Elevator Pitch Competition 2024 Propels Startup Success From Hong Kong To Asia And The World

The annual competition propels startups on an innovation journey to success. Explore the Hong Kong tech ecosystem—the launchpad to China, Asia and beyond with its unique innovation approach and vital stability amid uncertain times and a global venture capital downturn.

U.S. venture capital fell a staggering 60% in 2023, compared to the previous year. This sharp decline continues to cast a shadow of uncertainty over startups heavily reliant on such financial backing to sustain their growth.

But breaking out from this prevailing global venture capital winter, Asia has emerged as a beacon of hope, offering a compelling alternative and a blue ocean of stability and opportunities. With a more “ecosystem-led” approach that aligns public and private sector focus for innovation, Asian markets are charting another path that veers from Silicon Valley’s free-for-all model that has historically fuelled its success.

Hong Kong: Embracing Asia’s Unique Innovation Approach

In contrast to the economic and political uncertainty in the traditional innovation engines of the U.S. and Europe, Asia, with its developed markets of Hong Kong and Singapore, offers a haven of stability and resilience. Both Singapore and Hong Kong possess well-established innovation ecosystems and highly supportive government policies to bolster innovation development. The latter has the advantage of geographic proximity to mainland China, making it the ideal launchpad to the enormous Chinese market. The Shenzhen-Hong Kong-Guangzhou science and technology cluster is ranked No. 2 in the world for global patents filed, according to the Global Innovation Index 2023.

High-flying startup representative gears up for the live elevator pitch at EPiC.

Hong Kong stands out with its unique mix of an ecosystem-led innovation environment combined with a legacy of vibrant entrepreneurial freedom, spirit and success. With public and private sector support, all aligned with national policy and direction, Hong Kong’s innovation model reduces risk and uncertainty and provides stability for tech ventures to thrive, even in the face of declining global startup funding.

EPiC 2024: The Ideal Launchpad to Supercharge Startups

Today, Hong Kong is riding a wave of transformative startup activity, and the rise of the annual global Elevator Pitch Competition (EPiC), organised by Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks (HKSTP), is symbolic of the city’s meteoric growth. EPiC stands out as an iconic “mega international event” alongside the city’s global events, such as the Hong Kong Sevens, drawing record numbers of international entrepreneurs. Tech startups from all corners of the world will join EPiC 2024 to expand their footprint into Asia and gain exposure to over 1,000 investors and 350 corporate partners from Hong Kong’s largest innovation ecosystem at HKSTP.

Past Pitch Champs Set the World Alight

EPiC reduces market entry barriers and supercharges early-stage tech startups to thrive in Asia’s unique innovation environment quickly. To achieve this, HKSTP connects startups with trailblazing world-leading industry experts, visionary entrepreneurs and pioneering researchers, providing the best growth and investment opportunities, says Dr Sunny Chai, Chairman of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks.

Two previously unknown ventures—Archireef and Ultipa—are great examples of the impact that EPiC can have on the startup road to success. Both have emerged from their EPiC experiences with reputations enhanced and financial standing boosted.

Archireef, champion of EPiC 2021, is a nature-tech company dedicated to providing eco-engineering solutions for active restoration and fostering nature-positivity in the future of marine ecosystems, spanning from shorelines to coral reefs. The homegrown Hong Kong-based startup is on a meteoric rise, going from obscurity and no hope of funding to making waves with deals and partnerships at the recent COP28 in Dubai.

“Since clinching the EPiC 2021 award, our trajectory has been nothing short of exhilarating. We are thrilled about the prospects ahead, which fuels our commitment to restoring marine ecosystems,” says Vriko Yu, Archireef’s Cofounder and CEO. “Currently, we operate in both Hong Kong and the UAE, having successfully deployed over 500 of our Reef Tiles across these regions. Our growth is continuous, and we’ve seen revenue increase by eight times in Q4 2023.”

Acknowledging the pivotal role that the HKSTP ecosystem has played in the company’s journey, Yu is grateful for access to a diverse pool of talent and expertise, both locally and internationally. The HKSTP incubation programs proved instrumental in not only refining Archireef’s business model but also facilitating the transition of academic research into commercially viable solutions.

Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks’ EPiC 2024 contest connects innovation ecosystems to propel startups to new heights.

The company has since undergone rapid expansion and garnered significant acclaim and awards from esteemed entities such as the World Economic Forum, IUCN, Forbes Asia, Bloomberg and Geneva Inventions. The innovative startup is also supported by an Abu Dhabi-based investment and holding company, along with venture capital firms based in Singapore.

Hong Kong Sparks China and Asia Success for Global Startup

Another successful EPiC participant, Ultipa, is the Silicon Valley-originated developer of a high-performance graph database system. Selected as one of the 10 finalists in EPiC 2023, the firm is looking to expand its business to the mainland China market and more broadly across Asia. The proximity to Shenzhen, along with the seamless resources provided by Hong Kong and HKSTP for startup expansion and growth, were key factors influencing Ultipa’s decision to choose HKSTP as its starting point in Asia.

“HKSTP provides business matching, investment referrals, exclusive membership of a city-wide and cross-industry virtual lab, access to co-working space as well as an extensive talent pool by reaching out to Hong Kong’s renowned universities,” says Monica Liu, Founder and COO of Ultipa.

