Athletes in Hong Kong spend the prime of their lives competing for medals and bringing glory to their city. Sadly, many of them struggle to find work after retiring from their sporting careers. To help local athletes expand their career choices, New World Development has set up OnBoard, Hong Kong’s first-ever social enterprise designed to provide career transitioning and planning services not only for high-profile elite athletes but for all sportspeople. In addition to offering job-matching services, OnBoard provides seed funding to support athletes in creating start-ups and becoming entrepreneurs.
OnBoard is the brainchild of Adrian Cheng, Executive Vice-chairman and General Manager of New World Development. It was founded to provide solutions to athletes in the sports industry, who often encounter great challenges when they attempt a change of career. Garrick Lau Gar-tsun, co-founder of OnBoard and New World Development’s first corporate social innovation KOL, says: “For a lot of athletes, the sports ground is their whole world. When they retire from their sporting careers, they have to go through profound life-changes, and this requires unprecedented emotional adjustments. A string of problems can arise: limited channels to find other types of work, a lack of capital and network to start their own businesses, and difficulties in adapting to the commercial world. Many feel lost and alone as they face an uncertain future. Prompted by Adrian, we established OnBoard under New World Development to help athletes find purpose and support outside the sports arena through job-matching services, and by providing them with support to run start-ups.”
Founded in January 2019, OnBoard primarily supports local athletes through assisting them in starting businesses and finding employment. With funding from New World Development, OnBoard funnels venture capital to athletes to start their own businesses. Potential candidates propose business plans related to sports or social innovation to OnBoard, which in turn offers input and feedback. Those with commercially viable ideas may receive various forms of support to become “Athletepreneurs”, including seed funding for creating start-ups, free consultancy services, and opportunities to draw on the experience of mentors and business leaders.
Lau explains that “Athletepreneur” is a popular concept in many countries. In fact, a lot of international athletes have successfully transformed themselves into entrepreneurs – NBA legend LeBron James has not only invested in a pizza chain but also engages in television and movie productions and owns a digital media company; top tennis player Venus Williams set up her own interior design company back in 2002, and China’s number one badminton player “Super Dan” Lin Dan has created his personal underwear brand.
Gary Fung Kong-ching, another OnBoard co-founder and an active member of the Hong Kong water polo team, says: “Thanks to intensive training, athletes tend to be highly disciplined, hardworking, up for challenges, resilient in the face of adversity and strong-willed – all of which are qualities that make successful entrepreneurs. The success stories of Athletepreneurs in China and overseas reassure local athletes that they can become entrepreneurs too. In fact, our homegrown athletes are outstanding in so many ways. With the right opportunities and support, they can definitely move on to create a second career off the sports ground.”
In addition to investing in start-ups, OnBoard helps athletes who wish to work in other industries find employment. Lau continued: “By approaching school campuses and sports circles, OnBoard has reached out to athletes in different disciplines and built up its own network. New World Development’s extensive network and involvement in a wide range of business sectors further help us to find job opportunities for athletes within New World Group and other companies. We also line up sharing sessions before and after candidates find employment, and this helps them integrate seamlessly into their new work environment.”
Since its establishment, OnBoard has successfully helped a number of athletes start businesses and find new work. The first athlete to receive investment funding from OnBoard was former Hong Kong water polo team member Joanne Shum-ying, who runs her own fashion design and production business. She says: “I chose to start my own company because it would allow me greater flexibility in dividing my time between work and water polo training. But with limited resources, I had to handle all company matters by myself. Insufficient capital and experience also made business expansion difficult. Collaboration with OnBoard has changed all that. Not only have they provided me with seed capital, referrals to potential business partners and professional advice, but they have even helped me find part-time employees from the sports circle, as I am pregnant now. I no longer feel alone in my journey; OnBoard is a supportive companion to help me go further and achieve more.”
Another success story is former Hong Kong triathlon team member Vincci Hui Wai-sum, who is now working as marketing manager at THE FOREST, a shopping mall managed by New World Development. She describes job-searching platforms like OnBoard as “extremely important” for athletes. She says: “There are established platforms that help athletes find work, but they mainly serve elite athletes. The truth is, medals alone don’t reflect the tenacity and diligence of athletes as a whole. Many athletes also ‘fall short’ of the requirements of the workplace and business world simply because they do not have the relevant work experience, and this is the major hurdle for them as they change career paths. If someone can show employers that athletes have far more to offer than what is written on their CV, there is a much greater chance for athletes to transform themselves.”
Eligibility: Not limited to Hong Kong sports team members and elite athletes but all local athletes who have proof of formal training for a certain period of time.
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A subsidiary of New World Development, OnBoard aspires to help retired Hong Kong athletes unleash their potential in developing a career in the business world, assisting them in becoming corporate employees or entrepreneurs. OnBoard operates with a Creating Shared Value (CSV) model that aims to maximize the synergistic impact of corporate resources to invest and incubate companies, while diversifying the “post-retirement” career paths of local athletes. By allowing active athletes to focus on training and the pursuit of excellence without having to worry about life after retirement, OnBoard plays a key role in promoting sports development in Hong Kong.