Start-ups get insights into overcoming challenges

Futurist sheds light on ‘new normal’ at E-Day seminar


HONG KONG, CHINA – Media OutReach – 30 July 2020 – Local
start-ups have been rising to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic
with agility and creativity. This year’s HKTDC Entrepreneur Day (E-Day),
organised by the Hong Kong Trade
Development Council
 (HKTDC), underwent a transformation in terms of
format and content, with a series of seminars broadcast live on 16 and 17 July
giving start-ups valuable insights into finding a path forward during this
difficult time.


Running under the theme “Revive Redefine“,
the 2020 E-Day invited a high-powered panel of speakers to speak at 19
online seminars
, offering insights into areas such as entrepreneurship,
regional opportunities and technological developments to equip start-ups for
future challenges. Virtual business matching sessions were
also arranged, connecting local start-ups with companies in Japan, Korea,
Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States to help them continue to capture
business opportunities amid the current economic adversity.


Renowned futurist Gerd Leonhard (Centre) addressed the
“T-Chat: Futurising Your Business: Renaissance from the Age of
Digitalisation” seminar


Insights into the future: four “bigs” and 10
“game changers”

Broadcasting from Switzerland, globally renowned
futurist Gerd Leonhard, CEO of The Futures Agency,shared in “T-Chat:
Futurising Your Business: Renaissance from the Age of Digitalisation

the trends for entrepreneurship and opportunities for start-ups to thrive in
the “new normal”. Mr Leonhard explained that there would not be a
post-COVID-19 return to normality, and that the new normal would be very


The world is undergoing a Great Transformation, he said,
with four “bigs” playing a leading role — Big Tech, Big Media, Big
State and Big Health. “Technology is everywhere. Without technology, we
wouldn’t be working from home, we couldn’t find new ways to address the crisis.
We couldn’t analyse all the data. Without the AI (artificial intelligence), we
couldn’t have early warning systems,” Mr Leonhard said. He added that the
state helps to figure out how to restart the economy and to support the people,
and that healthcare is becoming the number one issue. “We are going to
have to put more money, more research into healthcare development and
biotechnology,” he said, “We all are addicted to the media now because
we are at home. Big media is exploding. These four things together have huge
opportunities.” The result, he said, would be “HellVen”,
explaining it could be heaven or it could be hell, depending on how it is


The future presents utter uncertainty, Mr Leonhard posited.
Businesses needed to abandon traditional, pre-COVID ways of doing things and
adapt to the VUCA normal — volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
He advised entrepreneurs to flip VUCA and turn around the threats of the
pandemic with “velocity, unorthodoxy, co-creation and awesomeness — to
respond with speed and come up with new ideas, to work together, and to create
solutions that can make a difference.”


Technologies are developing extremely fast, and the COVID-19
pandemic is accelerating this further. The crisis and technological potential
would drive extremely rapid and very disruptive change, he said, with more
progress over the next decade than the world had seen over the previous


Mr Leonhard said 10 game-changers would shape developments
over the coming decade, with the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating the impetus for
change. The first game-changer would be “data everything” — with
data as the “new oil”, businesses need to have the numbers at hand to
go forward. “Lots of start-ups in Hong Kong and all over the world are
dealing with data,” he said. This leads to the second game-changer —
“cloud everything”, with vast amounts of data calling for copious
storage space. The next game-changer would be “connected everything”
— through the Internet of Things (IoT) not just everyone but everything, be it
appliances or vehicles, will be connected through the internet.


Another game-changer would be “compute
everything”, with quantum computers that are virtually unlimited in
computing power. The next game-changer is “understand anything”,
whereby natural language processing will enable us to speak to machines as if
they were humans. “Smart everything” will see machine learning
greatly increasing the ability of machines and systems to adapt to change.
Transactions will join communications as a game-changer, as blockchain
technologies greatly expand the scope for, and reliability of, transactions.


Mr Leonhard said another game-changing development that will
have great relevance to anyone trading in goods is the distribution of
production. Improvements in the scope and quality of 3D printing mean items can
be produced anywhere. “We will be able to print anything, from our tennis
shoes to our wrist watches,” he explained. Massive increases in the power
of media technologies will expand the scope of media offerings, enabling people
to “see everything” in the future through technologies such as
virtual reality — and the current trend for working from home had given this a
big boost. Improvements in genetic engineering mean it will be possible to
“change anything” — a development that has massive ethical


Panellists who appeared alongside Mr Leonhard at the seminar
included Karena Belin, CEO & Co-founder of WHub; Toa
 Associate Professor, Business School, the Chinese University of
Hong Kong; and Herbert Chia, Venture Partner at Sequoia Capital
China. Mr Charm said that many Asian conglomerates rejected technological
innovation in the past, and it was only when faced with growing competition
that they began to open their doors to change. Referencing the current rapidly
transforming business environment, hesaid: “All Asian
conglomerates are opening up their doors to new technologies. They are
thinking: ‘I don’t know about this, but I need it because my shopping malls, my
hotels, my properties — nobody goes there to buy now’. I think this presents a
golden opportunity for all of us — start-ups and technology companies, and
enablers like incubators and accelerators.”


