Blog: Final Pitches at Startup Weekend HKU #2

Spoiler alert! You might want to read our Day 1 blog before proceeding.

Natalie: Can I just start by saying how proud I feel for everyone involved? I was at the first Startup Weekend HKU, and I must say the quality of presentations and prototypes this time were at a whole other level. Perhaps the massive venue they booked and the cocktail bar they had this past weekend contributed to that.

Nayantara: HKU’s second Startup Weekend was definitely on a bigger scale than last time, with much more diverse and ambitious creations. I wasn’t around for most of the creation process, but it definitely looked like an exhausting weekend for some of the participants. Now that the 54 hours have come to a close, they’ll finally be able to get some sleep – and some of them have gone home victorious.

Natalie: All of them have gone home victorious with the new insights and new connections they have made. We live-tweeted all the 13 final pitches on Twitter, and if you haven’t heard already, here are the results:

Overall winner: ShopIG
1st runner up / Best business model: Botomatic
2nd runner up / Best customer validation: CollegePars
Crowd favourite / Special mention: I’M IN by InJoy@HKU
(FYI: Poll results)

Nayantara: I’m happy to say that the products I was most fond of made it into the top four, although one of my personal favourites, HappyCorner, didn’t. Their idea of creating an Airbnb-like platform for rooftop events and parties was something I really liked, but it might have been a little too niche market for the judges’ tastes.

I’M IN was something we were quite happy about, and they won the Crowd Favourite award by a landslide. Think Facebook events but tailored to your preferences, with a special little calendar showing all the events near you. Definitely something that could be used to create a good few crazy house parties (see Project X!) Their concept, bolstered by a snappy presentation and a well-designed prototype, definitely had the votes of most of the audience.

Natalie: I thought HappyCorner was a breath of fresh air among the fitness and social apps we have today. Rooftops are quite an integral part of urban culture in Hong Kong, yet their scalable business model allows for renting out under-utilised private spaces across the globe.

Let’s talk about our grand prize winner. The team of three at ShopIG offered a rather all-round solution to leverage the e-commerce potential of Instagram. Instagram shops are really popular among locals, but the app limits its own ecommerce capabilities because it doesn’t allow hyperlinks in posts–so no link to purchase or to more product information, unless it’s a sponsored post or the “link in the bio”. But the team took it to the next level by feeding Instagram content onto their own e-commerce platform, which makes much more sense with a Buy button and a shopping cart.

My concern, though, is that ShopIG is built on the assumption that Instagram would allow their own content and user database to be fed into a third-party platform for commercial purposes. Remember when Twitter cut Meerkat off its social graph? Ouch.

I do look forward to what these guys would create in the future. Nelson, one of the technical co-founders, told me he sees himself working with his business co-founder Louis, whom he had just met this weekend, in the long run. Looks to me the team has great chemistry for the #startuplife — and for that I am glad events like Startup Weekend exist.

Nayantara: I thought ShopIG was definitely one of the better ideas, and I wish I’d paid more attention to it during the initial pitches. The same goes for Botomatic, a multi-tasking app that allows you to do several things simultaneously by using a custom-developed ‘bot’. For example, a bot might allow me to tweet, send an email, post to Facebook and check Pinterest all at the same time. The group’s revenue plan was to charge a certain price for the API keys, so any programmers who may want to develop a bot would have to pay for the privilege. It’s also worth mentioning that the group’s prototype app was really aesthetically appealing.

Meanwhile, there were a lot of apps that some members of the audience felt were quite superfluous. Prof. Mandarin (learning purpose-specific Mandarin with the help of a specially selected online tutor) and CollegePars (aggregating job/internship opportunities and student-led initiatives specific to each university) were two of these apps, with some audience members claiming that and respectively are more or less substitutes. However, the CollegePars team impressed me during their pitch, and they definitely seem to have impressed the judges enough to get through to third place despite the audience skepticism.

Natalie: I like the fact that CollegePars included job listings for student-led initiatives alongside jobs on the market. Student groups like TecHKU mostly rely on Facebook, physical posters, and mass emails for recruitment (from my personal experience, those are methods with pretty low ROI). Our message could have better reach on a college-oriented careers platform like CollegePars; Facebook’s news feed algorithm can leave Page owners disappointed at times.

