21 September 2019
(From left) Wearable World COO Jonathan Toppin, CEO Redg Snodgrass and Cyberport CTO David Chung pose for a picture at the Cyberport. Photo: EJ Insight
(From left) Wearable World COO Jonathan Toppin, CEO Redg Snodgrass and Cyberport CTO David Chung pose for a picture at the Cyberport. Photo: EJ Insight

How HK can build a startup ecosystem like Silicon Valley

Having positioned itself as Asia’s World City, Hong Kong definitely has the potential to diversify its business activities and emerge as an innovation technology hub, experts say.

The main task for the government and the industry is to build an ecosystem that will gather money, ideas and talents from all around the world in a sustained manner, they say. 

With careful planning, Hong Kong could even be turned into another Silicon Valley, the experts say, pointing to the city’s strengths and advantages.

David Chung, chief technology officer of Cyberport, said Hong Kong has good potential to create an ecosystem for innovative technologies, although the city has a long way to go before it can match Silicon Valley in terms of the number of startup investors, entrepreneurs and technology experts.

Hong Kong is a good place for local and overseas entrepreneurs to start their businesses as “money is here”, Chung told EJ Insight in an interview. 

Many wealthy people who made their money from real estate and the stock market in recent years in Hong Kong want to diversify their investments and are now looking for good opportunities, he said.

What makes Hong Kong startups attractive is the fact that they can be created and run with lower costs compared to those in the Silicon Valley, Chung said.

“Some people from Silicon Valley told us that deals have become very expensive there. So they want to go to other parts of the world, such as Israel and Hong Kong, to look for investment opportunities,” he said. 

Besides, entrepreneurs are also attracted by the fact that Hong Kong has good talent pool and legal system and offers protection for intellectual property.

“We have a lot of good schools and a very good education system in Hong Kong that can provide the best talents for the startup sector,” Chung said. “Hong Kong’s legal system also provides enough protection for investors.”

Redg Snodgrass, co-founder and chief executive of Wearable World, an incubator focused on seed stage wearable technology and internet of things-based companies, said Hong Kong “should create an environment where investors are encouraged to put in money and create value.”

“As long as entrepreneurs share equity with the people who build the company, it will create a class of citizens that will nurture more entrepreneurs,” Snodgrass said.

“The reason why Silicon Valley works is because there are a lot of many brilliant-minded talents coming from all around the world,” he noted.

Hong Kong is similar in some respects as the city has also gathered a large amount of global talents, he said. “Such similarity will really help.”

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government’s responsibility is to create an environment where people can achieve success together, Snodgrass said. 

Design talent

Following some recent initiatives, many entrepreneurs have begun to discover that Hong Kong can be a good place to create startups. 

Angelo Umali, co-founder and chief executive of Simple Wearables, a healthcare tech company, said he chose Hong Kong as his base as he can make good use of his personal networks in the Asia region and manufacturing support in Shenzhen.

Having worked in Hong Kong for three years, he says starting a new business in the city is not difficult at all. 

“There are a lot of designers in Hong Kong… Hong Kong is good choice for business starters as the city uses the British common law, which is so secure,” Umali said. 

Simple Wearables, located at Cyberport, currently has 12 employees, including six full-timers. It plans to hire more people. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge to grow a business in Hong Kong is that talents tend to be conservative and are hesitant to quit other full-time jobs in favor of startups, Umali said. 

Simple Wearables is currently working on a device that can help the elderly predict heart attacks and strokes.

Wearable technology

Startup founders should not be afraid of competition, Snodgrass said. 

An ecosystem with only greed but no competition will not be sustainable, he said, adding that a market without competition will be system that will eventually collapse on itself. 

“Idea is cheap. What matters is the ability of execution,” he said.

It is very difficult for anyone to copy a product in America and turn it out better than the original, Snodgrass said, adding that the same rule should apply to other places in the world.

Referring to wearable technology as an example, he noted that industry players keep improving their products through competition.

For example, Fitbit Inc, a wearable fitness tracking product maker, had gone through drastic competition with hundreds of rivals before it became a major player in the market and went public recently, he said.

The wearable technology market has become mature but it still remains in a pre-orchestration phase where different products cannot come together, Snodgrass said. There are a lot of business opportunities and potential for further growth in the sector, he added.

More wearable products could be launched in the market over the next six to 12 months, he said, adding that smart glasses for virtual and augmented reality are a focus now.

Jeff Pao wrote this article.

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Angelo Umali, co-founder and chief executive of Simple Wearables, says Hong Kong is a good place for startups. Photo: EJ Insight

Cyberport is digital cluster with over 600 community members. It is managed by Hong Kong Cyberport Management Co. Ltd., which is wholly owned by the Hong Kong government.