Pointing Way for Startups

Wearable IoT World to launch new tech startup accelerator in Hong Kong

IoTSan Francisco-based start-up accelerator Wearable IoT World has launched a new technology venture in Hong Kong that will act as a cross-national gravity center to attract entrepreneurs to come and build their companies.

The new venture, dubbed the US-Pan Asia IoT Superhighway accelerator, will also focus on grooming entrepreneurs in Asia who are dedicated to driving innovation in the Internet of Things, wearables and emerging technologies.

“This marked a long-awaited milestone in our continued quest to build the easiest pathway to product creation, market awareness, investment and distribution for related start-ups around the world,” said Redg Snodgrass, co-founder and chief executive of Wearable IoT World.

“What we are trying to do is to eliminate the anxiety and opacity that entrepreneurs face when they look at new markets and when they build their products, from dealing with manufacturers, designers to prototyping.”

Established in May 2013, Wearable IoT World provides young entrepreneurs with support on advisory services, publishing services and conference organization.

Since inception, the accelerator has mentored 80 companies in the United States, helping them raise a total of US$85 million (HK$663 million) from investors and US$5.5 million from crowdfunding projects. About 90 percent of its start-ups are able to raise outside capital, Snodgrass said.

Its portfolio, which has an aggregated value of US$500 million, includes TZOA, a manufacturer of wearable air-quality and ultraviolet sensors, Kontakt.io, a back-end solution provider for Beacons and iBeacons, and Grush, a gaming toothbrush for children.

Wearable IoT World said it will set up an executive office and innovation lab at Cyberport, and partner with the management company to organize accelerator events and executive programs.

It also announced that three investors from Hong Kong and the United States have injected HK$35 million into its operational fund.

The investment comes from Radiant Venture Capital, which is headed by local businessmen Duncan Chiu and Gordon Yen, Silicon Valley-based Tsinghua Entrepreneurs and Executive Club Angel Fund, and New York-based private equity W Capital Partners.

McKinsey Global Institute projected last June that the Internet of Things will have a total potential economic impact of US$3.9 trillion to US$11.1 trillion a year by 2025 – equivalent to about 11 percent of the world economy.

By 2020, there will be 30 billion devices connected together, the McKinsey report says.

Snodgrass said that China and the United States will be two of the world’s largest markets for IoT.

Many companies are interested in using the SAR as a launch pad into the mainland and Southeast Asia.

The proximity to Shenzhen and Guangdong, the manufacturing hub of China, is one of the reasons why foreign companies find the SAR attractive, said Chiu, managing director of Radiant Venture Capital.

“You also find in Hong Kong top- of-the-mind designers, world-class graphic innovators, experienced marketing people, and people who understand the East and West,” he added.

“You can protect your intellectual property with Hong Kong laws, which are recognized by many foreign countries. Also, we have excellent logistics to ship products to everywhere in the world.”

With the local start-up community continuing to mature, Chiu expects more young people who are still at university to come up with different products, devices and analytic software. They will need help to expand into the markets in the mainland, Southeast Asia and the United States.

“These young entrepreneurs will need people to help network and give them strategic advice on how to go to market. And, of course, they need investors,” said Chiu, adding that his firm will further invest in companies affiliated with Wearable IoT World if deemed suitable.

Wearable IoT World announced that it has started a new round of recruitment for promising start-ups in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Singapore and the US. It is now taking applications and up to 15 start-ups from Hong Kong will be picked for an accelerator program that starts this May.

The 15-week program in Hong Kong will provid those selected with capital of up to US$25,000 in return for an equity stake of up to six percent.

It will also provide an extensive suite of services, from customized mentorship, education, office space, networking opportunities to a demo day in the United States to meet with investors and the media.

Snodgrass said that he will try to get these entrepreneurs to meet with influential US technophiles, such as technical evangelist Robert Scoble, former Amazon.com chief scientist Andreas Weigend and Andy Grignon, one of the original creators of iPhone.