In response to a question about leadership and how human
skills are becoming more valuable, Mr Chia, said: “At this
moment, when talking to a lot of CEOs in the field, I find there’s a gap
between the knowledge they already have and the knowledge needed to translate a
business problem into a technology solution. Or, the other way round, where I
have a technology solution, but I don’t know what to fix.” He believes
successful leaders will be those who can bridge this gap and give their
companies a clear direction.


Agility and understanding social norms

At the “Revive‧Redefine” plenary
session, William Ip, Managing Director of Carousell Hong Kong,
and Crystal Pang, Co-founder of Pickupp, shared tips on
entrepreneurship and their personal experiences of turning creative ideas into
viable business ventures.


Mr Ip shared three tips with the audience: be agile, be a
good listener and keep your business alive. Quoting celebrated scientist
Stephen Hawking, who said that intelligence is the ability to adapt to change,
Mr Ip highlighted the importance of agility for start-ups and
entrepreneurs, especially in a challenging climate. He said that business
drivers will change, and that development teams must be ready to adapt.
“Being a start-up, we need to act very quickly and stay very close to the
market. Sometimes you make decisions that seems to be correct at the time, but
we also have to be prudent, agile, and humble — if that decision doesn’t turn
out to be the right decision, we need to change quickly,” Mr Ip explained.


His second tip was to be a good listener.
Businesses have to listen to their target audience and address the needs of the
market segment, he said. As the retail sector has been hit hard by the COVID-19
pandemic, Carousell has been leveraging its platform to help small and
medium-sized enterprises get online and connect with more customers. Lastly, Mr
Ip said the most important goal for start-ups must be to stay alive as
a business
. Enterprises need to prepare for an uncertain future and think
ahead to understand what the world will be like tomorrow.


Ms Pang offered insights into the classic question of how
both technology and understanding social normscan be used to
improve services. Customers want things cheap, flexible and traceable. She
noted that while it is now very inflexible to operate a traditional logistics
fleet, crowdsourcing was a viable option. “There is a lot of idle capacity
in the city, and a lot of people with downtime,” she said. “Students,
maybe they work until 3pm then have four or five hours of downtime.
Semi-retirees, they are still very healthy and can run around and do
neighbourhood deliveries. Are we able to utilise them effectively, as long as
there is good technology to trace and do quality control?”


Ms Pang also explained how advanced computerised systems
were necessary when employing a more flexible and dynamic delivery system. For
Pickupp’s platform, thousands of deliveries will go out at any given time, all
with different weights and dimensions, which need to be bundled together at the
lowest cost.


Creating happiness can lead to growth

Katherine Cheung, Chief Marketing Officer at online
education platform Snapask, shared on how the start-up has been able to grow
its business in a difficult environment at a seminar titled “From
Crisis to Chances: Unleashing Opportunities in Challenging Times
“. She
described online education as “hard to start, harder to win”.


With the goal of offering the best online learning
experience, the Snapask team conducted in-depth research and ran numerous
surveys to identify what would make users happy. They found that an instant
experience and instant support were important for online learners, especially
during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the start-up made one small product
change, to move all the fast-responding and always-online tutors to every
single page possible whenever users log in so they can offer immediate support.
Ms Cheung said that faster matching of students and tutors has resulted in more
referrals and retentions, so “creating happiness means growth,” she


Photo download:


Photo 1: Running under the theme “Revive×Redefine“,
the 2020 E-Day invited a high-powered panel of speakers to speak at 19
online seminars

Photo 2: Renowned futurist Gerd Leonhard addressed
the “T-Chat: Futurising Your Business: Renaissance from the Age of
Digitalisation” seminar and was joined for the discussion by (from
left) Karena Belin, CEO & Co-Founder of WHub, Toa
, Associate Professor, Business School, the Chinese University of
Hong Kong, and Herbert Chia, Venture Partner at Sequoia Capital

Photo 3: At the “Revive‧Redefine” plenary session, Crystal
, Co-founder of Pickupp, shared tips on entrepreneurship
and their personal experiences of turning creative ideas into viable business

Photo 4: Katherine Cheung, Chief Marketing
Officer at Snapask, shared on how the start-up grows business in hard times
during the “From Crisis to Chances: Unleashing Opportunities in
Challenging Times
” seminar

To view press releases in Chinese, please visit


The Hong
Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC)
a statutory body established in 1966 to promote, assist and develop Hong Kong’s
trade. With 50 offices
globally, including 13 in Mainland China, the HKTDC promotes Hong Kong as a
two-way global investment and business hub. The HKTDC organises international
, conferences and
to create business opportunities for
companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), in the
mainland and international markets. The HKTDC also provides up-to-date market insights
and product information via trade
, research
and digital
news channels
. For more information,
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