CoCoon, The Newest Home For Startups In Hong Kong

Editor’s note: Brenden Mulligan is an entrepreneur who created Onesheet, TipList, ArtistData, MorningPics, and PhotoPile. He’s a mentor for 500 Startups and several startups. You can find him on Twitter at @mulligan.

I recently returned from a trip where I embedded myself in a few Asian cities and worked as if I were home. The goal was to explore how technology has enabled legitimate work / travel. The first stop was Hong Kong, where I spent August 30 – September 4 meeting entrepreneurs and working.

While I was there, I was lucky enough to work from CoCoon, Hong Kong’s newest co-working space led by jewelry entrepreneur Theodore Ma. The space occupies an expansive floor of the CitiCorp building in Causeway Bay near Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island.

CoCoon is currently “soft launched.” A few months ago it started taking applications for memberships, and so far more than 100 local entrepreneurs have joined as members — 25 percent of CoCoon’s intended capacity. As a member, you pay HK$1000 (about $130 US) and have access to the space, your own locker, and can come and go as you please.

Ma thinks of CoCoon as a platform with two purposes:

1) For entrepreneurs to physically gather to exchange ideas, share their knowledge and collaborate on their work. 2) For entrepreneurs to connect with HK business owners (some who founded multi-national brands) who are willing to share their experiences and insights in building successful businesses.

The space itself is beautiful. There is an area for presentations and a giant co-working space lined with private rooms to reserve for meetings or phone calls.

The main co-working space

My talk in their presentation space

Efforts like CoCoon, as well as the recently announced AcceleratorHK, are going to help the Hong Kong entrepreneurial community considerably, which is a startup ecosystem with a unique set of challenges. Ma explains some of the biggest issues: “As much as we all desire to have a Facebook or Google in Hong Kong, we sense that few (from the investment angle) want to put in the effort to help grow these companies. We all know startup investors do a lot more than just putting money into companies. As of now, many HK investors view and evaluate startups like equities.”

Besides the investment attitude, Ma claims the startups aren’t shooting for the stars. “Also, many Hong Kong startups do not think big enough in terms of the kind of markets for their products/services. This, we know, is contributed by the lack of funding where entrepreneurs have to work with little or no cashflow. We believe this can change with our mentorship program but it will take time.”

Market size is definitely a concern for Hong Kong. The population is just over 7 million, which is a relatively small market on its own. Although startups might launch their products locally, to create truly transformative, large businesses, they need to attract foreign markets to achieve massive scale.

But Ma thinks the Hong Kong mindset gives them a competitive advantage. “Hong Kong startups have a lot of potential to carve out an area for itself, as we have yet to form an identity. [With] our unique mix of global trade, finance, and unique entrepreneurial history (post-WWII boom), startups in Hong Kong have more potential than just creating new technology; they have opportunity to forge new ways to apply them in the numerous young and growing economies in our region of the world.”

For now, the Hong Kong community can start by taking advantage of some of the new resources that are being created for startups.

So how will we measure CoCoon’s success? Ma says it will take time: “We anticipate there will be critics of CoCoon who may challenge the way we measure our success and our members’ success. High membership numbers is a great indicator for CoCoon as it shows there is a demand for our services. The challenge is in keeping our members and future alumni from giving up due to social criticism and pressure.”

For now, CoCoon is centering itself in Hong Kong’s entrepreneurial activity, hosting the upcoming Startup Weekend in November and partnering with AcceleratorHK to give their companies workspace during the program.