The founding family of Giant Belle shoes take a big leap into the Hong Kong startup scene
For nearly three decades, Tang Yiu quietly built a multi-billion dollar business in Hong Kong selling women’s shoes throughout the Greater China region. The discreet billionaire, ranked # 37 on ForbesThe latest Hong Kong Rich List, just below Duty Free Shoppers co-founder Robert Miller and former Esprit chairman Michael Ying, is among Hong Kong’s most successful entrepreneurs.
Today, the little-known 87-year-old investment firm is backing some of the city’s most promising startups and helping nurture Hong Kong’s next generation of entrepreneurs.
Prior to his second act as an investor, Tang was the founder and president of Belle International, the largest women’s shoe retailer in China by revenue. Founded in Hong Kong in 1991, Belle shoes have grown in popularity thanks to demand from the burgeoning Chinese middle class. Belle operated more than 20,000 stores in mainland China, selling brands like Joy & Peace, Mirabell and Staccato, and distributing sportswear brands like Adidas and Nike.
Belle was listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2007, raising $ 1.1 billion and giving her a market cap of $ 6.5 billion. It was one of the hottest listings in the city that year, with Hong Kong real estate mogul Lee Shau Kee and the chairman of luxury giant LVMH, Bernard Arnault, joining the Initial Public Offering. The tank catapulted Tang into the ranks of billionaires. Belle’s CEO Sheng Baijiao also became a billionaire in 2013, when the company’s stock price was at its peak.
But as China’s growth slowed and competition intensified from e-commerce competitors, Belle’s business began to struggle. In 2017, Tang sold Belle to a consortium led by Chinese private equity firms Hillhouse (best known for its investments in Baidu, Didi, and Tencent) and CDH (a spin-off of CICC; other CDH investments include Li Ning, Midea and SenseTime) in a deal worth $ 6.8 billion, making it one of Asia’s biggest buyouts at the time. Tang made over $ 1 billion from the sale and left the company.
âI don’t care if I have to leave Belle, and I’m not interested in the money,â Tang told Zhang Lei, founder and CEO of Hillhouse, during the talks, according to a speech by Zhang. âWhat matters to me is whether the company will be able to work with a good partner, a partner who can bring its more than 100,000 employees back to its former glory and breathe new life into the company. ‘business.
A few months after Belle’s sale, Tang’s son Clement, who was the company’s executive director, co-founded a startup accelerator and investor called ParticleX. The Startup Accelerator is funded by Tang’s investment firm, Shine Works Investment. “Shine Works is on a mission to promote entrepreneurship, support innovative business ideas, and most importantly, cultivate a new generation of technology-driven businesses with global ambitions built on Hong Kong’s unique advantages and from Shenzhen, “ParticleX said on its website.
Since its launch in 2017, ParticleX has invested $ 8 million in 34 startups so far. The accelerator supports startups around the world, including China, Estonia, Germany, Singapore, Taiwan, UK and US, but it is more active in Hong Kong. Twenty of the 34 startups in its portfolio are based in Hong Kong.
âThe second generation of [Tang] the family is very passionate about technology, that it can improve people’s lives and the well-being of human beings. ”
Some of its most promising Hong Kong startups include Ampd Energy, Dayta AI, Farm66, MediConCen, and RaSpect Intelligence Inspection. The five were among 10 Hong Kong startups on this year’s Forbes Asia 100 to Watch, a list of notable small businesses and startups thriving in the Asia-Pacific region.
Ampd Energy, for example, a seven-year-old start-up that develops electric generators for construction cranes, established itself in Singapore earlier this year. Its electric generators, which emit less greenhouse gases and make less noise than traditional diesel generators, have been in use by Singaporean property developer Far East Organization since October. Brandon Ng, co-founder and CEO of Ampd Energy, winner of Forbes’30 Under 30 Asia Class of 2017, said Forbes Asia that the company will expand to Australia and Europe next year.
And MediConCen, a three-year-old startup that uses blockchain technology to automate medical insurance claims, has partnered with ZA, a Hong Kong digital bank backed by Chinese online insurer ZhongAn, to launch a program to medical enrollment in July. This year, MediConCen also won a gold medal at the Hong Kong government’s ICT Awards and was named one of the 20 âRising Starâ companies in Hong Kong by Deloitte.
Despite the Tang family’s ties to women’s shoes and retail, ParticleX focuses on tech startups. âThe second generation of [Tang] family are very passionate about technology – that it can improve people’s lives and the well-being of human beings, âsaid Mingles Tsoi, ParticleX’s director of exploration, in an interview at the Accelerator’s office. startups in a WeWork space.
Tsoi, who oversees ParticleX’s strategy and operations, also highlights the training of founding partners. Clement Tang holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in physics, and Simon Tang (belonging to the Tang family) also studied physics. âBoth members of the founding family are physics majors, so they have a scientific mind,â notes Tsoi. The third founding partner, Ringo Lam, has a master’s degree in information engineering and was CEO of Epoque, a fashion technology startup affiliated with Belle, before co-founding ParticleX.
Former Director of Startup and Innovation Services at KPMG, Tsoi has a particular interest in startups deploying data technology in various industries, such as property management.
RaSpect Intelligence Inspection, for example, which is one of five Hong Kong startups supported by ParticleX on the Forbes Asia 100 to Watch, uses a combination of AI, IoT sensing technology and robotics to inspect buildings at the search for dangers. The four-year-old startup says it’s a more accurate, faster, and cheaper method than traditional inspections.
ParticleX is currently working with Hong Kong real estate developer Chinachem Group, government-backed Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks, and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, among others, to match proptech startups with investors and potential customers.
While Hong Kong has been criticized for failing to produce successful tech startups, especially compared to regional rival Singapore, Tsoi is optimistic about the city’s startup space, because of its universities. âWe have a lot of professors, and I can see they’re more open-minded now,â says Tsoi, who has worked at the Entrepreneurship Center at Chinese University of Hong Kong for more than eight years. âThey don’t just settle for teaching and research. They also have passion and have great ideas.
Tsoi cites SenseTime as an example. One of the world’s most valuable AI startups, SenseTime was founded in 2014 by Tang Xiao’ou and Wang Xiaogang, both engineering professors at Chinese University of Hong Kong and two PhD students from Tang. students, Xu Li and Xu Bing. Backed by Alibaba, SoftBank Group’s Vision Fund, and Singaporean state investor Temasek, SenseTime is set to become Hong Kong’s first tech unicorn to go public on December 30; the AI ââstartup plans to raise up to $ 767 million when it goes public in Hong Kong.
âSenseTime is a unicorn who grew up in Hong Kong. Hong Kong [government] has given us a lot of support and we have received a lot of support from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, âsaid Wang, co-founder of SenseTime. South China Morning Post.
âUniversities can generate innovation and good people,â Tsoi says. “I think this [SenseTime] is a very good story.