Tech[LIFE]style Conference Spotlights Latest Lifestyle Design from Corporates, Startups

HK overtakes NYC with 149k HNWIs; 500 million facial recognition registrations; Lalamove moves into India; if a country, cattle would rank No. 3 for greenhouse gas emissions 

Hong Kong, 22 January 2019 – Hong Kong tops many of the world lists: world’s freest economy, world’s busiest air cargo hub, world’s leading stock exchange, world’s best healthcare system… and world’s longest bridge. 

Charles Ng, Associate Director-General of Investment Promotion at Invest Hong Kong, added one more to the list on Tuesday morning: the city has overtaken New York for having more high net worth individuals (HNWIs) than any other city in the world. It has 149,000 HNWIs with a total net worth of US$769 billion. This is important because it illustrates the amount of capital available for investment in startups in Hong Kong.

Speaking about Hong Kong’s lifestyle tech landscape at the Tech[Life]style Conference on day 2 of the StartmeupHK Festival 2019, Mr. Ng added that Hong Kong is the world’s third largest foreign direct investment destination – more than US$104 billion last year – while its airport handled 4.92 million tons of cargo during 2017.

One reason for Hong Kong being named the world’s freest economy for 24 years straight is its business-friendly ecosystem, including its low and simple two-tier tax system – 8.25% and 16.5% – and rule of law. It helps too to have 70 million people in the Greater Bay Area now accessible within one-hour by express train and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, both opened last year, Mr. Ng added.

InvestHK has organised the StartmeupHK Festival since 2013. Mr. Ng said back then Hong Kong had only three co-working spaces. It now has more than 70 co-working spaces and accelerators. The city is home to six unicorns, with two more expected this year.

Artificial intelligence and facial recognition with SenseTime

XU Bing, Co-founder of SenseTime, one of Hong Kong’s unicorns, followed with a talk about the role of artificial intelligence and facial recognition technology.

“Through facial recognition, face is becoming a portal to connect online,” he said, adding that it’s now used by most of the banks, financial institutions and fintech companies to verify user or customer identity. “In the past three years, we’ve seen around 500 million people using this process to identify themselves when opening a bank account, transferring money and for proving identity.”

He added that “keys will no longer exist in 4-5 years,” because facial recognition technology will have replaced them. He also talked about the large-scale recognition capabilities, such as counting the number of people in public places to help avoid overcrowding and public safety issues. Besides that, he said smart cities need a virtual city to practice on, for example with autonomous driving. “Cars can drive hundreds of virtual miles before going onto real roads.”

In terms of road safety, besides being able to see what humans cannot see, such as when it’s dark or in fog, the technology can be used to recognise the state of driver – sleepy, on the phone, drunk and so forth, including the average time looking at the road ahead. He added that it also works in the healthcare sector, where AI can help with diagnostics using medical imaging, such as an MRI scan.

Combining heritage and innovation

The Tech[LIFE]style Conference was hosted by The Mills Fabrica and Startup Launchpad. Vanessa Cheung, Founder The Mills and Managing Director of Nan Fung Development Limited, talked about “connecting through time,” linking heritage with innovation.

Commenting on “The Mills” at Tsuen Wan, which newly opened in December, she said The Mills Fabrica’s approach brings together architecture and design, using technology – including virtual reality – and public participation.

“The future of retail is content,” said Ms. Cheung. “The best content is co-created with others.” The Mill encourages the public to visit and experience its clothing recycling process. Most of the tenants at The Mill went through The Mills Fabrica’s incubator.

Minesh Pore, Director of International Business Development at Startup Launchpad, talking about sustainably growing a startup, offered advice to those starting a company. “Don’t run after investors, focus on sales,” he said.

Sally Osborne, Director of Technology Innovation at The Peninsula Hotels’ parent company The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Limited, also talked about heritage. “We may be 150 years old but we’re always looking for new technologies to enhance the guest experience,” she said, adding that they use innovation to combine heritage and hospitality.

Ms. Osborne announced the launch of The Peninsula’s Ignition Programme, which aims to nurture startups and stay close to the startup ecosystem. The programme will run twice a year, she said.

Gregory Fox, Vice President of Corporate Marketing & Brand Strategy at Huawei, and Gang Ji, Head of Strategic Investment and Vice President at Ant Financial Services Group, provided background and context on their respective business strategies.

“With AI technology, language should no longer be a barrier to creating communities and connecting to one another,” said Mr. Fox, when discussing the benefits of artificial intelligence for sight, language, camera enhancement, telemedicine, holographic communication and other areas of life. 

Sharing economy with Uber and Lalamove

The sharing economy was covered too with presentations from Uber Eats and Lalamove. Emilie Potvin, Director of Public Policy and Government Relations, Asia Pacific at Uber, reminded the audience that personal cars are unused 90% of the day, while taxis are empty 30% of the day. 

