Event Review: StartmeupHK Festival 2020

July 6 – 10, 2020 

StartmeupHK’s 5-day conference focused on how Covid-19 has impacted and changed priorities among consumers and businesses alike

The annual StartmeupHK Festival, organized by the Hong Kong government’s investment body InvestHK, held its 2020 edition virtually from July 6 to 10, featuring hundreds of speakers across various sectors and industries. Each conference in the Festival was organized by a different ecosystem builder in Hong Kong, so every day offered something new.

Speakers included startups, investors, corporate representatives, and even public figures, brought together to discuss the latest industry developments in smart cities, retail technology, digital lifestyle, and overall global startup trends.

Like most other events, StartmeupHK fell prey to the spread of COVID-19, and eventually took the form of a virtual program. However, the pandemic also provided avenues for the speakers and experts to unpack the various ways business and consumer behavior have transformed since the first wave of infections. 

The Festival, with its renowned line-up of speakers, attracted a generous crowd. Still, issues with audio and a complicated login procedure with daily passwords changing brought the enjoyment to a brief halt from time to time.

The virtual conferences were divided into days by theme and topic, beginning with the Connected Cities Conference by KPMG on Monday, which discussed the concept of smart cities, and the future of transport. KPMG, along with other strategic partners, launched the ‘Future Hong Kong 2030’ survey report at the conference, including viewpoints and best practices from over 20 regional industry players and significant case studies from around the world.

Richard Threlfall, KPMG UK Global Head of Infrastructure discussed the future of transportation, pointing out three emerging trends: (1) car ownership has peaked and will now start to decline, (2) smarter and cleaner technologies will be integrated into public transport, and (3) there is an upcoming surge in the popularity of electric or hybrid vehicles to attain zero-emission. 

According to Threlfall, the pandemic has opened people’s eyes to the grave impact of pollution and, therefore, the demand for zero-emission transport is set to increase dramatically.

Most speakers and panelists resonated with the core idea of the day: for a city to be smart, it needs to be conscious of the needs and demands of its population, and the economic interconnectedness of surrounding regions, while focussing on education and nurturing future talent to build a future-ready workforce.

The second day featured both Connected Retail Experiences by Bailey Communications, which discussed emerging trends among consumer behavior and retailers, along with the Startup Impact Summit hosted by WHub.

During a panel forecasting the likely impact of COVID-19 on retail, HULA CEO and Founder Sarah Fung said her startup experienced an increase in online sales by almost 100% after implementing a new sales strategy. The pre-owned womenswear retailer has been focusing on producing more video content and developing features like virtual shopping, where customers are shown around the store on a video call.

Fung attributed this jump in sales to consumers increasingly looking for interactive and social shopping experiences in the absence of offline shopping. She added that sustainability is also becoming a key factor influencing customer purchase decisions. 

“There’s a shift towards buying less. Better quality, and actually thinking before we buy is something that we are all resonating with nowadays,” she said.

The Startup Impact Summit on the third day brought together local and international tech communities to showcase ideas, while featuring speeches dedicated to venture capital, innovation, social impacts, and an overview of the business ecosystem in Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

The summit also included startup pitches, a job fair, a startup village, workshops, pairing investors with startups, and an Asia-wide hackathon.

The fourth day featured the Mills Fabrica’s Ecosystem Summit and the Lifestyle Tech Conference by Jumpstart Media. The Lifestyle Tech Conference drew attention to the travel industry; Bart Buiring, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer from Marriott International Asia Pacific, pointed out that travel companies need to be agile to survive the pandemic. 

Lamborghini and Porsche discussed how the companies are looking to achieve sustainability through innovation, and Dorabot CEO Spencer Deng issued a warning against AI turning into an ‘inhuman thing’ in the future.

John-Simon Purcell, Senior Director, Product & Technical Strategy at Prosus Group, previously known as Naspers, said that startups that fully comprehend the problem they are tackling are worth investing in. 

Regarded as one of the greatest professional boxers of all time, Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Pacquiao, also a Senator in the Philippines, talked about his journey from rags to riches and underlined the importance of business investments for athletes and professional players who usually have uncertain career durations. 

“Business investments are important to professional athletes as well because they don’t know what will happen after the fight is over,” he said.

Sina Finance organized the last day, with the HKFIA 2020 Forum, which discussed the future of Hong Kong’s financial market in light of its interconnectedness with Mainland China’s financial market. 

While panelists discussed their vision of fintech in ten years, driven by 5G adoption, a different panel tackled gender inequality in the workplace. 

Karena Belin, CEO of WHub, pointed out that although Hong Kong has a higher number of women CEOs, “‘In both financial services and tech, you will find fewer women. To become a disruptor, you need to have the experience.’

Lastly, China’s best investors came together to discuss the opportunities for startups in the next decade, highlighting that applications and technologies helping people adapt during the current crisis, that have the potential to thrive in the coming years–notably edtech.

Overall, despite some technical glitches, the conferences at StartmeupHK 2020 had quite a few takeaways and came through as a successful and engaging online event. –MG

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