Hong Kong ‘techstyle’ incubator The Mills awards top prize to fashion start-up

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Shai Levy, designer for start-up Seventy Eight Percent and winner of The Mills Pitch Day, at the event in Central. Photo: David Wong

A HK$700 million private initiative to turn a textile factory into a creative cluster held its first incubation event yesterday, hoping to set a tone for Hong Kong’s commercial sector investments in creativity and innovation.

Nan Fung Group’s The Mills, which will convert the group’s 55-year-old textile factory in Tsuen Wan into a complex for textile business, heritage and culture, announced the winner of its Pitch Day competition featuring eight start-ups that had offered their business proposals to a judging panel of fashion and business experts.

The group’s chief executive, former Financial Secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung, said The Mills will develop an incubation programme to groom young entrepreneurs and start-ups in “techstyle”. The idea is to build on Hong Kong’s past textile industry, which was once the city’s largest employer.

“Facing globalisation and the technological boom, we want to create a future for Hong Kong focusing on innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship,” Leung said yesterday.

“Hong Kong should not be just a financial centre and a city about passing school exams and getting a job,” he added. “It should be a hub for talents from all over the world to realise their dreams. Our freedom and rule of law give us room for creativity.”

At yesterday’s Pitch Day, Shai Levy’s Seventy Eight Percent, which makes fashion accessories functional, beat seven competitors to claim the top prize, winning HK$80,000 cash plus a business development trip and mentorship valued at HK$120,000.

Cherry Chan, person-in-charge of The Mills, said the future complex will be made of three blocks – Fabrica, Gallery and Shopfloor – which will respectively focus on industry incubation, non-profit operations as well as retail and food and beverage outlets.

“We foresee a structured incubation programme taking references from successful examples overseas, such as those under CFDA [Council of Fashion Designers of America] in New York and Centre for Fashion Enterprise in London,” said Chan. “We want to groom businesses that are commercially sustainable.”

Chan said the overall incubation programme will pick 10 or fewer start-ups, which might have a chance to be based at The Mills when it opens in 2018.

She hoped The Mills’ incubation programme can set a tone for the city’s private sector, and cultivate Hong Kong’s angel investment culture, taking cues from Silicon Valley “to take start-ups under their wings”.