“We found that EPiC is a global and valuable platform and probably the fastest track for our AI solutions to expand to the Greater Bay Area and Asia-Pacific markets,” Liu says.

Dr Sunny Chai, Chairman of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation

The firm’s cutting-edge graph technology incorporates AI acceleration, augmentation and explainability, which is powered by its unique next-gen horizontally scalable graph computing and storage engine. Ultipa’s team has delivered industry-leading computing experiences for the world’s top banks and financial institutions. Its cutting-edge solution has won international acclaim as winner of the 2023 Banking Technology Awards (UK) in the category of “Tech of the Future – AI and Data.”

Record-Level Funding Marks Hong Kong’s Golden I&T Era

EPiC steers startups to success by directly plugging them into the HKSTP innovation ecosystem, which offers accelerated pathways to commercializing research and development ideas, securing investor interests and matching with potential customers. Its nurturing ecosystem also offers mentorship for early-stage tech startups to thrive and leverage the distinctive advantages that the Asian market has to offer.

Hong Kong has witnessed the birth of 12 unicorns and venture capital investment has substantially increased from around HK$1.2 billion (US$153 million) to about HK$40 billion (US$5.1 billion) from 2014 to 2021. The expanding investment in Hong Kong’s innovation and technology (I&T) ecosystem is gaining global recognition.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development’s Technology and Innovation Report 2023, for example, ranks Hong Kong 9th on the global Frontier Technologies Readiness Index, up from 15th place in 2021.

Last year, EPiC attracted more than 600 applications from 55 economies, with 75% from overseas markets, all vying for a chance of a US$5 million investment and US$210,000 cash prize. A semi-final has already taken place in Silicon Valley, with subsequent semi-finals scheduled in Singapore, Hong Kong and Stuttgart. The 72 finalists for this year’s EPiC will be announced in March, with the Grand Finale set to take place on April 26, 2024. The worthy finalists will be launched up the city’s tallest skyscraper, while trying to sell their winning business ideas literally in a challenging and exciting 60-second elevator ride to the Sky100 venue at the top of the International Commerce Centre. All applicants of EPiC 2024 target to arrange US$45 million investment1 , US$240,000 in cash prizes, plus extensive partnership opportunities. The Grand Finale is expected to feature 80% international finalists and 20% local Hong Kong finalists, making it a truly global contest.

LEFT: On the right, Vriko Yu, Cofounder and CEO, Archireef with Albert Wong, CEO of HKSTP at EPiC 2023 RIGHT: Monica Liu, Founder and COO of Ultipa

“Hong Kong is entering a truly golden age of innovation and technology. With EPiC reaching iconic status in the innovation community, this is the ideal time for entrepreneurs to fuel global ambitions with the ‘Grow Fast Go Beyond’ ethos that drives this annual mega event and initiative,” says HKSTP’s Chai. “We are on a mission to connect the world’s innovation ecosystems to propel success. Now is the right time and Hong Kong is the right place to kickstart the innovation journey.”

360-Degree Support from Leading I&T Community

To date, HKSTP has directly supported over 1,300 ventures in their growth journey, with over 3,000 investment matchings, HK$90.9 billion (US$11.6 billion) raised by park companies and HK$1 billion (US$127.9 million) directly invested by the HKSTP Venture Fund.

Professor Sun Dong, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Innovation, Technology and Industry, highlights the importance of supporting and grooming startups to build a vibrant I&T ecosystem in Hong Kong.

“The Hong Kong Innovation and Technology Development Blueprint shows the government’s dedication to cultivating a vibrant I&T ecosystem. The Innovation, Technology and Industry Bureau is committed to offering comprehensive support to startups at their different stages of development,” Sun says.

Sun notes that in line with the government’s direction to develop Hong Kong into an international I&T centre, EPiC provides invaluable opportunities for knowledge sharing, networking and collaboration among leading experts, entrepreneurs and investors from around the world, which are essential for driving innovation and fostering the growth of technology startups.

The impact of these initiatives goes beyond individual startups, says Sun. The collaboration among startups, established companies, research institutions and government agencies has resulted in a thriving ecosystem that fosters innovation, knowledge exchange and technology transfer.

“The government will continue to work closely with all stakeholders with a view to realising Hong Kong’s vision as an international I&T hub,” Sun adds.

Looking ahead to 2024, Asia is set to lead the world in GDP, with Hong Kong at the heart of this growing region and primed to provide ambitious entrepreneurs with a supportive ecosystem that fosters growth and enhances resilience.

As Hong Kong continues to pave the way for I&T, EPiC 2024 serves as a testament to the city’s dedication to fostering growth, collaboration and success for tech startups. With its vibrant ecosystem, transparent regulations, and access to a vast talent pool, Hong Kong stands at the forefront of the global tech landscape, offering unparalleled opportunities for entrepreneurs to thrive and transform their ideas into reality and success.︱epic.hkstp.org

1Investors (including funds managed by HKSTP CVF, Beyond Ventures, BitRock Capital, Gaw Capital, HKX, InnoAngel, Jafco Asia, Mindworks Capital and Radiant Tech Ventures) will consider investing in applicants (subject to terms and conditions to be agreed between the parties).

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