Hong Kong should vie to become R&D hub

November 28, 2017 08:42
Alibaba founder Jack Ma says government policy is sometimes too slow to help drive technology that often opportunities are lost. Photo: Reuters

The Hong Kong government will step up efforts to promote innovation and technology.

This was the message from Chief Executive Carrie Lam Yuet-ngor at the grand final of Alibaba’s startup competition Jumpstarter 2017 held in Hong Kong last week.

Lam promised that her government is serious and determined to do this job well. But Jack Ma, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba, said entrepreneurs can’t wait for government policy, because when the government starts to move, it’s probably too late and the chance is no longer there.

I think Ma is only half right. Startups should never let themselves be led by government policy.

Big companies typically try to bargain with the government to obtain more benefits and they are often very well-funded. It’s very difficult for startups to compete with these big boys.

Startups should hence look for alternative paths and niche opportunities instead.

For example, Alipay and WeChat Pay went directly for the retail market as soon as they entered Hong Kong. Local startups can hardly do the same thing.

If the Hong Kong government is keen to innovate with new technology, it should attract top global tech firms to develop R&D in Hong Kong.

Currently, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu have set up R&D centers in either Singapore or Taiwan thanks to generous packages offered by their governments.

Hong Kong should focus more on luring these top tech giants to establish their R&D centers here. That would spearhead the city’s technology development.

If the government is willing to invest in technology research, it would have greater bargaining power when negotiating with these giants.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 27

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Information Technology Federation honorary chairman