I was at RISE in Hong Kong earlier this year – my first visit for startup discovery. I’d hoped to confirm the rumours that Hong Kong is becoming a hotbed of Fintech activity, but saw little evidence. I probed several Hong Kong natives for an exciting home-grown Fintech story.

While there was a lot of discussion about the potential of this or that startup there was very minimal evidence of actual results. RISE was a huge success, but I left wondering if there was a startup scene in Hong Kong at all.

During a recent return visit for the Elevator World Tour – Asia’s first – I discovered that Hong Kong’s startups scene is not all hot air.

Crammed into a single evening the Elevator World Tour, coorganized by StartupFest and HKSTP (Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation) put on an incredible evening of startup pitches – 100 of them!

This delivered an brief, yet enlightening insight into the diverse nature of Hong Kong’s startups scene and it’s strategically important role for startups in Asia.

Pre-selected semi-finalists from an application pool of over 400 were given exactly 1 minute to pitch to investors, while taking the ICC (International Commerce Tower) elevator from the ground floor to the Sky Deck 100 floors above. Fighting popping ears, vertigo and nerves, founders pitched their socks off, vying for attention and a chance at the finals later in the evening.

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Ten of the finest were chosen by an investor panel that included Carman Chan from Click Ventures, Thomas Cheung from Innoaccelerator and Philippe Telio, Founder and President of StartupFest. These finalists delivered a longer 3-minute pitch and underwent a five-minute Q&A session, stationary this time, to a panel of 12 hot shot investors and a gathered crowd of some 2350 event attendees. Up for grabs to the winner: An investment funding for USD $120K.

Local hardware startup Orii stole the show, impressing the judges with their wireless audio solutions. Kevin Johan Wong, Co-founder and CEO of Orii said letting the judges to experience their solutions directly helped them stand out from other contestants. The $120K will be used for further development of their service and initial marketing.

But Orii wasn’t the only winner of the evening. The event demonstrated to me that Hong Kong is indeed becoming an important and uniquely placed startup hub in Asia. Just an hour’s drive from the world’s hardware development capital, Shenzhen, Hong Kong plays a critical bridging role between the wild waters of the Chinese market and the rest of the world. Startups feel a sense of confidence, armed with a legal Hong Kong entity, offering both a buffer from and access to China. And through HKSTP both local and foreign entrepreneurs are being given many of the recourses they need for the early stages of company development. This includes funding, office space, connections and coaching.

What also impressed on the night was the wide diversity and quality of the startups that pitched. Fintech didn’t feature heavily this time, but in many areas Hong Kong startups are developing interesting solutions to real problems – and doing it well. From software and hardware, robotics, IoT, big data, to materials, wearables, biotech (and some fintech) Hong Kong has a wide range of startups and an increasingly diverse startup community.

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Platysens, an incubatee from HKSTP’s incubation programme was one of the start-ups who entered the top 10 and impressed the audience with its wearable sport sensors for swimmers. Brian Lam, Playsens’ Chief Operating Officer said the event provided a great opportunity for them to distill their core business idea, which is crucial for their whole team to further elevate the innovative solution that they have been working 24/7 on. “We are glad to have connected with some potential investors at the event and there been having meaningful follow-ups with them after the event.” said Brian. He added that with the great support from HKSTP, he believed that Platysens will be able to scale up in Hong Kong.

In an interview Phillipe Telio, Founder of StartupFest, said: ” I see Hong Kong as a city that is perfect for a wide variety of tech start-ups to launch their breakout product or to grow their business. Hong Kong has unique advantages such as its close ties with China, logistics capacity, as well as easy access to funds and investors, making it an ideal hub for start-ups to scale up their operations for the long run. I am excited about its prospects.”

Andrew Young a spokesperson for HKSTP, also commented: “The Elevator World Tour has provided a great opportunity for budding local startups. We are very pleased at the success of the event and hope the event could inspire more to join the tech scene.” He also emphasized that Hong Kong is not just for local-borne startups: “Hong Kong would make a proper home for any technology start-up – if you’re working on a start-up idea, consider calling Hong Kong home.”

I was impressed. From mis-led rumours about a Fintech haven, the city came out for the Elevator World Tour and delivered an evening that clearly demonstrated great things happening in entrepreneur-led tech in Hong Kong.

List of the Top 10 (in no particular order):

(1) Platysens Limited – http://www.platysens.com

(2) Ourotech – http://www.ourotech.ca

(3) Cathay Photonics Limited – http://www.cathayphotonics.com

(4) Orii – http://www.orii.io

(5) Ozmo @ Groking Lab – http://www.ozmo.io

(6) Parallax – http://www.parallax.hk

(7) GSG Limited

(8) Heartisans Limited – http://www.heartisans.com

(9) Ananflow Technology Limited – http://www.ananflow.com

(10) MedEXO Robotics – http://www.medexorobotics.com