A GATE­WAY TO CHINA

Qatar Today - - COVER STORY -

“IN THE FU­TURE, IN­NO­VA­TION WON’T BE ABOUT SHUT­TING THE DOORS AND DO­ING YOUR OWN RE­SEARCH IN YOUR LAB OR UNIVER­SITY OR COMPANY OR EVEN COUN­TRY. IT’S IN­CREAS­INGLY ABOUT COL­LAB­O­RA­TION AND SPARK­ING IDEAS BY THE MEET­ING OF MINDS.”

H ong Kong is also on a path to di­ver­sify its eco­nomic base from the ac­tiv­ity around fi­nan­cial ser­vices and Hong Kong Sci­ence & Tech­nol­ogy Parks is at the fore­front of this ef­fort. “In the 60s and 70s we were the big­gest ex­porter of toys,” says Allen Ma, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer, Hong Kong Sci­ence & Tech­nol­ogy Park. “From be­ing a world leader in light in­dus­tries, we be­gan to lose our com­pet­i­tive edge with China start­ing to open up and build their eco­nomic sys­tems. Most of the fac­to­ries be­gan mov­ing into China and ex­pand­ing fur­ther in­land,” he re­mem­bers. Around the turn of the mil­le­nium, the gov­ern­ment de­cided that it needed to em­bark on a new in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion pol­icy that at­tracted MNCs and SMEs alike and helped re­de­fine what busi­nesses Hong Kong wanted to be in with the use of in­no­va­tion tech­nolo­gies. And thus the HKSTP was born. Be­gin­ning as of this year, the mas­sive STP com­pleted Phase 3 of its ex­pan­sion and now man­ages the STP, three in­dus­trial es­tates, a de­sign cen­tre and three in­cu­ba­tors, all next door to each other but with their own unique man­dates.

The HKSTP broadly func­tions around seven tech­nol­ogy clus­ters - semi­con­duc­tors, ICT, green tech, biotech, pre­ci­sion en­gi­neer­ing (which has been ex­panded to in­clude new ma­te­ri­als), de­sign and in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion. “They form the ba­sis of how we run the busi­nesses,” Ma says. Quite con­trary to what you would ex­pect, the STP seems to have adopted a cer­tain amount of lais­sez-faire poli­cies. “The gov­ern­ment, though it is the sin­gle largest share­holder in the tech park, doesn't in any way dic­tate how it is run. We are not di­rected to invest in cer­tain sec­tors and nei­ther are we told about what kind of com­pa­nies we should ac­com­mo­date. We are run like a pri­vate en­tity with a board of 17 mem­bers (only one of whom is a gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tive) made up of rep­utable busi­ness­men, pro­fes­sors and re­search spe­cial­ists we in­vite. They do stan­dard com­pli­ance, ap­prove ac­counts and big ex­pen­di­tures, the ap­point­ment of the CEO, re­view strate­gies rec­om­mended be­fore im­ple­men­ta­tion,” he says. Be­cause they use the tax pay­ers' money, Ma says full trans­parency is es­sen­tial in their op­er­a­tions.

But this is where the sim­i­lar­i­ties end. “An STP shouldn't be run like a nor­mal business where it works to­wards max­imis­ing prof­its

for share­hold­ers. STPs are for the long term. Suc­cess isn't mea­sured in terms of money but by the tal­ent we nur­ture and our im­pact on the ecosys­tem. Though a proper KPI needs to be agreed upon at the board level, the STP should be un­der no pres­sure to pro­duce short-term profit at the ex­pense of the long-term mis­sion by be­ing forced to make de­ci­sions that are not op­ti­mal.”

While Ma says no con­scious ef­fort was made to bal­ance out the mix of com­pa­nies at their tech park, it nat­u­rally came to a cer­tain equi­lib­rium. Now about 40% of their com­pa­nies are for­eign-based. “This ra­tio is im­por­tant, how­ever, when con­sid­er­ing that over­seas com­pa­nies bring new think­ing and con­nec­tions. R&D is about brain power and ideas and col­lab­o­ra­tion which helps your own busi­nesses grow over­seas.” Hong Kong has been a mag­net for MNCs for sev­eral rea­sons. “We have a won­der­ful cos­mopoli­tan cul­ture, the com­pact­ness lends it­self to the ease of do­ing business, strong IP reg­u­la­tions, no ceil­ing on re­mit­tances in and out of the coun­try, and a trans­par­ent rule of law based on Bri­tish sys­tems. For­eign­ers who come here adapt eas­ily be­cause of the high stan­dard of liv­ing,” Ma points out. And why is this im­por­tant? Be­cause of China. “Hong Kong's ap­peal comes from the ac­cess it pro­vides to the Chi­nese mar­ket. Com­pa­nies around the world are look­ing for en­try into the sec­ond largest coun­try by GDP and the eas­i­est way to un­der­stand business in China is to come to Hong Kong. The com­mute be­tween us and south­ern China is short and easy. There are plenty of man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties in and around us with a sup­ply of cheap labour and a grow­ing mid­dle class that is an ea­ger con­sumer of global prod­ucts. Which is why we of­fer a soft land­ing pro­gramme at the STP where com­pa­nies stay and learn about do­ing business in the Peo­ple's Repub­lic of China. Most com­pa­nies es­tab­lish their Chi­nese head­quar­ters in Hong Kong, with IP reg­is­tra­tion, re­search and core de­ci­sions be­ing made here,” he says.

But within the STP, the fo­cus is on cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment that is con­ducive to in­no­va­tion for MNCs and SMEs alike. While the in­cu­ba­tion pro­grammes have been tai­lored to meet sec­tor-spe­cific needs, the com­pa­nies can eas­ily find sup­pli­ers and cus­tomers among its ten­ants. "But more im­por­tantly, we fa­cil­i­tate the meet­ing of like-minded peo­ple with plenty of net­work­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, of­fer­ing shared labs and op­por­tu­ni­ties to part­ner with our univer­si­ties (all of whom have labs in the STP) to jointly work on re­search projects. The univer­si­ties' tech­nol­ogy trans­fer of­fice li­censes their IPs to com­pa­nies which dis­cover greater val­ues in them when put to­gether with a fam­ily of IPs.”

It is lit­tle de­tails like th­ese that have cat­a­pulted the South East Asian re­gion to the lead of the in­no­va­tion curve. Ma para­phrases Steve Jobs about be­ing hun­gry and cu­ri­ous. “The re­gion's stel­lar eco­nomic progress is rel­a­tively re­cent. Thirty years ago many still had very low GDPs. I feel this is be­cause the peo­ple of the re­gion are by na­ture hun­gry for a bet­ter qual­ity of life. This is cou­pled with an in­nate sense of cu­rios­ity; we want to learn and are con­stantly search­ing for an­swer to things we see. Th­ese have been the driv­ing forces among our younger peo­ple. But there is some­thing that is hold­ing us back still – our re­luc­tance to think dif­fer­ently. We tend to stick to the main­stream and par­ents sel­dom al­low their chil­dren to go off track. But we shouldn't be afraid to think wildly be­cause that is how the best ideas of in­no­va­tion are cre­ated,” he says

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