With global policymakers having set ambitious targets to achieve carbon neutrality in 30 or 40 years from now, property developers around the world are rethinking the traditional ways of building and managing properties. The result is an emerging trend driving innovation towards sustainable property development and management models, those that offer the benefits of reducing carbon footprints while also addressing cost-effectiveness.
Chinachem Group, a Hong Kong-based developer that celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2020, is now embracing an open innovation strategy by partnering with external tech companies and start-ups to deploy innovative solutions in the group's property portfolio. The goals are to offer better services, improve the customer's journey and advance its sustainability goals. The group also takes the opportunity to work with local start-ups and help them grow their businesses.
The developer is now partnering with Hong Kong Science & Technology Parks (HKSTP) on an accelerator programme called 'CCG Accel – Powered by HKSTP'. Since its launch in March 2021, ten tech start-ups and ventures have been selected and invited to test their solutions at the iconic Central Market, a heritage building newly revitalised and reopened to the public under Chinachem Group's management, as a proof of concept in a live environment.
In search of cost-effective green building innovations
“Through our ‘Collaborate – Adopt – Invest’ approach, we want to collaborate with the right ventures as a client to improve our services and cost-efficiency. We may even invest in promising start-ups to tap into new markets and serve communities,” says Damien Wu, Director of Business Transformation and Innovation at Chinachem Group. “We also believe we have a corporate responsibility to provide an environment for aspiring entrepreneurs to grow their business.”
Before setting up the accelerator programme with HKSTP, Wu says some of the start-ups he had met had bright ideas but lacked the management skills and market insights required to commercialise the innovation in a real-world setting. “That’s why we emphasise the co-creation process to work out a solution that works for us as a client at the very least.”
Many responsible developers, including Chinachem Group, are especially interested in co-innovation opportunities in emerging sustainability solutions. Wu says that Chinachem Group and start-ups can innovate and develop sustainable solutions through the accelerator programme and other channels.
“For nearly ten years, sustainability has been a top priority in the way we design, build and manage our properties. However, the upfront capital required often exceeds the energy cost reductions. Not only are we interested in green building solutions that help us reduce our carbon footprint, but also those that can achieve real economic benefits.”
Passive cooling for buildings
i2Cool has been selected as one of the participating start-ups in Chinachem Group’s accelerator, where they are putting their solar reflectance coating system to the test in a real building...
Drive cultural change with ‘fail fast’ mindset
To Wu's surprise, implementing an open innovation strategy at a large, decades-old organisation like Chinachem Group with many long-serving employees was not as difficult as is often claimed. "Many of our business units are open to innovation. They are impressed with the ways these start-ups do things and are keen to drive change by working with them."
When executing a new idea, mistakes are inevitable. But the fear of failure, a typical corporate culture, often causes an organisation to miss opportunities to recognise mistakes and make corrections. "Some colleagues think that once a new solution has been chosen, it can't be changed even if it's not as effective and useful as promised. That's why I encourage them to embrace risk through a fail-fast mindset. Not everything goes as planned, especially when it comes to working with novel start-ups."
In working with the first cohort of start-ups, including i2Cool, Wu says Chinachem Group as the corporate partner has also learnt a lot from working with them to overcome technical challenges around deployment and execution.
"In an existing building, walls may be too thick for a sensor to detect an object. A lighting solution may not fit into the interior design. And in i2Cool's case, paint could not be applied to a heritage conservation project. The accelerator provides exactly the environment for us to work with start-ups to solve problems together before launching them into the real world."