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HK InnoStars: From Struggling to Success

Monday, April 30, 2018


(HKVCA by Staff Writer) - Private equity and venture capital investors are always seeking deals and rarely forgo an opportunity to invest in a company with potential. This past March, the Our Hong Kong Foundation announced the winners of its inaugural InnoStars Awards. The six winners were Alex Kong from TNG (Asia); Joe Lee from Kuaidi Group; Li Zexiang from Da-Jiang Innovations; Steven Lam from GOGOVAN; Dennis Lo from Xelcom and Cirina (merged with Grail); and Simon Loong from Welab. Each of the winners had already successfully raised significant venture capital. Notably, Johnny Chan, KO Chia and Duncan Chiu participated in the vetting committee as representatives of the HKVCA.

Before venture capitalists invest in a startup, there are typically several factors they take into consideration - most obviously the actual product or service itself, but also the management team the startup has in place. Each of the Innostar Award winners have shown they possess highly innovative products and services that are truly globally relevant. Yet their path to success involved struggles that had to be overcome and from which they learned valuable lessons, creating a spirit and sense of belief that has truly made them innovators.

Alex Kong, TNG (Asia)

Some Hong Konger might not be familiar with the TNG Wallet, which provides a mobile suite of financial services that include global remittance and cash withdrawal services. But it is a very popular mobile application among foreign domestic helpers, offering the community a convenient way to transfer money overseas from Hong Kong.
Alex Kong, the founder of TNG, tasted business success early, owning more than 40 properties by the time he was 38 years old. Poor investment decisions ahead of the global financial crisis, however, saw him lose much of his fortune. In a move to reboot his career, and vowing to learn from his earlier failure, he founded TNG in 2013 and has not looked back. Today, 70% of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong use TNG services, and leveraging a population of 1.2 billion without bank accounts in Asia, it is one of the largest e-wallet applications in the region.
(Represented PE/VC investors: New Margin Capital, KBR Capital Partners)

Joe Lee, Kuaidi Group

Prior to its merger with Didi (when it became Didi Chuxing), Kuaidi was the leading taxi-hailing mobile application in mainland China. But its co-founder, Joe Lee, did not always find it easy going at the start of his entrepreneur journey 10 years ago. For one thing he was not a Mandarin speaker, making communication extremely difficult. He learned to use pinyin, which at least allowed him to communicate with his peers using instant messaging software as he began to learn the language.
Lee is committed to the simple philosophy, “think big, be small”, which led the Company to control 99% of the taxi-hailing market in mainland China. Lee has also begun his own solo venture, Klover Fintech, an insurtech company that aims to disrupt the world's view to the insurance industry.  Klover's vision is to break the zero-sum business model with insurtech and innovative products intertwined with services.
(Represented PE/VC Investors: Matrix Partners, New Horizon Capital)

Dr. Li Zexiang, Da-Jiang Innovations (DJI)

One might wonder what Dr. Zexiang Li, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Science and Technology of Hong Kong, and DJI, the largest drone maker in the world, have in common. But it was Li who originally incubated DJI - he even injected a significant amount of his own money into the company as seed capital. Today he continues to support the drone giant, sourcing capital and helping establish the business in Shenzhen, while still keeping to a jam-packed schedule at the University. 
Li is a firm believer that Hong Kong students have tremendous entrepreneurial spirit. He remains committed to helping them explore opportunities in mainland China as well as internationally, and to nurturing truly innovative leaders in Hong Kong.
(Represented PE/VC Investors:  Maison Capital, Sequoia Capital)

Steven Lam, GOGOVAN

GOGOVAN, a van-ordering platform, is Hong Kong’s first unicorn after its merger with 58 Suyun last year, providing logistical services in Hong Kong, mainland China and Southeast Asia. GOGOVAN’s original seed capital was only HK$20,000, and Lam admits the company was close to bankruptcy three times in its early days. Yet it’s also why Lam still holds to the motto “never give up”, as the company’s van-hailing app has now been used by as many as one-third of all Hong Kongers.
Lam is convinced that Hong Kong’s traditional “Lion Rock Spirit” remains a core value - one that also applies to its pursuit of innovation and technological development locally.
(Represented PE/VC Investors: Centurion Investment Management, New Horizon Capital)

Dr. Dennis Lo, Xcelom and Cirina

Prof Dennis Lo, Li Ka Shing Professor of Medicine and Professor of Chemical Pathology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, is co-founder of Cirina, regarded by many to be Hong Kong’s most valuable biotechnology startup. Lo has worked to develop a single test that can detect multiple types of cancer at its earliest stage.
As a pioneer in blood-based diagnostics, Lo was the first to discover that fetal DNA is present in a pregnant mother’s blood and can be screened non-invasively prenatally. At the time of that discovery in late 1990s, funding for applied research was limited and difficult to obtain. Fortunately, the Innovation and Technology Commission was created and provided funding for applied research, offering an opportunity to commercialize the project and continue the necessary research. Today, NIPT is used by pregnant women to screen for Down’s syndrome and other chromosomal disorders in over 90 countries worldwide.
(Represented PE/VC Investors: Applied Research Fund, Decheng Capital)

Simon Loong, Welab

As one of the world’s leading fintech companies, WeLab operates online lending platforms that provide unsecured personal loans to borrowers. Loong had been regional head of unsecured lending at Standard Chartered when he decided in 2013 to establish the company – a move he admits was way out of his comfort zone. WeLab’s operations were initially very small scale with the founders having to manage even the most basic secretarial duties by themselves. This was quite a challenge for someone who had been in a senior position with a traditional banking firm.
Within five years, however, the startup had grown to over 600 staff with offices in mainland China and across Asia. To date, it has over 28 million users. In early 2016, WeLab raised the fourth largest fundraising and second largest Series B fundraising in Fintech globally.
(Represented PE/VC Investors: Khazanah Nasional Berhad, Sequoia Capital)

Attracting VC to Hong Kong
Good companies with good management attract more capital - this is the holy grail of venture investing. To ensure Hong Kong keeps pace as an attractive investment location, we need to continue to support our own outstanding entrepreneurs.