25-Year-Old May Soon Give Hong Kong Its First $1 Billion Startup

  • Tink Labs aiming to raise capital at $1 billion valuation
  • Would be first Hong Kong unicorn, cash to go towards hiring

Terence Kwok.

Photographer: Mark Tsang

Hong Kong may soon get its first billion-dollar startup, thanks to a 25-year-old entrepreneur whose company leases phones to travelers.

Tink Labs Ltd. is in the process of raising about $40 million and aiming for a valuation of more than $1 billion, according to people familiar with the matter. The fundraising isn’t yet complete and the final figures could change, said the people, asking not to be identified because the information isn’t public.

Founded in 2012 and led by Chief Executive Officer Terence Kwok, Tink Labs has more than doubled its staffing to more than 300 people over the past year. The financing will go towards staff and expansion costs, and is targeting family offices and institutional investors. In September, Tink Labs raised $125 million at a valuation of more than $500 million, with backing from Foxconn Technology Group, Kai-Fu Lee’s Sinovation Ventures and Cai Wensheng, chairman of Meitu Inc.

While China has an ever-growing bevy of so-called unicorns, Hong Kong startups have been absent from the list, according to data compiled by CB Insights. Hong Kong doesn’t have a single startup valued at $1 billion-plus, even though it has an advanced economy that’s considered one of Asia’s financial capitals. That dearth stems partly from a cultural norm that favors stable jobs in established companies rather than risky go-it-alone propositions. At the same time, businesses often targeted by startups -- such as retail -- are controlled by a handful of local billionaires and their conglomerates.

Tink Labs, which puts smartphones in hotel rooms, is aiming to be available in 1 million rooms by 2018, according to documents seen by Bloomberg. The company’s phones can be used by hotel operators to promote their services, either in the room or when taken out by lodgers as a free-to-use city guide and mobile device. The startup has around 120,000 smartphones, named Handy, installed in hotel rooms operated by major groups including Starwood and Accor, and marquee locations such as The Ritz, London.

“Obviously they have some challenges because it’s not suited for every hotel,” Lee said. “Within China, travelers probably don’t have as much to gain. So it’s ideally suited for Hong Kong, Singapore, Switzerland and countries like that.”

Foxconn, which invested via FIH Mobile Ltd., is working with Tink to provide a new version of its smartphone, which will allow users to control in-room entertainment.