(And yes, TecHKU IS indeed recruiting. Shoot us an email if you are interested to join us as an editorial contributor / video producer / branding strategist, covering the burgeoning tech & startup scene in HKU and beyond! :D)

Nayantara: Can’t have a tech event without at least one vaguely sexist app, so I had my dose of that with Fitland, an app for women’s health that combines fitness with a game by a team called Hello Fitty. Cute idea. Very cute, had the team not opened their pitch with “Women complain a lot about their appearances, but never really do much to fix it.” In my humble opinion, if you need to make a joke about women to sell your app, it’s probably not a great app.

Natalie: If I may interrupt — Regardless of what you say about the nature of their app, Fitland had hands down the best original graphic designs out of all the prototypes. Props to their designers.

Nayantara: Then that’s great for them I suppose…

There was also a product called Micro Probe, which we were very skeptical about during pitching, as you can see in our Day 1 blog. The final pitch did not make me any less skeptical, to be honest. It’s a great idea in theory but developing something like that would take a seriously intense research budget and a lot of time. I really do admire your ambition though, guys, although I was a little confused about whether you were selling the Micro Probe or an insurance plan.

Natalie: Let’s talk about Tour4U. I am surprised they pursued the original idea from the first pitch on Friday. This travel app is definitely one that’s on the creative end. People who cannot travel, perhaps due to their disability or financial ability, could log onto their platform and join tours by local tour guides in the format of “follow-me-around” live video. A lot of attendees I talked to agree that it is a unique way to experience the world without setting foot outdoors as you get to interact with your tour guide, but I can foresee several problems when it comes to implementation. First, since the quality of these tours depend highly on live stream quality, it would not be feasible for users to have guides visit remote terrains like Mount Everest for them, however exciting that might sound. Perhaps better QC has to be done to ensure that guides have stable Internet connectivity when conducting tours. This leads me to the second point: Can the monetary return from the app cover the guides’ costs of having a good cellular data plan?

I do appreciate the team for letting their imagination run wild– they hope to integrate their service with the 360° camera and VR headsets.

That sums up the final pitches at SWHKU #2. We believe we will be around to witness a third SWHKU in the future, hopefully with even more participants and exciting product developments. (Organisers said it might be held at a joint-university level.) We wish all newly-admitted Startup Weekend alumni the best of luck in their future endeavours!

Be sure to keep an eye on our Facebook page as we will be posting video recaps of the event (with exclusive interviews) over the next few weeks!

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


Blog: Startup Weekend HKU Day 1

We are at the second Startup Weekend HKU, a three-day event for participants to meet like-minded peers to take their startup ideas to the next level. They will be pitching, validating, and prototyping their ideas all within 54 hours. The organisers just wrapped up the initial round of pitches– here are our thoughts and insights.

Natalie: What did you think of the ideas pitched? I can definitely sense a recurring theme here – matching apps, i.e. Uber for X apps. Amongst others, there was an app matching fashionistas with those who may not have the sharpest fashion sense when choosing outfits, a platform to find an owner for your old furniture, and an app to find someone with free time to clean your house.

Nayantara: Yeah, and there were also some ideas that were similar enough to be streamlined. They could integrate their ideas and business models and make something really great. The “Surprise” app combined with the “Plannable” app for example – a surprise event planning platform mixed with a way for busy parents to plan their children’s birthday parties more easily. I actually really liked “Surprise” in particular; I thought their idea of “gift-giving consultations” was really cute.

Mass-market oriented things like this are all good, but there were a lot of ideas that seemed super unrealistic though, don’t you think? For example, ProCram, or as the would-be creator describes it, “Reddit with an academic twist”. In theory, I like the idea. I like it a lot. Who wouldn’t want teachers and TAs on standby to answer questions that the lecture slides and textbook can’t? The issue I find with this though, is that why would professors and TAs even be on standby? They would almost definitely have better things to do.

