Hong Kong’s RISE is a dizzying tech conference that left attendees and journalists flummoxed for transcendental takeaways.

Billed as Asia’s largest startup conference, RISE opened its doors to 15,000 people Tuesday with attendees tempted by a strong line up of speakers and the potential offered by some 750 startups.

Headline acts include Microsoft President Brad Smith, Didi Chuxing co-founder Bob Zhang and Amazon CTO Wener Vogels, with the latter delivering a strong message about the company’s focus on secure development and the shift from passing security over to a review team to one of unified responsibility across the development chain.

The talk here was of the “diluted” or “balanced” nature of this year’s event, with the keynotes on the Centre Stage supplemented by a fintech-focused MoneyConf stage and another platform devoted to robotics and autonomous technologies. No single tech seized the limelight.

While early days, there is an evident shift towards technology integration and industry application over demonstrations flailing for a use case, an indication of the growing maturity of technologies that previously wallowed in the early stages of Gartner’s Hype Cycle.


Photo Credit: Photo by Seb Daly / RISE via Sportsfile

Brad Smith, President, Microsoft, on Centre Stage during day two of RISE 2018 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Hong Kong.

Taiwan in Hong Kong

Speaking to attendees, most are here in search for access to the China market, integration with the city’s fintech scene, or in the hope of meeting Hong Kong-based partners or clients.

Among them were eight standout startups from Taiwan, here under the auspices of Taiwan Startup Stadium, a program funded by the National Development Council (國發會) that provides services for Taiwan-based startups ranging from training and mentorship to investor matchmaking, and in this case, an opportunity to present as a unified Taiwanese face at conferences around the world.

This year’s eight teams (which lean heavily into software as a service offerings, as well as AI, animation, fintech and payments representatives, with only a single internet-of-things company – an indication of Taiwan’s evolution towards a more balanced startup ecosystem and away from the conception of the island as pure manufacturing hub.

According to TSS General Manager Holly Harrington, the TSS booth has seen strong interest from teams wanting to know more about basing themselves in Taiwan.

“[Booth visitors] want to find developer talent or they’re considering entering the Taiwan market,” Harrington said, adding that Taiwan is “seeing a rise in AI and enterprise software and some of the bigger areas like VR/AR are becoming more specialized, for example in medical technologies."

Among those showing interest in working with TSS were Amazon Web Services, Crunchbase, along with a range of venture investors from around the region talking to individual startups, Harrington said.

“As we’re in Hong Kong, proptech is getting big,” she added. “The Hong Kong MTR is partnering with accelerator and mentorship network Techstars to start a program to help validate proptech solutions on ways to use real estate better in Hong Kong.”

Harrington also spoke of the opportunity to share insights with startup ecosystems from other countries, discussing issues like working more productively with government, attracting angels or overcoming cultural issues. Such meetings serve to show that Taiwan is replete with technical talent, enjoys standout quality of life and has a market offering world-leading smartphone penetration and internet connectivity, not to mention being a go-to source of developers for Hong Kong and Singapore, but is relatively lacking in business talent.


Photo Credit: 留榮鋒 Luke Liu for Taiwan Startup Stadium

Taiwan Startup Stadium's Jen Chen and Holly Harrington pose with Web Summit's Senior Partnerships Director, APAC, Micky Gangwani at RISE.

Fake News and Blockchain Views

Day two points of interest included a panel on the role of editorial judgment versus machine learning as the arbiter of truth and fairness in the delivery of “real” news.

Google News Lab Lead, APAC, Irene Jay Liu, reprised a role I saw her play at the Foreign Correspondents Club, Hong Kong, Journalism Conference in March – defending the role that Google and other news delivery platforms are playing in understanding their obligations in respect of their role as publishers.

That claim was given short shrift by the South China Morning Post’s CEO, Gary Liu, who reiterated the view that Google is making the right noises but has yet to really engage with the idea of partnering with news organizations.

Investor Ram Parameswaran, Partner at Altimeter Capital, offered a (in my view) doleful outlook on where the money is going, pushing Chinese content aggregator Toutiao, in which Altimeter happens to be an investor, as illustrative of a shift towards the splicing of user-generated content and machine learning, which he claimed would “eventually remove bias” from news reporting.

SCMP’s Liu stressed that the point of news organizations is not necessarily to remove bias, but to offer informed perspective, while his namesake at Google reminded that the point of journalists is to ask questions, something machines still struggle with.

Joseph Lubin, co-founder of the Ethereum cryptocurrency offered a necessary tonic to the fake news pessimism, speaking to a packed house on blockchain’s potential for competitive stakeholders to share “sources of truth”, and galvanize a shift from subjective manual trust to automated contracts.

He picked out interesting companies operating in this space, among them Civil, a forthcoming constitution for journalists which if betrayed via fraudulent stories or unsubstantiated data cuts the user’s rights, and Ujomusic, an early mover in the effort to cut out creative industry service intermediaries, or what Lubin referred to as “the bullshit shared economy”.

The TSS cohort of eight startups will demo tomorrow at RISE at Garage Academy from 6.30 p.m., The News Lens will offer coverage of the event, which also be live streamed at the TSS Facebook page.

The News Lens was sponsored by Taiwan Startup Stadium to attend RISE 2018.

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