Trust goes a long way
our role is like an adaptor … we are the hub for many things. But for us to be good hubs, we need to understand what our role first is,” said C. K. Cho, secretary general of Invotech, a do-tank dedicated to promoting Hong Kong through innovation and technology.
“There are great opportunities, but we need to let the entrepreneurs know more about how they can participate,” explained Cho.
Lam said one challenge facing many startups in Hong Kong was the lack of a suitable platform and channel to present their technological innovation to the world.
By way of comparison, he recalled that last year he went on a business trip to Thailand, on a tour organized by the Australian government and on the invitation of his Australian business partner.
He then had the chance to present his company’s products to the president of the Thai national power company, a large potential customer for his pre-warning system.
“The Hong Kong government has so far never arranged such tours,” said Lam.
“Since Hong Kong is part of China, if we can have more chances to demonstrate Hong Kong’s technological innovations to ‘Belt and Road’ countries through government bases, that will help a lot to improve the startup ecosystem in Hong Kong,” Lam suggested.
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Government support is a sticking point for several startups. Some fledging local companies may spend years developing innovative products only to find that the government trusts big international names more than local manufacturers.
“With all these projects involving infrastructure construction in Hong Kong such as the third runway and smart city in Kowloon East, how many are from Hong Kong innovative companies instead of overseas big companies?” asked Matthew Lam, CEO of Optical Sensing Ltd. He believes that to further improve the ecosystem for Hong Kong startups, a well-planned government pilot trial program for local innovative companies should be established.
Benjamin Tse, business development director of local IT solutions company OceanX Technology Ltd, said the reason why the Hong Kong government tended to prefer international big companies was that they have been in use in Hong Kong for a long time and also that these big corporate houses usually have good international references.
But he pointed out that a lack of international references should not be an excuse for the government to reject local projects. He said countries dedicated to developing their technology and innovation industry, such as Singapore, all had government pilot trial programs for homegrown innovative startups. “As a result, our government is spending money to support overseas companies, but not local enterprises,” said Tse.
Singapore believes it has the unique opportunity to become the world’s first “smart” nation. To achieve this national blueprint, it has unveiled several pilot trial schemes at designated residential-business estates.
For example, to make its Jurong Lake District smart and sustainable, several trials have been deployed since 2014, involving more than 20 startups and companies and also government departments.
“When we go to the overseas market and try to promote our innovative products, they will often ask us since our products are so good, why is our government not using them?” Lam said. “It is a very embarrassing question.”
Tse said getting certification for good track records from the Hong Kong government would build up the confidence of Hong Kong startups to tap into the international market.
“For startups, every penny is important,” said Tse. “Government orders placed with local startups can not only help relieve their financial burden but, more importantly, can show the world that Hong Kong boasts good technological products.”
Benjamin Tse, business development director of OceanX Technology Ltd The website of Optical Sensing Ltd, which has buyers as far afield as Taiwan and Indonesia, spells out its expertise in Distributed Temperature Sensing systems.