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We are at the second Startup Weekend HKU, a three-day event for participants to meet like-minded peers to take their startup ideas to the next level. They will be pitching, validating, and prototyping their ideas all within 54 hours. The organisers just wrapped up the initial round of pitches– here are our thoughts and insights.

Natalie: What did you think of the ideas pitched? I can definitely sense a recurring theme here – matching apps, i.e. Uber for X apps. Amongst others, there was an app matching fashionistas with those who may not have the sharpest fashion sense when choosing outfits, a platform to find an owner for your old furniture, and an app to find someone with free time to clean your house.

Nayantara: Yeah, and there were also some ideas that were similar enough to be streamlined. They could integrate their ideas and business models and make something really great. The “Surprise” app combined with the “Plannable” app for example – a surprise event planning platform mixed with a way for busy parents to plan their children’s birthday parties more easily. I actually really liked “Surprise” in particular; I thought their idea of “gift-giving consultations” was really cute.

Mass-market oriented things like this are all good, but there were a lot of ideas that seemed super unrealistic though, don’t you think? For example, ProCram, or as the would-be creator describes it, “Reddit with an academic twist”. In theory, I like the idea. I like it a lot. Who wouldn’t want teachers and TAs on standby to answer questions that the lecture slides and textbook can’t? The issue I find with this though, is that why would professors and TAs even be on standby? They would almost definitely have better things to do.

Natalie: Yes. There was an idea for a biomedical startup to detect and offer treatment for different stages of cancer. Finding a cure for cancer has been a long-time challenge for the medical field – How would the team here be able to prototype this idea in two days? And they hope to offer treatment- that’s what hospitals are for, right?

Another problem I noticed across the pitches was that they were super niche. A rating platform for dog salons only caters to dog owners. Perhaps this team could upscale it by rating vet clinics or grooming centres in general. So OpenRice but for pet care.

I liked the idea of a platform for sharing mistakes. Experience –not Google– is the best teacher. What better way to learn than to learn from others’ mistakes? But I am not sure what their business model is. After all startups got to be sustainable and earn profit. We haven’t heard a lot about monetisation from the participants.

Nayantara: A lot of the pitches seemed very hardware-oriented as well, so I’m interested to see how they’re going to implement them. One of my special favourites was the idea to create a vending machine with ‘fun’ food: pizza for example! “Look and Taste” would let users select their food and watch it being made. This pitch came from the frustration of being on campus until late and having absolutely nothing to eat – a frustration I can definitely understand when writing this on campus at 10:20 pm! I can definitely see a lot of robotics going into the ‘Look’ part of it though, so let’s see if the group refines their plan to just the ‘Taste’.

Smart bands are also featured heavily in this year’s pitches. Eric, the man behind “I-Care”, pitched a medical smart band with basic biometric sensors for blood pressure and heart rate, and also special features like reminders for taking medicine and a way to automatically alert hospitals to any medical emergencies.

I think another thing that really stood out to both of us was one of the last pitches, one that proposed to produce menstrual cups for women in developing countries. Cost-effective to produce, reusable and supposedly with fewer health risks, menstrual cups could really make all the difference to women on their periods. As a supporter of both menstrual cups and the use of the word “vagina” in public, I loved the pitch, but unfortunately I don’t really see how it’s a startup, and I really don’t see how it relates to tech. It’s an R&D-intensive, biology-related project and in this case the R&D has already been done. Which leads me to ask, what exactly is the group planning to do with this idea?

Ideas we liked

Natalie: Ricky’s “Seat Finder” uses the WiFi access points at computers or smartphones in the library or a canteen to generate a virtual map of the space, so that students could easily find vacant seats once they enter the premise. In fact the official HKU app has this feature implemented for the Main Library, the Oval, and the Chi Wah Learning Commons. It would be cool if “Seat Finder” could provide the same solution for virtually any public space– I totally see myself using it.

“I’M IN” would sound exciting for those who want company at an event, like watching a movie or having hotpot. You get to propose, browse, and join events by saying “I’m In” on the platform. I personally don’t mind experiencing things alone, but it would suit those who want to make new friends, especially when you are in a new country or environment, as the creators have mentioned.

There was this feel-good app that gets people to think positive by sending encouraging messages when they check-off items on their to-do list. It may well be just a to-do list app, but it does help restore my faith in humanity, a bit.

Nayantara: “Look and Taste”, once they’ve solidified their concept – I could definitely do with some hot pizza in the middle of my midnight studying. At this point, it’s unclear how they’re going to achieve what they’re envisioning, especially if they’re set on having the vending machine cooked from scratch. There’s this and a hundred other problem points to consider, but hopefully they get it together and we’ll see a prototype on campus soon! I can definitely see myself single-handedly making up half their revenue.

There were a lot of ideas that seemed great in concept but would be tough to implement – for example, there was an idea proposing selling warm, home-cooked meals to people. I can definitely go for a warm, home-cooked meal at any time of day, but not personally knowing the cook would be awkward. Not to mention, the person cooking the meal might not want to let strangers into his or her home in the first place. And there’s just something very secure about knowing (or at least hoping) that a restaurant is only operational if it follows government-mandated health codes. So I’ll put this idea down as a maybe. Again, if they can figure out the kinks in their model, then I’m all in.

(Side note: apparently I’m only interested in food-related apps. Huh.)

Natalie: I’m looking forward to how these ideas would pivot in the coming two days– after all participants had only 60 seconds to pitch their idea. It wouldn’t surprise me if we end up having a whole new set of startup ideas from the teams on Day 3. Follow us on Twitter for live updates at the final presentations. Goodnight!

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