Alibaba Picks Gobi to Manage $130 Million Hong Kong Startup Fund

  • Lan Kwai Fong chairman Allan Zeman among those joining board
  • Vice Chairman Joseph Tsai says fund won't be a charity

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. set up a HK$1 billion ($130 million) fund to invest in Hong Kong’s startups, underscoring co-founder Jack Ma’s intentions to galvanize entrepreneurship among youths and support small businesses.

China’s largest e-commerce operator selected Gobi Partners Inc. to become the first manager of the non-profit fund, which will support online and brick-and-mortar companies, and provide six- to 12-month Alibaba internships for about 200 students each year, the company said in a statement.

The fund isn’t a charity, however, Vice Chairman Joseph Tsai said in Hong Kong on Thursday. It will judge investments on merit and the abilities of startups to offer services beyond the city.

“We want to support entrepreneurs, we want to support their dreams,” Tsai said. “We also have an idea that Hong Kong should be vibrant, engaged on a regional basis, and also on a global basis.”

The affluent city of 7 million people, home to startups like minivans-on-demand operator Gogovan and storage company Boxful, is better known as a financial services and real-estate hub than a cradle of technology entrepreneurship. Funding for the local startup community lags that of larger markets like China, Indonesia and India, which have attracted billions of dollars.

“We are not subsidizing people who can’t help themselves,” Tsai said.

Local Ties

Hong Kong plays a strategic role for Alibaba’s main financial affiliate, Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group Co., which operates China’s largest payments service and personal wealth fund. Ma has said he’s open to the idea of listing the Alipay parent in the city should regulators welcome it.

Alibaba’s plans for a Hong Kong initial public offering were derailed last year after the city wouldn’t waive a ban on an alternative share-class structure Alibaba had proposed, pushing it to the New York Stock Exchange instead.

Local business and community leaders will join the fund’s board. They include Allan Zeman, whose Lan Kwai Fong Holdings Ltd. served as a catalyst for the growth of the city’s entertainment district, and Asia Financial Holdings Ltd. President Bernard Chan.

On Wednesday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Ma called young entrepreneurs the future of business and pledged his support for startups in industries such as clean energy technology.

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