Natalie: Yes. There was an idea for a biomedical startup to detect and offer treatment for different stages of cancer. Finding a cure for cancer has been a long-time challenge for the medical field – How would the team here be able to prototype this idea in two days? And they hope to offer treatment- that’s what hospitals are for, right?

Another problem I noticed across the pitches was that they were super niche. A rating platform for dog salons only caters to dog owners. Perhaps this team could upscale it by rating vet clinics or grooming centres in general. So OpenRice but for pet care.

I liked the idea of a platform for sharing mistakes. Experience –not Google– is the best teacher. What better way to learn than to learn from others’ mistakes? But I am not sure what their business model is. After all startups got to be sustainable and earn profit. We haven’t heard a lot about monetisation from the participants.

Nayantara: A lot of the pitches seemed very hardware-oriented as well, so I’m interested to see how they’re going to implement them. One of my special favourites was the idea to create a vending machine with ‘fun’ food: pizza for example! “Look and Taste” would let users select their food and watch it being made. This pitch came from the frustration of being on campus until late and having absolutely nothing to eat – a frustration I can definitely understand when writing this on campus at 10:20 pm! I can definitely see a lot of robotics going into the ‘Look’ part of it though, so let’s see if the group refines their plan to just the ‘Taste’.

Smart bands are also featured heavily in this year’s pitches. Eric, the man behind “I-Care”, pitched a medical smart band with basic biometric sensors for blood pressure and heart rate, and also special features like reminders for taking medicine and a way to automatically alert hospitals to any medical emergencies.

I think another thing that really stood out to both of us was one of the last pitches, one that proposed to produce menstrual cups for women in developing countries. Cost-effective to produce, reusable and supposedly with fewer health risks, menstrual cups could really make all the difference to women on their periods. As a supporter of both menstrual cups and the use of the word “vagina” in public, I loved the pitch, but unfortunately I don’t really see how it’s a startup, and I really don’t see how it relates to tech. It’s an R&D-intensive, biology-related project and in this case the R&D has already been done. Which leads me to ask, what exactly is the group planning to do with this idea?

Ideas we liked

Natalie: Ricky’s “Seat Finder” uses the WiFi access points at computers or smartphones in the library or a canteen to generate a virtual map of the space, so that students could easily find vacant seats once they enter the premise. In fact the official HKU app has this feature implemented for the Main Library, the Oval, and the Chi Wah Learning Commons. It would be cool if “Seat Finder” could provide the same solution for virtually any public space– I totally see myself using it.

“I’M IN” would sound exciting for those who want company at an event, like watching a movie or having hotpot. You get to propose, browse, and join events by saying “I’m In” on the platform. I personally don’t mind experiencing things alone, but it would suit those who want to make new friends, especially when you are in a new country or environment, as the creators have mentioned.

There was this feel-good app that gets people to think positive by sending encouraging messages when they check-off items on their to-do list. It may well be just a to-do list app, but it does help restore my faith in humanity, a bit.

Nayantara: “Look and Taste”, once they’ve solidified their concept – I could definitely do with some hot pizza in the middle of my midnight studying. At this point, it’s unclear how they’re going to achieve what they’re envisioning, especially if they’re set on having the vending machine cooked from scratch. There’s this and a hundred other problem points to consider, but hopefully they get it together and we’ll see a prototype on campus soon! I can definitely see myself single-handedly making up half their revenue.

There were a lot of ideas that seemed great in concept but would be tough to implement – for example, there was an idea proposing selling warm, home-cooked meals to people. I can definitely go for a warm, home-cooked meal at any time of day, but not personally knowing the cook would be awkward. Not to mention, the person cooking the meal might not want to let strangers into his or her home in the first place. And there’s just something very secure about knowing (or at least hoping) that a restaurant is only operational if it follows government-mandated health codes. So I’ll put this idea down as a maybe. Again, if they can figure out the kinks in their model, then I’m all in.

(Side note: apparently I’m only interested in food-related apps. Huh.)

Natalie: I’m looking forward to how these ideas would pivot in the coming two days– after all participants had only 60 seconds to pitch their idea. It wouldn’t surprise me if we end up having a whole new set of startup ideas from the teams on Day 3. Follow us on Twitter for live updates at the final presentations. Goodnight!

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