Local startup partners with global brands to attract funding

June 26, 2018 13:18
Innoplay's PANO 360 product is being sold as part of a package that also includes the Manfrotto tripod. The startup's founder Keno Law said he can now boldly pursue his dream after securing funding from different parties. Photo: HKEJ

Last year, Manfrotto, a world-renowned brand of camera and lighting supports based in Italy, rolled out a new product called PIXI PANO 360, a smart rotating head for cameras which allows photographers to take 360-degree panorama or time-lapse shots or videos.

The new product originates from Innoplay Limited, a Hong Kong startup founded by Keno Law, who reveals how he is able to partner with international brands.

After graduating from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) with an undergraduate degree in product design in 2007, Law got a job contract with Samsung Electronics, which was impressed by his design project called "electronic guide dog".

Law was assigned to the company's design offices in Shanghai and Seoul, after which he returned to Hong Kong to work with several technology companies and the local branch of a cookware brand.

Roman Lau, a businessman-friend of Law's, later sought partnership with him to develop a "fisheye" lens, which they later launched under the brand name of Polaroid.

Designers are now much in demand in the manufacturing world because their training, skills and mindset enable them to look at an issue from several angles and come up with new ideas that could bring new business opportunities, Law said.

However, he added, Hong Kong seems the only place where designers are not highly regarded and their status is sometimes even dragged down.

Own company

After working with several firms, Law was persuaded by his friend Lau to set up his own company. And so in June 2015, Law, newly married, sold his flat to raise HK$3 million, which he used as seed capital for his new firm.

Innoplay's first product is PANO 360. Users mount their mobile phone or camera on PANO's rotating head, and customize the rotation angle and speed by means of Bluetooth using a remote control or mobile app. 

The product allows the user to operate the camera without having to carry or hold the device.

PANO 360 device bears a maximum load of 2 kilograms. Apart from a digital camera or mobile phone, a flash can also be mounted on the device.

A prototype of PANO 360 was produced at the end of 2015 and the product was finally launched in 2016. Then, Law and Lau were able to convince Polaroid to allow them to market the product under its brand name, which greatly bolstered sales.

Innoplay's partnership with Manfrotto had its roots at a business event where Law met the Italian company's senior management for the Asia-Pacific.

Law introduced PANO 360 to the Manfrotto officials, who at the time wanted to devise a new strategy to cater for photography fads such as panorama and time-lapse videos. The Italian company was also immensely interested in the Polaroid brand.

Following lengthy discussions between the two parties, and Law's incessant efforts to fine-tune his product, which lasted for about six months, the PANO 360 was finally launched. It is now on sale as part of a package that also includes the Manfrotto tripod.

Sufficient funding

The partnership with big brands has enabled Law to focus on developing other products. In the past, he had to develop his PANO 360 while designing for other companies in order to sustain the operation of his startup, Law said.

Benefiting from Manfrotto's brand name, Innoplay secured angel funding of around HK$12.8 million at the end of last year. The company also got capital support from the government, PolyU and the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, enabling Law to further pursue his dream.

“Having no worry of funding, I can go boldly for my dream,” he said.

Law admitted that he may not design new products for large brands in the future, and Innoplay will probably have to seek other forms of partnership.

He noted that Hongkongers have a broad international perspective on business as well as high concentration on their work and great problem-solving abilities.

They are dedicated to their jobs and have respectable qualifications, enabling them to react quickly to emerging product demands, Law noted.

“The reputation built by our predecessors makes foreign brands willing to work with Hong Kong people,” he said.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 25

Translation by Jonathan Chong

[Chinese version 中文版]

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The PANO 360 rotating head bears a maximum load of 2 kilograms. Apart from digital cameras or mobile phones, the device can also be mounted with a flash. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong Economic Journal