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RISE Conference 2018 through the Eyes of 6 SMU Students

Wednesday Aug 15,2018 | IIE News

This article is contributed by SMU students - Ron Mak, Timothy Lim, Yong Zhu Cheng, Han Yuding, Alicia Teo, Marcus Seah, who attended RISE Conference in Hong Kong.


While Hong Kong is widely-known for its unique cuisine and towering skyscrapers, there’s more than meets the eye for the Pearl of the Orient. One such gem is its tech and entrepreneurship scene. RISE Conference, Asia’s largest tech conference, was held at the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre from 9th-12th July 2018. The 6 of us were lucky to attend it with sponsorship from SMU’s Institute of Innovation & Entrepreneurship (IIE).


Entrance to RISE Conference, HKEC

Entrepreneurship was not a field foreign to us: Ron & Alicia had been to Israel for an Entrepreneurship Study Mission 2 months prior while Timothy, Zhu Cheng, Yuding and Marcus successfully clinched 1st Place at SMU Real Business’ Weekend Hackathon. It was, however, our first time attending an international event of such scale.

There were 3 event types:

  1. Talks: Divided thematically, experts led panel discussions and presentations.
  2. PITCH: A start-up contest where founders competed for publicity, investor interest and seed money. Logivan, a Vietnamese tech company optimising truck usage by connecting users to trucks, eventually stood out from the intense competition.
  3. Booths: Divided by funding stages, firms showcased their latest product offerings to generate public awareness and attract investors.


LogiVan Founder Linh Pham at PITCH Finals

At the booths, we had start-ups pitching to us while we could openly ask questions. This engaging 2-way dialogue gave us insights into different industries and business models, while founders could gain feedback to improve their strategy.

As Blockchain, AI & Data Analytics were featured strongly here, and at similar local events, this was indicative of their growth in recent times. IoT in particular had many novel applications, especially in MedTech as wearables to monitor and screen for diseases. Disintermediation was another theme impacting sectors like real estate, lawyers and logistics, with the latter experiencing an “Uberization” of freight transport.

Clarida Tech CEO Robin Poelmans presenting on Data Analytic trends

Unfortunately, some ventures had superfluous descriptions overly packed with tech buzzwords, rendering their value proposition a mystery to participants. It seemed tech was a brand instead of a value driver for some founders. Without a clear product offering, we felt they would face challenges in attracting investors.

Similarly, several companies there were only in the ideation stage yet were seeking funding, without an MVP or traction. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but execution is the differentiator which is compelling proof of growth potential – proof investors usually want to see.

Being at an international event helped us to comprehend the diverse business climates in varying Asian countries. China has a huge population that can provide the necessary scale for platform businesses to thrive, while Indonesia’s notoriously poor traffic conditions are a critical bottleneck that has led to low e-commerce penetration rates. These country-specific factors are imperative to understand for running a start-up in new markets, as they might be legal or demographic hinderances that afflict operations.

Tencent Investment Director Dan Brody

Interestingly, we noticed that many smaller players attempted to ride on the coattails of giants in their marketing, promoting themselves as “the next Uber/AirBnB for…” While this had the beneficial effect of conceptualising their company for easier understanding, it might also highlight a lack of innovation by copying existing companies. Market leaders, on the other hand, seemed to be constantly innovating. AWS CTO Werner Vogels showcased his company’s clear and bold direction by using tech as an enabler to become more human-centric, specifically voice via Alexa. This continuously raises the bar and sets a precedent for others to catch-up, maintaining their competitive advantage.


Groupshot with AWS CTO Dr. Werner Vogels

While tech was the primary focus, one must not forget the core of a start-up: its founders. Entrepreneurs shared their motivations for embarking on this riskier path - some wanted to work for themselves, while others found meaning in creating valuable products. A hostel-booking website targeting Indian students seeking long-term accommodation was started by 4 final-year college students, who juggled it alongside full-time studies. Despite the substantial financially costs, they still travelled all the way to Hong Kong to promote their website on a regional level.

Young folks like him were encouraging to see, and it was not uncommon to find student-initiated start-ups, run by inspiring students younger than us! This contributed to the vibrant nature of the event – where both young and experienced founders energetically hustled.

Funding Societies Co-Founder Kelvin Teo

Overall, RISE Conference 2018 was a fantastic opportunity for freshmen. The exposure to plenty of entrepreneurs, established industry leaders, and venture capitalists broadened our understanding of current start-up trends. It was indeed heartening to see entrepreneurs from different walks of life, showing us that being one is independent of one’s background or degree. Its inner qualities like tenacity, boldness, and courage that play a significant role – qualities that can be nurtured.


From left: Marcus, Ron, Yuding, Zhu Cheng, Timothy, Alicia



This trip would not be possible without the guidance of IIE, who generously sponsored our conference tickets. Special thanks to our internship companies Kalibrr, FundedHere, ThunderQuote, Acre Capital and The Green Airliner for supporting and inspiring us to embark on this fruitful journey.



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