There will be chances to connect with angel investors, including Randy Haykin, Rick Wagoner and Yobie Benjamin.

The article first appeared in the Standard on January 25, 2016.

Maturing Process

A vintner who has aged well – like his fine vintage

Adam Bilbey has been on quite a ride since he broke into wine selling as a wayward youth 20 years ago. “A feral child who exhibits ostrich-like behavior” is how teachers described the boy from Amersham, Buckinghamshire.

In his last two years of high school, Bilbey chose to devote his time to working in a local wine shop, instead of studying for his A-levels.

His interest sprouted after he first tasted wine at the shop. It was Palliser Estate, a sauvignon blanc of New Zealand.

“I was a lazy student,” the 35-year- old recalls in his cockney accent. He loved English literature, but would rather read a wine encyclopedia. “If it was to do with the things I like, I’d be really passionate about it. But if it wasn’t, I’d just do enough to get by.”

Unsure about a career, he took a gap year after A-levels to visit viticultural regions, from Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand, Margaret River in Australia, to Stellenbosch in South Africa.

“When I got back, I quickly did my first and second WSET,” Bilbey says, referring to Wine & Spirit Education Trust, a professional qualification on becoming a wine master.

He also made a pilgrimage to Berry Bros & Rudd’s historic shop on St James’ Street in London. “I met the sales director and we just exchanged pleasantries. A couple of days later, I got an e-mail from him.”

At 20, Bilbey was offered a full-time job by the oldest wine and spirit merchant in England as sales manager at London’s airport. He told his parents that he would not go to university. He was excited about the job offer.

His parents disapproved of the choice, but he was adamant that he could build a career.

He did – after a frightful first day at work, serving Christopher Berry Green, the former chairman of Berry Brothers. “He was walking through and said: ‘Boy! Boy! Give this a try. What do you think of it?’ The perfume on nose I will never forget. But all I could say was: ‘It’s good.’ He looked at me, said: ‘Bloody well should be. It’s a 1961 Chateau Haut- Brion.’ ”

Bilbey worked for almost 14 years at Berry Brother’s, relocating to Hong Kong in 2010 to run the firm’s sales in the region.

Last June, he moved to Sotheby’s as its head of wine in Asia.

He looks after wine sales at local auctions, for which figures totaled HK$154.23 million last year. Bilbey also oversees a retail arm that aims to provide an added service for Sotheby’s customers. The SAR extension was set up just over a year ago after success in New York.

“On the retail, we currently stock 750 labels, focusing on burgundy and bordeaux at the moment,” Bilbey says. “We want to, and will, expand our range even further. We are already looking at wines that we will drink ourselves; wines that we think represent value.

“A wine at HK$5,000 still represents value if you know the attention to detail that is put in.

“We are not trying to compete with Watson’s Wine or our own auction business. What we are trying to do is to offer that extra level of service for our customers who come in and pick up a piece of art and couple bottles of wine for the weekend.”

Like fine wine, Bilbey has matured well. You wouldn’t think to look at him how wild he was.

Take the story of how he ended up selling instead of making wine at the late Bailey Carrodus’ Yarra Yering vineyards in Australia.

“Plowing is quite therapeutic but sometimes you can drift off. I did that once. I didn’t pull up the plow so I got stuck and lost balance. I went vroom, flying straight through two end roads. Carrodus walked over, looked at the tractor and said: ‘So the hand throttle didn’t work? Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone. We have all done it.”‘

His passion has also converted his parents, former non-wine drinkers.

He knew they had officially caught the wine bug when they uncorked a bottle of 1997 Barbaresco for a curry dinner – and told him the exquisite vintage was a bit young.

They has mistakenly opened his gift from Italian winemaker Angelo Gaja.

“My dad was absolutely right because I tried it the next day. It was a little bit young.”

The article first appeared in the Standard on January 8, 2016.