Event Review: The Connected Cities Conference 2021

Event Review The Connected Cities Conference 2021

StartmeupHK’s The Connected Cities Conference discussed how to create smart cities and build connectivity through innovation, technology, and collaboration.

The Connected Cities Conference, one of the highlights of the StartmeupHK Festival 2021, was held on May 27 in a hybrid format in Hong Kong. The event was held in partnership with KPMG, Autotoll Limited, CGI, and CLP Smart Energy Connect, among others.

The conference featured a myriad of global and regional entrepreneurs, innovators, and academia instructors. They shared insights on how technology, innovation, and collaboration, facilitates the building and connectivity aspects of smart cities worldwide.

Activities for attendees included panel discussions, fireside chats, virtual networking and pitching in the Startup Village, as well as Lululemon yoga tutorials for a short respite. The event further welcomed virtual attendees to participate in discussions through question and answer sessions.

Each panel focused on current hot topics, including Covidtech, infratech, healthtech, 5G, smart airports, smart mobility, and smart buildings. In addition, the panels discussed connectivity with the Greater Bay Area (GBA) and ASEAN cities, carbonless development, green productivity, workforce upskilling, and fulfilling social responsibilities with innovation.

“In the past two years, we have experienced how smart technologies in the cities allow us—whether in the public or private sector—to continue to operate and respond promptly to the needs of stakeholders,” said Alfred Sit, Secretary for Innovation and Technology of HKSAR, in his opening keynote. “The use of information and technology has taken increasing prominence in Hong Kong’s journey to become a smarter city.”

Future of Work: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

The panel featured Shelley Boland, Head of Property at Standard Chartered Bank, Dr Richard Claydon, Chief Cognitive Officer at EQ Lab, Jackie Kwong, Senior Manager at Lenovo, Anne O’Riordan, Group Director of Digital at Jardine Matheson Limited, and Morag Pyott, Head of Corporate Services at HSBC. Jeremy Sheldon, Head of Markets at JLL, moderated the panel.

The speakers discussed the pandemic’s impact on work culture, deliberating on the pros and cons of home offices, and suggested solutions for enhancing collective performance and collaboration in remote working.

“We have to reinvent collective performance in the post-pandemic era,” Claydon noted. “It builds trust and relationships, and is far more predictive of an organization’s success.”

With video-conferencing and hybrid-working models becoming mainstream, Kwong suggested that technological solutions such as VR, AR, smart glasses, and smart meeting rooms, can assist workflow. These can also optimize work experiences for the end user, and facilitate interactions, Kwong added.

Meanwhile, O’Riordan stressed on the need to bring “humanness back to the working environment,” and to bolster “cohesion and sense of belonging among colleagues.”

Transforming Buildings

Moderated by Susheela Rivers from DLA Piper, the panel featured Xiaoqing Li, Technical Principal at Mott MacDonald, Andrew Macpherson, Head of Asset Development at JLL, Andrew Weir, Regional Senior Partner at KPMG, and Andrew Young, Associate Director at Sino Group.

The panel discussed the existing challenges to urban regeneration and environmental sustainability, and the crucial role governments play in devising favorable policies and incentives for innovation. The panel noted that coordination between policymakers, investors/developers, and end-users is also important.

Macpherson attributed the limited global approach on building reforms to the “lack of synchronization between government bodies like Home Affairs Bureau, Transport Department, Building Department etc.”

He added that the over-fragmentation of power might be hazardous for the efficiency and smooth implementation of processes. He further advised adopting an integrated approach and devising a unified blueprint of sustainability and affordability for better coordination.

To address the problem of idle buildings, Macpherson also advised developers to think of “flexible and imaginative uses of existing buildings.” Citing Hong Kong’s Murray Building as an example, he added that while the building is unsuitable to be an office building, it functions well as a hotel.

He further advocated waste elimination and dual usage of existing properties to increase efficiency, while decreasing the inconvenience of finding new land.

Meanwhile, to foster innovation, Young suggested creating a platform to reward developers bringing sustainability and efficiency to their buildings.

The Wheel of Innovation – Women Edition

Hosted by Sandy Lau, Chief Growth Officer at Serai, the panel featured two teams. Team A comprised of Ada Au, Industry Head at Google Hong Kong, Stella Kwan, Chief Corporate Development Officer at Cyberport, Maaike Steinbach, Managing Director at Visa, and Jean Wong, CMO at Ceezuu.

Fan Ho, General Manager at Lenovo, Viola Lam, CEO and Founder of Find Solution AI, Sabine Reppert, Associate Director Sales at Digital Asset, and Catherine Tan, Founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Notey Labs were included in Team B.

The panel discussed future technologies, their impacts, feasibility, and challenges, across various industries. The discussion spanned smart cities, edtech, sustainable tech, ESG priorities, and measures to boost innovative culture in Hong Kong.

Wong stated that smart cities should be people-oriented and committed to improving the well-being of citizens. Meanwhile, Ho emphasized the immediacy and current feasibility of creating smart cities.

“Now we have the right technology to make all possibilities into reality,” Ho said.

In the edtech space, Lam noted that cognitive AI would transform the education system in the future. Both Steinbach and Kwan highlighted the growing trend of lifelong learning, and the adoption of AI, VR, and gamification technologies in education models to create immersive learning environments.

