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Monday, Jan 18, 2021

Hong Kong’s innovative deep-tech start-ups continue to thrive amid Covid-19

Amid Covid-19 pandemic, Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp holds first-ever virtual graduation ceremony for 108 incubation programme graduates. Select group of graduates attend live event to share their stories and experiences with programmes

The global covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact around the world and completely transformed societies and economies.

As the outbreak of the coronavirus disease continues, innovation and technology (I&T) companies are increasingly rising to the challenge to bring benefits to the community during these uncertain times.

Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP), which has been leading the I&T sector’s steady expansion in Hong Kong and around the region, continues to provide expertise and all-round support to help innovative start-ups get their brilliant ideas off the ground.

Langston Suen, CEO of Opharmic Technology, who founded his company in 2016 at Hong Kong Science Park, has invented a handheld device that, by applying a specific ultrasound frequency to a patient’s eyes, increases the permeability of the cell membrane without disturbing the eye tissues.

This means doctors and nurses can administer drugs in a non-invasive way – without the need for the painful alternative of intravitreal injections.

Suen came up with the idea during his PhD studies at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).

“The four-year Incu-Bio programme enabled me to transform my PhD thesis research project into a commercial product,” he said.

Opharmic is one of the start-ups that have successfully completed their incubation programmes, namely the Incu-Bio, Incu-Tech and Incu-App, operated by HKSTP.

The company secured its first round of financing 18 months after enrolling on the programme and is now seeking product approvals from regulators in China and the United States.

Another graduate, Doki Technologies, which completed the Incu-Tech programme, developed the dokiWatch – the world’s first children’s smartwatch featuring voice calling and GPS safety location tracking – which enabled its wearers to stay connected with their parents.

This year Doki realised a dream shared by many start-ups when it was acquired by a major international brand – Fitbit, the leading consumer electronics company known for its smartwatches and wearable devices.

“We were given a lot of opportunities and support from the programme to grow our business,” Casper Chien, founder and CEO of Doki, said.

“With HKSTP as our partner it was like having another team to support us on our journey.

“There are many aspiring young entrepreneurs in Hong Kong with great ideas and HKSTP is a great platform to bring your ideas to life.

“As the start-up ecosystem is getting more robust and vibrant, it is the ripe time for them to start their entrepreneurial journey and be part of the community.”

Albert Wong, CEO of HKSTP, said one feature shared by most of the 2020 incubation graduates was that they were deep-tech-focused start-ups working on innovative products in areas such as biotech, artificial intelligence (AI), fintech, robotics and electronics.

“The incubation programmes help scientists evolve into an innovator, and from an innovator into an entrepreneur,” he said. “We help incubate a scientist’s technology idea into a full-blown company.”

Wong said that throughout the phases of advanced product development, which sees research ideas transformed into real products, Science Park can help incubatees with things such as financing and investment, supply chain management, manufacturing and product commercialisation.

“Hong Kong has continued to be a magnet drawing many tech start-ups,” he said. “Our incubation graduates this year came from six markets around the world – Hong Kong, [mainland] China, India, Taiwan, the UK and the US.”

The ceremony also saw a record high of six graduates from the Incu-Bio programme at Science Park, which as well as being home to more than 140 biotech companies, has evolved into a regional hub for biomedical technology.

Over the years, HKSTP’s incubation programmes have incubated over 700 graduates, with nearly 80 percent of them still in business, including four companies listed on the stock market. The graduates have filed more than 1,100 intellectual property applications and won over 600 international awards.

Apart from the Incu-Tech, Incu-App and Incu-Bio graduates, there were also another 30 teams that completed the Science and Technology Entrepreneur Programme (STEP) – a pre-incubation scheme launched in 2019 for the next generation of entrepreneurs who have innovative ideas and the aspiration to establish start-ups.

“Science Park gives those enrolled in STEP the resources to validate their ideas and go through the regulation and marketing issues,” Wong said.

“After a year, they will decide if they will start a company or pursue incubation.”

One STEP graduate, Phoennovation, is a start-up currently developing an outfit-matching smart application that targets male teenagers in Asia.

Ali Shamaz, its founder, said HKSTP’s programme was ideal for teenagers and university undergraduates such as him, who had the innovative ideas, but lacked vital practical skills and business knowledge.

Shamaz, 20, showed his passion for technopreneurship when he took part in six hackathons – winning three of them. The entrepreneur, who is taking a gap year in his undergraduate studies, said he could not wait to start his own business after receiving his bachelor’s degree.

“It gave us the opportunities to explore and try out our innovative ideas,” Shamaz said. “We are proud to gain more recognition out there and tell others that we are from STEP, while having Science Park supporting us.

“We have just completed our minimum viable product and hope to work with HKSTP to further develop our solution in the future.”

The graduation certainly is not the end of the start-ups’ journey, but rather the beginning of a new phase for them as they look to build on their success.

HKSTP plans to offer further support to accelerate the growth of start-ups at Science Park with its unique business and investment matching event, Global Matching 2020, from July 16 to 23.

“We will invite over 100 global investors, entrepreneurs, industrialists and corporates and match them with entrepreneurs and start-ups at Science Park,” Wong said.

“With their solutions created, the most important thing for start-ups is to identify real-world applications and investors. This is exactly what the Global Matching 2020 is for – to connect start-ups with potential users and investors.”

Hong Kong’s continual transformation into a regional I&T hub relies on the vision of creative and deep tech-focused entrepreneurs, HKSTP is ready to ensure their ideas come to fruition.


Quote of the Day

A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.

Ayn Rand
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