Despite Hong Kong’s restrictions, Alice Lo is building a platform for civic tech founders with Divao

Seedstars Digital Democracy Challenge

Recall that we recently reported an announcement of 3 winners at the Seedstars Digital Democracy Challenge. The winners received cash prizes of $10,000 (winner), $8,000 (2nd place) and $6,000 (3rd place) respectively.

I spoke with Alice Lo, the founder of the winning startup, Divao, a Hong Kong-based private blockchain startup that provides a platform to grow a local community in a decentralized way. 

Alice had been a UX designer for a significant part of her career. She has worked for a number of big corporates and small startups. Before starting Divao, she was a “User experience consultant” at Curioux, a design and digital strategy agency in Hong Kong.

She started her working career as a senior usability engineer at AIU and has moved to work in other companies in the US including Amazon. She moved to Hong Kong in July 2012 to take up a Senior UX designer role at Heathwallace.

Seedstars Digital Democracy Challenge, Despite Hong Kong restrictions, Alice Lo is building a platform for civic tech founders with Divao
Alice Lo

Asked about her reason for going into the civic tech space, Alice said: “I wanted to do something a bit more challenging and a bit closer to my heart. The same can be said of 2 of my partners. They want to do something more meaningful and closer to their hearts.”

She told me that the political unrest in Hong Kong motivated her to consider possible ways to support civic reforms using technology. Asked if she thinks that the impact of tech has been felt so far, Alice said “we are still very much in the process. I am sure we can evaluate and decide later.”

A bit about Divao

Divao, a private blockchain startup, is building a CivicTech toolbox that will help innovators specifically in the areas of public discourse, group decision-making, and civic collaboration.

Specific solutions include an on-location opinion collector. This tool was created in collaboration with Neighborhood Innovation Lab. It allows users to give opinions about public spaces using a QR code. The Preference Voting feature allows for much more nuanced decision-making and result ranking using the Schultz method.

It also has a passwordless login feature. The decentralized tool allows users to log in without a password. So, they do not need to give away their data. Another is an ID Validation feature that validates people’s identity cards online. This can be also useful for elections.

Some success stories

Divao is a for-profit organisation. The goal is sustainable growth so the team is not charging usual margins on solutions. But, they are charging enough to make an impact, to be sustainable and expand.

“Our future plan is to use a startup model to grow the company into a big CivicTech enterprise in the future,” she said.

Alice believes that her team has the needed experience in product design and commercialisation to transform basic civic ideas into sellable products. She gives an example: “for example, my background is user experience. We do a lot of research on how a product can address people’s pain points and deliver what is useful.”

The 72-hour collaborative digital process included sessions and mentors who helped the startups refine and improve their ideas. The program finished off with a demo day, where the participants pitched to a jury: Ian Charles Stewart, Chairman at WheelsPlusWings Foundation; Angela Homsi, Founder at Angaza - Ignite Power; Eldrid Jordaan, Founder and Chief Executive at GovChat; Mir Nadia Nivin, Development Professional; and Harry Federspiel, Head of Global Programs at Seedstars.
The winners after the announcement by the judges…

Alice told me that that the team building a facial recognition solution for public spaces in partnership with an architectural company. “We already have clients for this. For us, that somewhat validates what we are doing.”

“The department of architecture in Hong Kong wants to build public spaces where people can sit and enjoy. So, they need to know if what they have built addresses people’s needs. So, right now, we are building solutions where we can get feedback and visualize it to indicate how people experience and use public spaces”, she said.

Funding plans

Key to Divao’s expansion plan is to raise funds. Alice told me that getting the right partners is important for the process.

“Unlike for regular startups where the key to funding is projected exponential growth, we need to measure other important factors like decentralisation. So, we will need organisations who share similar interests on board.”

Challenges

Following the civil unrest in Hong Kong, the government has clamped down on civil groups. Alice says that innovators have to watch “what we say and what we do since then”.

She told me that the idea, for which Divao won the Seedstars challenge is not yet live in Hong Kong right now because it allows people to share information during protests using blockchain technology.

“Now it is easy for the government to sue you or accuse you of an offence right now if they determine that you are a threat. It is very unfortunate to say. But, we are still looking to find areas to improve the lives of people in spite of that,” she added.


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