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The THEi X SCMP Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge 2019, organised by the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong (THEi) and the Post, aimed to develop leadership skills for future start-up entrepreneurs. Five teams put their business ideas and operations to the test at THEi’s exhibition hall in Chai Wan at the Challenge’s final pitch day on July 27.

THEi collaborated with the Post to encourage and nurture entrepreneurship among current students and graduates. Enrolment officially began in mid-April, when participating teams were offered training on pitching and presentation skills. Those who reached the finals were invited to make a 10-minute presentation of their business model to six judges, and engage in a five-minute Q&A session. The judges examined the commercial and technical feasibility of the projects, the skills of the team members, and the project’s potential for innovation.

Two training sessions before the Challenge taught each team on various topics, includes entrepreneurship, business model design, marketing, pitching, etc. Trainers included Ms Karin Wan (Founder & Executive Director, Guru Online (Holdings) Limited), Mr Brian Lo (General Manager, Deliveroo), Mr CY LU (Senior Manager of StartmeupHK, InvestHK), Ms Serena Pau (Head of Product Management, Innovation Hub, CLP), Mr Patrick Leung (Director, LimeHK), Mr Alfonso Ballesteros (Managing Director, Spanish Chamber of Commerce), Ms Fioni Fong (Head of Marketing, Gini), Mr Michael Tam (Chief Creative Catalyst, IBM iX), Mr William Chu (Director, Ana by Karma).

According to Dr Lawrence Chan, the Executive Vice President and Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology at THEi, some teams pitched new projects at the final pitch day, while others presented projects that had been prepared a few months earlier, or were already up and running. “It was a very interesting presentation. The ideas were imaginative, and I learnt a few things,” Chan said. “Entrepreneurship is one of the core values of our institute, and it is embedded in our curriculum. The idea of entrepreneurship also led to a new start-up incubation programme a year ago, which we called the Innov8 Enterprise Start-up Programme. Start-up incubation programmes usually have high entry barriers for those without a track record, so we decided to provide a pre-incubation opportunity for our students and alumni,” said Chan.

The Project Manager of the Innov8 Centre also coaches start-up teams, connects them with useful resources, arranges training and workshops, and oversees business development for start-up team members. “We hope they will join other incubators to gain more structured training and funding after spending two years in the programme. Our second intake will take place in late August 2019, and the final pitch day is designed as a warm-up for potential candidates. We are certainly planning to run the Challenge on an annual basis,” Chan says.

The finalists had developed a wide range of products, including an online trip-planning tool, a design-sharing platform, a social enterprise that helps solve the problem of waste materials by upcycling leather, and an online bakery. The latter has been selling personalised cakes online since March 2018. There was also a woodcraft business which turns waste wood and old furniture into eco-friendly products for the home.

The award went to Jovial Patissier, a bakery founded by Jan Yu and Angel Fung. Yu is a graduate of the Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Culinary Arts and Management (CAM) programme at THEi and Fung is a CAM Senior student. The competition appealed to them because one of the prizes was a year’s media exposure in the Post. “We rely on key opinion leaders, so hopefully the Post can take us much further,” they said. “We felt lucky to win the prize, as the other teams were well-prepared and did good presentations. We’ve been operating for a year, and that made real-life statistics available to us and allowed us to demonstrate some practical experience. That was probably what won it for us,” they said.

“Our business goal is very clear — we aim to set up a central kitchen for mass production, so we can scale up the business. We are also thinking about expanding into private parties and baking workshops, and we’re considering expanding into Taiwan after having a successful pop-up store there. We only take cake orders by WhatsApp, so we are looking for an automated setup in the form of website which will enable us to provide a 24-hour ordering service. In the long term, we also plan to cater to the pet market, and expand overseas.”

The judges applauded the girls’ presentation, and said they had prepared well. “It was great to witness the entrepreneurial spirit of all of the finalists,” said Matthias Knobloch, managing director of Betatron. “I was particularly encouraged by the fact that two of the teams are working on solutions which focus on sustainability, as that sector is becoming ever more important. I am sure we will hear more from today's start-ups in the years to come.”

“It’s about how passionate you are about the topic and your team,” said Arthur Lam, Co-founder & Executive Director of Synergy Group Holdings International Limited. “As the business ideas were all new to me, I based my judgement on the way the teams presented their ideas, and how they worked together as a team.” Lam gave everyone a “thumbs-up” for their presentations, and praised the passion of the teams.

AngelHub CEO Karen Contet Farzam thanked the teams for sharing their ideas, and said it was great to hear some solutions to future problems. “It’s also really good to see how mature the ideas are at the execution stage,” Farzam said.

“Creating a start-up is not easy. It requires passion, determination, creativity, and patience,” said Wendy Yung, director of O2O marketing at “The teams were young, but they already had entrepreneurial mindsets, and that impressed me. I could see the passion they had for creating something that could influence and inspire others. The business proposal from the winning team of Jan and Angel at Jovial Patissier was in touch with market trends, and also featured product diversity,” Yung said.

Scalabl CEO and founder Francisco Santolo praised THEi for promoting entrepreneurship and inspiring students to follow their passion. “THEi has a clear focus on education and training. You could feel that THEi’s management and professors were completely involved. The world-class jury had a very interesting discussion about the excellent presentations the teams delivered,” Santolo said.

Santolo also praised the diversity of the projects and their innovative qualities. “THEi is nurturing entrepreneurs and future leaders, and it has a healthy view of the start-up ecosystem. That view is unusual these days,” Santolo said.