These are interesting times for Hong Kong’s nascent startup scene, as the city grapples with China’s slowing economy and struggles to define itself in an increasingly globalized world. As a small market home to 7 million people, Hong Kong will have to specialize and claim something as its own, in the same way that markets like Israel and Singapore have with tech R&D and fintech, respectively.
“If you just look at fintech, it’s having a vibrant ecosystem in Hong Kong,” said Gregory So Kam-Leung, the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, at fintech accelerator SuperCharger‘s demo day on Thursday. “We see…DBS, Accenture, and Nest, and of course TusPark, all coming to Hong Kong, really pointing the direction that we have something going really good right now.”
Along with IoT, government officials, as well as other players in Hong Kong’s startup scene, see fintech as a potential pillar for the city’s startup ecosystem. Hong Kong is one of the top financial centers of the world, and ex-bankers, such as David Rosa, one of the entrepreneurs in SuperCharger’s batch, have jumped into the fintech space, eager to apply their banking knowledge in a less rigid environment.
However, whether or not Hong Kong’s strength in traditional banking will translate over to fintech, remains to be seen.
“If you’re talking about fintech, it matters if you’re talking about fin or tech,” says Dong Shou, the CTO of Wecash, a Beijing-based startup in SuperCharger’s batch. “If you’re talking about fin, definitely. But if you’re talking about tech, I’m not so sure if Hong Kong can compete with mainland cities like Beijing.”
Hong Kong’s government is keen on promoting fintech and has even created a dedicated fintech team under Invest Hong Kong, a government organization aimed at “attract[ing] and retain[ing] foreign direct investment,” according to its website. In January, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced a HK$2 billion ($257.8 million USD) “Innovation and Technology Venture Fund” for early-stage startups, and Cyberport, a state-owned “innovation and technology hub”, announced in February that it would dedicate three thousand square meters of its co-working area to fintech startups over the next five years.
At SuperCharger’s demo day on Thursday, the accelerator’s first batch of eight startups pitched their companies and products, from bitcoin exchange Gatecoin to cashless payments startup Eko. Founded in 2015, the Hong Kong-based accelerator is backed by three corporate sponsors: Standard Chartered Bank, Baidu, and TusPark Global Network.
Here are the eight SuperCharger startups that pitched on Thursday:
Neat is a digital banking solution aimed at millennials. Users can open a Neat bank account through Neat’s smartphone app, which uses facial recognition to authenticate the user on the frontend. The startup is working with an undisclosed regulatory partner to conduct KYC (Know Your Customer) checks offline, in the background.
The company also has Mint-like analytics, where users can track their spending habits and set limits and goals for themselves. The company also plans to monetize their users’ payment data by providing business intelligence to merchants. Neat’s product also comes with a bank card, a concession to the Hong Kong market where QR codes have not been well received.
Wecash uses data analytics to generate credit scores and offer customized loans services.
“We are focusing on the long tail market. Our customers are usually young, like students, or blue collar workers, or farmers,” says Mr. Shou. “It is really hard to get loans from banks without a mortgage. From us, they get a micro loan up to 500 USD.”
By connecting to the user’s accounts on social media and e-commerce sites, such as Weibo and Taobao, Wecash can analyze the user’s social network and activity, and use information like the user’s university degree to generate a credit score. For users that are not active on social media, the startup analyzes their phone contacts and text messages instead.
Amareos analyzes data from social media and news articles to provide market sentiments, such as “disgust” and “joy.” Currently, Amareos is only available in English, though the startup wants to localize it in Mandarin and Japanese, and is working with Baidu to access mainland China’s market. The startup also has plans to expand to the U.S, London, and Paris.
Gatecoin is a trading platform Bitcoin, Ether, and DAO tokens for individuals and institutional investors around the world. The startup also offers cross-border money transfer solutions for banks and payment service providers.
Funding Societies is an online P2P platform for SMEs and investors in Southeast Asia.
Eko‘s products enable customers in India to conduct payments on their mobile phones without installing software or an app. The company also provides customer payment services, merchant transactions, bill payment, and cash collection services.
Founded in 2005, Microcred offers loans to Micro and SMEs. It’s currently operating in Africa and China.
Jade Payments is a payments provider and program management company for events payment systems, prepaid card programs, and payment platforms.