Cindy Chow (BBA 1992): Jumpstarting Young Entrepreneurs’ Dreams as the Greater Vision
“As society grows in diversity, we need both visionary young people and traditional professionals to drive Hong Kong’s long-term growth via innovation,” said Cindy Chow (BBA 1992). Since becoming the Executive Director of the Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund (the Fund) in 2015, Cindy has been more of a changemaker than a venture capitalist. During the interview, she emphasised the need to change the I&T ecosystem to nurture more innovative talents for Hong Kong and advocate for an entrepreneurial spirit. “Having a bold vision is vital. It will spur progress, instil optimism and shine a light on a brighter future.”
A Trailblazer’s Commitment
Cindy has mentored and cultivated a slew of Hong Kong start-ups. She is also a trailblazer who dares to dream of a better future and follows up with positive action to turn it into a reality. Before joining the I&T sector, she worked at major accounting firms, listed companies and managed a green-field telecom project in Mainland China. After observing the I&T industry’s explosive growth, she joined Alibaba as its Senior Director of Finance. When the company decided to invest HK$1 billion to establish the Fund and help young people realise their dreams, Cindy, sharing the same vision, stepped forward to take on a leadership role. “Even the loftiest ambition must be realised on the ground. I was born and raised in Hong Kong and be familiar with Alibaba’s culture and mission. I feel I’m in a position to help realise the Fund’s vision.”
The Fund was rolled out in 2015, the same year the Hong Kong SAR government set up the Innovation and Technology Bureau. Cindy recalled how tough it was to promote I&T back in the day. I&T development was still in its nascent stages, and many start-ups lacked not only capital but also family understanding and social recognition. To transform this culture, Cindy and her team initiated a series of efforts, beginning with talent cultivation. Over the years, the Fund has invested directly in nearly 60 start-ups. Since 2017, collaboration has been made with Cyberport and HKSTP to organise JUMPSTARTER, a global pitch competition, and promote innovation in e-commerce, smart city, AI, and other emergent tech fields. Responding to a shortage of mentorship and business development channels, the Fund has been organising monthly gatherings for investors and start-ups to exchange ideas and explore collaboration opportunities. It has also helped universities industrialise their research findings.
Despite the enormity of the undertaking, Cindy seemed unfazed. “This is how leaders give back to their communities. I’ve benefited from the many doors that my mentors, friends and forerunners have opened. I hope that young people will also receive society’s support to pursue their dreams.” Cindy encourages everyone to value and respect others’ individuality. Her leadership style, marked by her approachability, reflects this: “People have always been the most important factor in everything we do. As leaders, we must first ‘listen’ to others’ ideas and ‘empower’ colleagues to accomplish their jobs. We must also be ‘accountable’ for our decisions, never pass the buck to others and be resolute in making ‘decisions’. That’s what the word ‘lead’ is truly about.”
Shifting Circumstances, Unwavering Commitment
Having observed and experienced the start-up sector for years, Cindy opined that the keys to start-up success are vision and agility. “During the pandemic, many start-ups encountered immense challenges. In general, those who have overcome adversity have a clear vision and the courage to pivot their business when circumstances change. For example, one start-up specialising in accounts receivable financing pivoted away from their offline business because of the pandemic. They began focusing on Amazon’s and Alibaba’s platforms and referencing from customers’ consumption habit to perform credit risk assessment. As a result, the business not only survives but also managed to grow during the very difficult period.”
With the government investing more resources and strengthening the policies for I&T, the number of start-ups in Hong Kong increased by nearly 70% between 2016 and 2021. Some traditional enterprises, attracted by the favourable returns in I&T or spurred by their own need for digital transformation, have also increased their investments in start-up projects. These positive developments, coupled with the propitious developments in the Greater Bay Area, make Cindy optimistic about the future of the sector. However, she reminded entrepreneurs to stay true to their aspirations and be clear about their values and goals: “The GBA presents a massive market as well as fierce competition. Yet, there is also a greater supply and demand for talent. Start-ups must flex their uniqueness and seek breakthroughs to achieve their goals.”
Giving Back and Promoting Collaboration
Cindy has leveraged her experiences at CUHK Business School to encourage young entrepreneurs to enhance their competitiveness and expand their support networks. “The broad-based design of the BBA programme and CUHK’s liberal arts education helped me appreciate the complementary and collaborative nature of different fields. The friends I made at CUHK have been a huge source of support for me throughout my career.” When she launched JUMPSTARTER, Cindy relied on the help of her classmates who worked for major corporations for sponsorships and participation. It was also a means of introducing start-ups and I&T to the broader society. “Many young entrepreneurs have also expressed a need for mentorship guidance. The Business School’s many outstanding alumni could consider sharing their experiences with start-ups so that they can benefit from them.”
Cindy relished her campus experience. She is keen to give back to her alma mater by helping CUHK students in their innovative pursuits.
As a member of CUHK’s Global Alumni Advisory Board, Cindy is happy to utilise her experience to promote academic research and the commercialisation of research findings: “I hope that the Fund can foster more successful start-ups to help young people see additional career paths and possibilities. For me, I will actively promote I&T in academia to inject greater diversity into the economic structure of Hong Kong.”