Boost startups to bolster image

Commercial developer Swire Properties founded blueprint accelerator to help startups gain an edge. The company doesn't invest in the fledgling firms or take a piece of the ownership, it just gives them space to grow and hopes to capture a bit of glow in return.

Swire Properties’ management and representative of the 11 winning startups
Swire Properties’ management and representative of the 11 winning startups

"Over the past several years, the startup scene in Hong Kong has gained huge momentum," said Swire Properties’ Chief Executive Guy Bradley at the opening ceremony. "As a core member of the business community, we’re happy to support these startups with our resources, be it a place to work, a contact to capital, encouragement and advice to keep them on track and motivated. In return, blueprint will nurture a culture of innovation and creativity at Taikoo Place, reinforcing its status as a key business hub in Hong Kong."

In January Swire Properties unveiled the first of the startups it selected from over 150 applications from around the world to join its accelerator programme. Eleven made the cut and represent a diverse mix of business-to-business (B2B) technical solutions and developing concepts in e-commerce fulfilment, energy consumption, defect management and luggage tracking.

Each company gets six months of free work space, mentorship support, connections to capital and market testing opportunities to accelerate their businesses. Swire Properties does not charge the startups rent or demand equity in return.

"So what's in it for Swire Properties? Commercially very little," said Bradley in the media launch this week. The effort is mainly to help shine some innovation light on the firm’s sprawling Hong Kong complex of business towers, TaiKoo place.

The campus already houses many of the big names in PR and advertising, as well as notable tech firms like IBM and the big local telecom PCCW. Blueprint accelerator can help affix an aura of creativity and ingenuity to the development’s brand as well as give executives that work there an opportunity to mentor and network among the fresh-thinking startup staffs. That’s an intangible quality that other business complexes in Hong Kong, with their stratospheric rents, would not be able to offer.  "What’s more, it is also a testament to our company's commitment to innovation," emphasised Bradley.

The growing blueprint mentor network includes over 70 top executives and entrepreneurs in Hong Kong, including 14 C-suite executives and 16 directors. External to Swire, other blueprint mentors span a diverse spectrum of companies including Uber, Tesla Motors, Rackspace and Lenovo. Together, they will form organic relationships with the startups and provide invaluable technical and business advice to propel the teams toward further success. And it won’t hurt that some of the start ups blueprint supports might grow up enough to become valuable tenants in their own right. Like any good venture fund, Swire doesn’t likely expect all the firms will succeed, but it doesn't need them to in order to gain, in acclaim or future business, from the arrangement. Even one taking off could be worth the sacrifice in rental ncome.

"Granted," Bradley said "blueprint is not a money-making business initiative – but the potential is endless."

Blueprint also recently announced a partnership with Seedcamp, Europe’s leading pre-seed and seed investment fund and mentoring programme. Seedcamp Partner Carlos Espinal will fly to Hong Kong to see Asia’s burgeoning startup ecosystem first-hand, with a view to finding investment opportunities in startups that could be attractive to the European market. He will also be conducting regular workshops with blueprint’s startup community.

The eleven startups share an open workspace of about 10,000 square feet within one of the TaiKoo buildings. The design of the space encourages collaboration and interaction and incorporates recycled furniture, collected from other Swire companies. A discarded Hongkong United Dockyards’ shipping container serves as a casual meeting room and retired Cathay Pacific Airways’ seats offer a place to recline in the café area.

In addition to the accelerator space, blueprint also contains an additional 10,000 square feet of co-working space that startups can access for a monthly individual membership fee of HK$2,000. Since it’s opening in December, Swire reports, over 60 members have moved into the co-working environment.

Charlie Melvoin, blueprint’s project leader told PRWeek "Our hope is that blueprint enriches the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and inspires other large companies to support startups."

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