Market launch helps Hong Kong startup boost

The startup scene in Hong Kong has recently been overshadowed by developments in China. While there are more than 100 unicorns in China – a startup worth over $ 1 billion – Hong Kong has just seven.

According to WHub, the largest startup community developer in Hong Kong, the seven are the world's most valuable artificial intelligence company, Sensetime. On-demand transport company GoGoVan and crypto-coin trading platform BitMEX.

There are currently around 3,000 startups on the island. The number of co-working spaces has risen from less than ten to five years to more than 70 today, said Peter Mok, Head of Incubation Programs at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park (HKSTP).

HKSTP's mission is to develop the startup ecosystem. At the end of last month, HKSTP has seen its biggest upturn so far: a $ 10 billion ($ 1.28 billion) package to accelerate the Hong Kong technology sector with a particular focus on startups.

This is immediately followed by large funding of HK $ 50 billion ($ 6.3 billion) in March to make the city an innovation and technology location.

An active and dynamic startup ecosystem is crucial. Successful startups will create jobs and rejuvenate the small and medium-sized businesses that are the lifeblood of Hong Kong's industry.

Technology is the key to the island's economic growth, say the region's science and technology leaders, investors and entrepreneurs. Startups are the key to this plan as it provides the necessary innovation for economic development.

Hub for all take-off activities is the Hong Kong Science Park in Shatin, New Territories, about 40 minutes by subway from the center of Hong Kong.

It is a centralized plant with leafy green walkways, an artificial canal and striking new buildings. It houses about 250 startups from the 700 companies located there.

Mok talks with Techgoondu about the startup ambitions of the island.

NOTE: Responses have been edited for brevity and house style.

Question: How does Hong Kong expand the base of its startups?

ON: In addition to the start-up programs that contribute to the entrepreneurship pipeline, we identify potential entrepreneurs by working with the universities and co-operation partnerships for technopreeneur partnerships.

Together with the universities, we work together with the technology transfer offices and entrepreneurship centers. For the past three years, we've ventured into law and business schools and design thinking.

We have taken this multidisciplinary approach to complement our science, technology and research recruitment efforts.

We also go to the professional institutes where there is a good pool of people who may not be academically interested but are well versed with their hands and with technology.

Q.What can Hong Kong government do to help startups in particular?

ON: The most important service we offer is "go-to-market" – how to market to the customer, how to earn revenue. We emphasize this for our participants in the incubation programs.

At the end of the incubation program, there is traditionally a big "demo day" at which the startups provide themselves for investors. Instead of a "demo day", the founding members strive to do business so they can make sustainable income.

We help find mentors who then work with them to find customers, market their products and services. Eighteen months ago, we consolidated the launch program into two initiatives, working with the largest local companies and major international companies. We also connect them with various chambers of commerce and business groups.

Each quarter, we will get startups to showcase their emerging and innovative technologies to companies in HSBC Bank, the Hong Kong Airport Authority, Bayer and AWS.

We also promote co-creation. We select innovative startups to solve the challenges businesses face in three-month programs. We started it 18 months ago. We now have 107 partners in areas such as financial services, construction and real estate, all relevant areas in Hong Kong.

The first cohort of startups worked with China Mobile on an Internet of Things project. Using mobile ARM technology, they were able to develop new solutions based on their intellectual property.

Another cohort developed an intelligent mall based on the Alibaba cloud. They worked with real estate companies, including Sino Group and Kerry Properties.

Q.What can Hong Kong startups offer?

ON: Hong Kong is a springboard to the Asia-Pacific region. We want the best talent in the world to come to Hong Kong. We need a different culture, vision and new ways of thinking.

When we went to school, there were standard questions and answers. In R & D, it is important to ask the right question, but the answers may be different.

By interacting with foreign entrepreneurs and talents, we hope our employees can think differently. This is important for us to move forward.

Correction on November 7, 2018, 11:27 pm: In an earlier version of the story, it was reported that a Hong Kong 40 billion Hong Kong fund became an innovation and technology location. The number should now amount to 50 billion HKD. We apologize for the mistake.

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