong Kong as a world-leading aviation hub, now we want people to see that Hong Kong is also an equally dynamic tech hub with bright sparky minds – and that is something we are very happy to promote.’
RISE fast facts
Where: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
When: 9-12 July
What: 15,000 attendees, 300+ speakers (74 per cent senior management), 650 journalists, 700+ start-ups, 300+ investors