The View From Hong Kong – Ex-Cuber Olivia Chiu

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Olivia Chiu was a Spacecubed Intensify Scholarship winner in 2013, who has since moved to Hong Kong while working on her startup. We hassled her over email to get her perspective on Intensify, Perth and Startup in Hong Kong.

//SN – you were a Spacecubed Intensify Scholarship winner last year, is that right? How did that go, how is your idea progressing, and what worked/didn’t work from that program?

Yes, I was part of the Spacecubed Intensify Scholarship program Dec 2013 – Feb 2014.

I found the Intensify Scholarship was a great way to

  • help me focus on my idea,
  • bounce ideas off other entrepreneur-minded people (including mentors)
  • find out what’s worked for other people (and what hasn’t
  • find out initial views on my ideas and address common questions

The catch-ups (we had 3 or 4) with the other Scholarship winners were always inspiring and fairly productive – there are not many forums where people come together to work on their own ideas and projects, but at the same time discuss problems, solutions and experiences. I suppose this is what co-working spaces are about. So the Scholarship program is a great introduction to the co-working environment, as the process and gatherings give you a stepping stone to engaging other people at Spacecubed.

My idea is still in the R&D / prototyping stage. It is a wearable gadget that can sync with an app on your phone. The aim of the gadget is to help remind people to do their posture and rehabilitation exercises regularly throughout the day. I’ve nicknamed it the DYRE Reminder (DYRE is an acronym for “Do Your Rehab Exercise”)

//SN – you’ve subsequently moved to Hong Kong, so what’s your impression looking back on your time in Perth?

Generally, I loved Perth but I found it a difficult place to find people willing to think outside the box, try new technology or ideas, and while living there (I was in Perth from 2001-2013) it became such an expensive place to survive in, let alone startup something new. But I was also fortunate to meet some like-minded people through various contacts and I found a lot of useful Australian websites and forums while researching and developing my idea.

Like anywhere in the world and in any industry, you get out what you put in, and it’s all about the contacts you make along the way.

I’ve actually moved to Hong Kong for family reasons but have instantly enjoyed getting back into the Hong Kong groove. My research hasn’t gone completely to waste although I am facing some of the same challenges again, such as finding suitable people to help create some prototypes (the difficulties of having no technical skills in electronics or programming). However I’ve already made some great contacts such as other founders and start-ups, a couple of investors, some judges for pitch and grant applications, and recently I’ve found some people who have helped create working prototypes to test on people.

//SN – how does the Hong Kong community feel in comparison?

In terms of the Start-up scene, there seems to be a lot more support and start-up-friendly spaces in Hong Kong, but it feels less collaborative and there are still some difficulties.

There are a lot of co-working spaces that have mentor programs and workshops at affordable rates. It isn’t hard to find out about grant applications, pitch competitions and potential investor networks once you start searching or get involved at some level. Business is relatively simple to set up and start here (especially if you are a Hong Kong citizen) and costs are relatively low (Co-working spaces assist with the city’s biggest barrier to entry – renting a work space).

However, it almost feels like parts of the start-up community are not collaborating. And there is a slight political edge in some spaces, as though people from different spaces don’t get along, kind of like rival sports teams in the same league. I’ve noticed an improvement even in the few months I’ve been here, but it was one of my first impressions.

And then it is hard to find freelancers for some services unless you know where to look or have someone who knows someone in your network. However, the types of people I have met so far have experiences from across the globe and think big and laterally.

Hong Kong is such a crowded happening place that I see two challenges. The first is whether you can hit the right notes with your target audience. If you do, things can really take off here. Then you face the challenge of sustaining your spot in the market and keeping your audience interested, so you don’t just become a one hit wonder that is forgotten about 15 minutes later. Every market is the same, but it seems more extreme here, like a constant pressure-cooker.

//SN – we often pitch Perth as the ideal place for a Western business to come and do business with SE-Asia, as we’re a Western city in the same timezone as most of the region. How does that claim stack up from your viewpoint in Hong Kong?

Unlike when I left Hong Kong to go to Perth for university back in 2001, now at least everyone I speak to knows where Perth is and they either know about Margaret River’s wine industry or the mining and resources industry. However, everyone mentions and questions why it is such an expensive place for everything. This even deters people visiting the region. In South East Asia, low cost is the norm, unless you offer a truly unique experience or a service or product with a wow-factor or global status recognition.

Unfortunately, the things that make Perth (at least to me) fantastic – fresh air, sunshine, beaches and a relaxed atmosphere in a developed country – are not what business investors are interested in, other than a place to retire to, except it’s too expensive to retire to there.

I’m not sure many people realise it is the same time zone as most of SE Asia, unless they have traveled there or done business with someone there.

I’m sure it could be pitched to sound way more exotic yet keep it’s casual elegance: West coast sunsets, a parallel to LA, Silicon Valley or San Diego… think privacy, luxury and a casual coolness all on Asia’s doorstep… something like that. But I’m not sure Perth or WA want that image.

//SN – what’s next for you? Anything our readers should know about/help with?

We are still developing prototypes of both the gadget and the app. I’m hoping to road test a model on people by the start of next year. Hopefully I can get a message out to the Spacecubed community and some of my old clients and colleagues in order to do some trials and get some feedback in order to see if it appeals to the Australian health market. That would be handy as some potential investors have expressed interest depending on how initial market testing goes. So you might hear more about the DYRE Reminder from DYRE Solutions in the near future. If so, just remember it started there in Perth.

//SN – thanks a lot for taking the time to answer our questions, and the best of luck with DYRE!

Olivia is a physiotherapist, personal trainer and general sports enthusiast who is currently working on a wearable gadget and app for the health and fitness industry. Having just moved from Perth back to Hong Kong, she spends her spare time escaping the urban jungle through hiking, hockey and planning dream holidays…