Cathay Pacific sponsors homegrown startups to take part in RISE 2019

By Lim Jeong-yeo

Hong Kong’s home carrier on mission to turn city into tech hub

  • Published : Jul 10, 2019 - 16:17
  • Updated : Jul 10, 2019 - 16:25

HONG KONG -- What does an airline have to gain in leveraging early-stage startups?

A seemingly unlikely match, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways has set out to foster local tech startups to shape the city into a global innovation hub and lead more people to fly to and from Hong Kong for business.

“This is our home, our most important market. Success of Hong Kong translates to success of Cathay,” said the company’s Chief Customer and Commercial Officer Paul Loo, in an interview with The Korea Herald this week.

Paul Loo, the chief commercial officer of Cathay Pacific Airways, gives a talk at the RISE tech conference, Tuesday. (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)

Loo explained that Cathay had been targeting expanding routes to information technology cities such as Tel-Aviv in Israel, Dublin in Ireland and Seattle in the US.

“And we have seen success at all these new destinations,” Loo said, “We have been carrying bankers, people in finance sector ... companies come and go to visit each other, and students and professors.”

Cathay wishes to replicate this success for Hong Kong.

Leveraging its role as the official airline partner of Asia’s largest tech conference RISE, Cathay has selected eight homegrown startups to sponsor their booths at the event this year. The selected startups have the chance to present their products in front of the 16,000 estimated attendees from over 100 countries. This is the fifth year the conference is being held, and the second year Cathay is endorsing startup booths. 

Cathay Pacific occupies a 100-square-meter exhibition space at the RISE tech conference 2019. (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)
Cathay Pacific sponsors eight local startups’ booths at the RISE tech conference 2019. (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)

The beneficiaries this year are Breakup Tours, Film Players Limited, Hong Kong Tourist Pass, KaChick AI, AR Pheonix, Tour Box, 42 Lab and Xccelerate.

“The most important part that was considered was innovation, whether they understand the value to end user. Sustainability and communication skills were also considered,” Loo said.

Cathay received applications from tech startups across genres.

For example, 42 Lab produces portable educational biotech kits that primary school children can use at school or at home to learn how to read the genetic sequence of a banana. “We wanted to teach students biotechnology related to their life, because science education in Asia mainly focuses on coding and robotics,” said Data Ng, the chief technology officer and co-founder of 42 Labs.

Film Players Limited makes thin films that can be attached to glass surfaces. When connected to Wi-Fi, the transparent smart film can turn opaque or become signage that shows the day’s weather or time. The company is collaborating with Toyota, and is working to create signage for bus stops in Hong Kong to show the arrival times of buses. The same idea can be applied to airport escalators for flight itineraries.

Then there’s a catchy travel package startup called Breakup Tours.

“We cater itineraries to people of different status of breakup,” said Charlia Lee, associate product manager at Breakup Tours. “If you dumped someone, or if you’ve been dumped,” Lee explained, “If you’re desperate or angry, we could send you to different destinations for suiting activities to help you recover faster.”

As for the other selected startups, AR Phoenix makes augmented reality solutions for businesses and Xccelerate provides classes for coding, user experience designing and machine learning. KaChick connects travelers with local photographers wherever they go in the world.

Cathay Pacific’s Paul Loo said the airline is not looking to acquire any of the sponsored startups, but that joint collaborations are open for review. 

Paul Loo (center), Cathay Pacific Airway’s chief commercial officer (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)

Cathay Pacific is the longest continually operating foreign airline in South Korea. The company launched services in Korea in July 1960, and became the oldest still standing when Northwest Airlines was absorbed into Delta Air Lines.

The RISE tech conference 2019 takes place through Thursday at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center. Executives from Uber, Tinder, Royole, GoJek, Twitch, Market Kurly and more are delivering talks on innovation. Twenty-eight startups from Korea have set up booths.

Startups pitch business ideas in front of investors at RISE 2019. (Lim Jeong-yeo/The Korea Herald)

By Lim Jeong-yeo (
Korea Herald correspondent