Steinbach concluded the panel by emphasizing the importance of encouraging women’s participation in the tech space. “We should be using our voices and role-modeling to encourage women to study STEM, be entrepreneurs and be part of the startup community,” Steinbach said.

Hong Kong Living Lab

The panel featured Ray Kung, Corporate Development Director of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, Gene Soo, Head of Ecosystem of Global Innovation Department at MTR Corporation, and Ben Wong, Head of Open Innovation at Eureka Nova. Moderated by Jumpstart CEO Relena Sei, the panel discussed HK’s role in the Greater Bay Area (GBA), and measures to raise its competitiveness.

Wong commenced the panel by defining a living lab as a “launching pad for startups, with defined markets and regional partnerships,” adding that, “ample opportunities can be found in Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and GBA.”

Meanwhile, Kung defined a living lab as “an ecosystem that contributes to innovation,” through the combined efforts of citizens and government.

The panel further discussed measures to elevate Hong Kong into an international innovation and technology living lab. While Soo praised the quality of infrastructure in Hong Kong, he suggested focusing more on digital experiences that cater to end users’ feelings.

“Infusing the existing transport network with the digital side will provide a new dimension and experience,” he noted.

Wong commented that Hong Kong would benefit from having more talents in the startup and entrepreneurial space. The education sector plays a vital role in cultivating the talents and driving graduates into innovation, he added.

Echoing this, Kung stated that education strategies such as STEM are necessary to cultivate an innovative mindset for people in Hong Kong.

Business Collaboration for Social Good in the Post-Pandemic Era

In this panel, four Cyberport startups — Wonderkin, HelloToby Technology, Rice Robotics, and Negawatt Utility Ltd. — discussed how their businesses addressed social needs during the pandemic.

Services ranged from providing smart diapers that monitor the well-being of solitary elderly individuals, food delivery, and disinfection bots for hospitals, and saliva pickup services for COVID-19 testing. They also included smart building designs that facilitate work digitization and remote working.

The entrepreneurs shared several key takeaways from their journey. The panel noted that startups should be prepared to accept rejections and criticisms, be customer-centric, work on iterations, and test launches to best suit customer needs.

Emphasizing the importance of pivoting and flexibility, Wonderkin’s Founder Fiona Li said, “Sometimes we have to change our business models in a very urgent period of time, not just the product.”

The speakers also pointed out the ancillary services ecosystems that should be offered to startups. This included pilot-testing opportunities, client introductions, promotions, and talent acquisition.

Upskilling for the Future

The panel featured Lavine Hemlani, Founder and CEO of Xccelerate, John Huen, Founder and CEO of Koding Kingdom, Mariana Kou, Executive Director and CEO of Research Study Education Group, and Dr Siu Sai Cheong, Associate Professor at The Hang Seng University of Hong Kong. It was moderated by Dr Shauhrat Chopra, Assistant Professor at City University of Hong Kong.

The panel shed light on the skill sets that future workforces should be equipped with to cater to a rapidly changing business environment.

Huen stressed the importance of programming education, suggesting that “while natural language shapes how we think, programming shapes how we innovate. It is one of the 5 most important literacies after reading, writing, drawing, and calculating.”

To cultivate talents in response to technological trends in the market, Dr Siu suggested the provision of industry-led curriculums and transdisciplinary courses in tertiary eduction institutions. This includes fintech, legaltech, AI for humanities, and digital entertainment.

Dr Siu further stated that these courses could offer transferable skills in the domain of LEAP, “which stands for leadership and lifelong learning, entrepreneurial spirit and thinking, adaptability and positive mindset.”

Hemlani, meanwhile, criticized the traditional education systems in Asia, which focused on “helping students pass examinations” and teaching skills that are not in line with current market trends.

“Students should learn about data analytics, machine learning, UI/UX design, AI, VR, cybersecurity,” Hemlani noted. “We know what those words mean, but we have to move away from just words to execution. We have to patch the entire education and employment gap.”

He also suggested an inverted model of learning, which kept problems as a starting point instead of focusing solely on profit-making. “If you solve a problem, it can lead to value creation.”

Fireside Chat: Health Tech Reimagined

The fireside chat on reimagining healthtech discussed futuristic trends in healthcare, and ways to make healthcare services more accessible in light of the pandemic.

Talking about the decentralization of healthcare services, Prenetics Group CEO Danny Yeung predicted, “It will become more user-centric. Self-testing and self-diagnosing will be a huge trend.”

He demonstrated the working of his handheld Covid-testing device. After inserting a nasal swipe, the device can provide results in 20 minutes and exchange data through Bluetooth. He hopes to extend the services to influenza, sexually transmitted diseases, and life-threatening diseases in the future.

AstraZeneca’s Innovation and Business Excellence Director Reza Nobar emphasized the measures Hong Kong could take to provide smart healthcare, such as leveraging infrastructure and developing 5G networks.

More importantly, Nobar highlighted that the most important thing is trust – patients should be willing to trust companies with their data, whereas companies need to respect the privacy and data protection caveats of working with user data.

Images courtesy of KPMG.


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