For HKU, Startup Weekend HKU is just the beginning

by Natalie Lung | Photo credits: Natalie Lung and Ivan Law | 11 April 2015

Over 75 undergraduates and alumni from the fields of business, design, and software development gathered at K.K. Leung Building at the weekend of March 13-15 for the first ever Startup Weekend HKU (SWHKU).

Startup Weekend started out in Colorado in 2007 and is now organised in over 400 cities around the world. Following what is called a “lean startup model”, participants come up with fresh startup ideas, get to know each other, form teams, and build a prototype—all under 54 hours. Winning teams are selected based on their business model, execution and design, and customer validation.

Most local tertiary institutions were represented at the event (albeit named SWHKU)—with an estimated three quarters of participants from HKU. Over 30 startup ideas were pitched on the first night and a final 13 were voted by attendees to proceed. The 13 team leaders then broke into a mad frenzy to persuade their fellow participants to join their team—the key here was to have a diverse team of talents from the three different streams. Such a concept could not be made more distinct at Startup Weekend — even the participants were colour-coded with stickers — red for design, blue for business, and green for developers.

Perhaps Microsoft Office users could catch the colour reference?

Is your solution actually solving a problem that people have?

As the event proceeded into the second day, more help came to the teams as mentors with backgrounds in entrepreneurship, law, angel investment, and coding gave tips which helped them envision more concrete targets.

“The most useful piece of advice we have gotten from our mentors was to be specific with the problem [we are trying to solve],” said Ray from What’s Next, a one-stop personal planner for workout resolutions. “We were also told to formulate a hypothesis, which we can later validate with customers.”

As per the standards of Startup Weekend, teams were introduced to two popular lean startup frameworks—the business model canvas and the value proposition canvas. The former helps startups put their ideal key resources and partners, revenue and cost streams to paper, while the latter helps identify the values their product can give to customers.

The Business Model Canvas
The value proposition canvas

Having worked at six Startup Weekend Hong Kong (SWHK) events and an entrepreneur himself, facilitator Matthieu Bodin wants to point participants to the importance of customer validation.

“You shouldn’t start with just writing things on paper and accumulating ideas in your head. It all comes down to talking to your prospective customers,” said Matthieu. “It’s a very difficult lesson and it’s a lesson you are supposed to learn at Startup Weekend.”

Spots’ Pivot

Participants were able to utilise the only full day at the weekend to get outside the venue to meet potential clients, which yielded some major changes for certain groups.

The team at Spots started out with the idea of putting medical history on the cloud, with the hopes of minimizing mistreatment when you consult doctors overseas. But when they spotted — in the words of the founders — a “hot girl” walking by during their discussion at a coffee shop, they decided to completely overwrite their initial idea with an app that mapped out physically attractive females at social functions (specifically clubs) by crowd-tagging. They thought the idea was more interesting to work on.

To further validate their idea, the team went around campus to gain insight from females and even hit Lan Kwai Fong to understand the market demand of such an app. It was, however, not met with unanimous support from the audience at the final presentations.

Despite its eyebrow raising nature, the team took home the best execution and design award.

The judges were all smiles during the Q&A session after Spots’ final pitch.

“[Spots] did a lot of validation. Though there are a lot of risks, it will do well in the consumer market,” said Shopline’s CEO Raymond Yip, who met his current co-founder at a SWHK event in April 2013.

Other teams managed to wow the panel with their market potential and presentation. #Ask, an app that connects tutors and students with social media and no agency cost, stood out with the best business model; Talent4U, a platform that matches freelancers with companies, was awarded the customer validation prize; CloudBox got a special mention with its short-term storage and cheap delivery services.

According to Data Ng, who is part of the SWHKU organizing team, Startup Weekend is not meant to be an event where participants throw out ideas with a 54-hour-only lifespan. Some teams did consider how they would operate their company in the long term and how it could generate a sustainable revenue stream.

This isn’t the end

Participants traded their Reading Week weekend for new connections with like-minded individuals at HKU. Together, they have created something that has market potential, and have joined the strong network of Startup Weekend alumni. It is worth mentioning that SWHK has played a role in nurturing founders at some of the well-known local startups, e.g. AfterShip, GoGoVan, and Shopline.

The reason why Data and his fellow teammates brought Startup Weekend to HKU was very much like the event’s tagline, “No Talk, All Action”.

“Many university students would like to create their own startups. There are resources and relevant knowledge but few opportunities that motivate them to execute their ideas,” said Data. “That’s why I want to bring this to HKU.”

Witnessing a record turnout, the organisers unanimously expressed their surprise towards to the unprecedented number of people on the waiting list of a SWHK event.

“It was out of our expectations,” said Data. “We initially expected 60 participants. But in the end we sold 90 tickets, with over 50 people on the waiting list. After all it’s the first time such an event is held at HKU.”

The demand for such activities has been big. Being one of the few tertiary institutions without a one-stop student entrepreneurship centre, the University is trying to up its efforts in cultivating entrepreneurial culture among students, which can be proven with the recent launch of CEDARS HOUSE.

The organisers of SWHKU also hope to play a part by making it a regular event. “We plan to hold it every semester or every year. It would also be ideal to hold workshops, pitching and networking events in between SWHKUs,” said Data. “We hope that there will be people who are willing to organise it in the future.”

For aspiring entrepreneurs at HKU, SWHKU is just the beginning. But it is even more so for the startup scene at HKU.

Read on:

Non-exhaustive list of HKU’s entrepreneurship-related groups and programmes:

The General Education Unit and some individual faculties / departments hold entrepreneurship seminars from time to time. A good way to keep on top of things is to keep an eye on those mass emails!

Disclosure: TecHKU was a community partner at Startup Weekend HKU.

Natalie Lung

A final-year Journalism and Computer Science student at HKU. News and Internet junkie with deep appreciation for the performing arts. Favourite music genre: retro, house.

Author: Natalie Lung

A final-year Journalism and Computer Science student at HKU. News and Internet junkie with deep appreciation for the performing arts. Favourite music genre: retro, house.

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