Con­nect­ing the Dots

En­tre­pre­neur Joanna Che­ung is bring­ing the spirit of Sil­i­con Val­ley to Hong Kong through a net­work of shared workspaces to nurture start-ups, writes Sa­man­tha Leese

Hong Kong Tatler - - Faces Close-up -

oanna Che­ung is the kind of busi­ness­woman who boards a flight to Bei­jing at a day’s no­tice, with a cat­e­gory 8 ty­phoon ap­proach­ing, in or­der to stay ahead of the storm. She’s vis­it­ing a key out­post of her busi­ness in­cu­ba­tor and co-work­ing space in “China’s Sil­i­con Val­ley,” Zhong­guan­cun, and the weather isn’t go­ing to slow her down.

She’s also the kind of en­tre­pre­neur who sounds like one even when not talk­ing shop. Here she is, for ex­am­ple, on her love of ski­ing: “I like to cap­ture the dif­fer­ent hemi­spheres and I re­ally try to max­imise the time on-slope.”

Joanna is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and co­founder of Tus­park Global Net­work (TGN), a joint ven­ture that pro­vides work­ing spa­ces along with ac­count­ing, le­gal and busi­ness regis­tra­tion services to start-ups. The idea grew out of Work­ground, a co-work­ing space she founded in 2014 in re­sponse to a global boom in the col­lab­o­ra­tive, cre­ative of­fice style that was catch­ing on in Hong Kong.

“It’s a cul­ture that’s chang­ing be­cause of the younger de­mo­graphic of the work­ing pop­u­la­tion,” she says. “The cost of start­ing up your own com­pany has fallen dra­mat­i­cally be­cause of tech­nol­ogy, and that has been the pro­pel­ling force of en­trepreneur­ship.” Run­ning a busi­ness isn’t for every­one, how­ever, and Joanna cau­tions that hav­ing an idea is the easy part. “Execution counts for 99 per cent of the ef­fort,” she says. “Per­se­ver­ance is very im­por­tant and so is tim­ing.”

Ear­lier this year, Joanna seized “the op­por­tu­nity of a life­time” to team up with the Main­land Chi­nese sci­ence park gi­ant Tus­park to cre­ate TGN. Tus­park, which holds a 60 per cent stake, has built and op­er­ates around 50 hubs on the main­land and has made some 450 in­vest­ments in early tech ven­tures, a num­ber of which have reached IPO stage.

Joanna’s mis­sion is to strengthen ties between Chi­nese investors and in­ter­na­tional start-ups, es­pe­cially those based in Hong Kong, and to help the best of those com­pa­nies ex­pand on the main­land by pro­vid­ing the space and re­sources they need to grow. “I wanted to help young en­trepreneurs in Hong Kong to un­der­stand that the main­land re­ally is not that scary if you have the right part­ner.”

Her de­ci­sion to part­ner with Tus­park was mo­ti­vated by a gap Joanna per­ceived in a mar­ket dom­i­nated by ex­pat investors. “I felt like there had to be some­thing China could give,” she says. “You saw a lot of uni­corns com­ing in from North Amer­ica, like Uber and Airbnb, but you didn’t see a lot of [their Chi­nese coun­ter­parts] like Didi try­ing to cap­ture Hong Kong. Of­ten, they don’t see a mar­ket here be­cause it’s too small and com­pli­cated. It was a bold move for us to be­lieve in the value of build­ing a plat­form to look at in­vest­ments in Hong Kong from a China point of view.”

It’s worth not­ing, she adds, that Tus­park chose to set up in Hong Kong and not, say, in Macau or Sin­ga­pore. Hong Kong’s ben­e­fits— from its sta­ble fi­nan­cial and le­gal in­fra­struc­ture to a cos­mopoli­tan way of life—make the city “a unique su­per-con­nec­tor” that at­tracts and re­tains tal­ent from all over the world.

While there is a vet­ting process for spe­cific pro­grammes, any­one can sign up to be a mem­ber of TGN. To date, the com­pany has four spa­ces in Hong Kong and a pres­ence in Bei­jing, Shang­hai and Shekou. The lat­ter, a 40-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong, pro­vides an im­pres­sive space for mem­bers’ use equipped with 3D print­ing and high-tech ma­chine tools to fab­ri­cate parts, as well as pro­to­typ­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing as­sis­tance. En­trepreneurs and small busi­nesses can also make use of af­fil­i­ate co-work­ing spa­ces through­out the re­gion, and Joanna has fur­ther plans to ex­pand the map through part­ner­ships and new out­posts in Tai­wan, South Korea, Ja­pan and Sin­ga­pore.

With this drive to keep mov­ing, it’s easy to see why Joanna rel­ishes ski­ing. You’ll find her on the slopes of Canada’s Whistler re­sort this sea­son and she’d also like to ex­plore Hakuba, Ja­pan. “It’s an awe­some way to not hold your phone,” she says, be­fore jok­ing (or maybe not) that per­haps Siri could read out her emails as she zips along on her skis.

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