“If cars were shared, only 3% of cars (in the world) would be needed,” said Ms. Potvin. Uber is trying to address that. She said that in Japan, Taiwan and Singapore, its drivers have seen a 10% increase in daily earnings after partnering with Uber.

Uber Eats is a new stream of business for Uber, three years old and the fastest growing area of business. It’s now available in 20-plus cities.

Lalamove’s Managing Director Blake Larson described the company’s core market and how it’s expanding in Asia. Launched five years ago, Lalamove is now operating in 135 cities across the region – mostly in mainland China. It’s in the process of launching in India at the moment.

Mr. Larson noted that across Southeast Asia, the local differences are very nuanced, making the markets hard to penetrate. Local knowledge is key. Lalamove has partnered with LINE in Thailand to provide its convenience, messenger and food delivery services in Bangkok. He said by using its existing pool of drivers, the start-up cost was negligible. 

The service in Bangkok now handles over one million orders a month, with a fulfilment rate of 95% – “getting a driver is the number one metric”. He said it takes on average seven seconds to get a driver. The average delivery time regionwide is 46-50 minutes.

Mr. Larson said that across Asia, the company has two million drivers, 4,000 employees and that Ho Chi Minh City is the latest city it has entered – it’s seeing the fastest growth.

Focus on the why, not the what, to understand customers 

In a session on design thinking, Stephen Wong, Director of Strategic Business Development at Swire Beverages, emphasised the need to understand the true needs of the customer. “In corporate or in a gung-ho startup, you probably don’t know your customer,” he said. “Let go of your ego, it’s not about you.”

He said it’s important to go beyond functional needs. “Customers say what they want, but sometimes they don’t know. The why is more important than the what.” He said there’s a need to go beyond MVP – minimum viable product – which fulfils only functional needs, “like a bowl of rice.” He recommended aiming for a higher goal: MLP, or minimum lovable product, which is closer to “tasty home cooking.”

David Brown, Direct or Executive Education, Imperial College London, offered guidance to budding entrepreneurs in a presentation on ‘playful entrepreneurship.’ 

“Play is hugely underestimated,” he said, before outlining four characteristics important for entrepreneurs: craft, ambition, fortitude and grace.

  1. Craft – Creating beauty, something special. Ability in planning or performing, ingenuity in constructing. Trade, or profession, requiring special skills and knowledge.

  2. Ambition – The ardent desire or aspiration to make a giant difference, to influence, to change the world.

  3. Fortitude – Moral strength or courage. Unyielding in the face of adversity. Using adversity to learn. Innovate, pivot.

  4. Grace – Duty, decency, respect, generosity. Collaborative, open, loyal, respectful. Honest, composed.

Food and fashion – the critical need for sustainability

Those characteristics could be applied to “Better food for better living,” a presentation by Founder of Green Monday, David Yeung, who kicked off with a reminder that we are “on the verge of being at a point where the planet may not be livable.”

Mr. Yeung described how meat is a very inefficient way to feed. He said: “If cattle were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse cases. They produce methane 20-, 30-times more powerful than C02.”

He noted that 40 years ago the world population was about 4 billion. It’s now 7.6 billion. Yet meat consumption hasn’t doubled, it has gone up 30-, 40-fold. “Solutions are needed,” he said. “If people/consumers were rational, these problems would not exist. Changing life habits involves a lot of work.” He highlighted new food products, such as Beyond Meat and OMN!PORK, which are completely plant based and so far superior nutritionally.

His call to action: “Life, technology, style. Become a change maker. Start with food. Change your diet.”

Also on the theme of sustainability, Rogier van Mazijk, Investment Manager with Fashion for Good, talking about how Fashion for Good is working with brands to deal with issues across the industry, from raw materials to recycling. He said that the fashion and clothing industry accounts for 10% of carbon emissions and 6%-7% of water usage.

“It’s difficult for one brand to deal with these big systemic issues alone,” he said, which is why Fashion for Good is bringing brands together to collaborate in addressing them. 

Erik Bang, Innovation Lead at H&M Foundation, talked about its new Global Change Award, which was launched to encourage fresh thinking across the value chain – design, production, shipping, recycling – “to reinvent the industry.” He added that most winners have no experience of the industry.

Greater Bay Area opportunities 

The final presentation of the day was from Antony Leung, Group Chairman & CEO of Nan Fung Group, on the opportunities to be had from the Greater Bay Area, for which Beijing will soon launch a new marketing drive. 

“Between the nine cities of the GBA, we have a manufacturing hub, financial hub, an entire supply chain, a high tech centre and a cluster of biotech expertise,” he said. It combines “the strengths of Tokyo and San Francisco.”

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