[This post was written by Paul Orlando, an entrepreneur with experience in the US and China who currently runs a tough three-month program called “Startup Bootcamp” in Hong Kong. He co-founded and ran a startup in New York called Chatfe, providing communications services for online communities. ]
There’s an ongoing discussion on what characteristics of the Silicon Valley startup model can be globalized or even should be. Hong Kong is one example of a wealthy city where minimal tech entrepreneurship is currently found. This is detrimental to the city’s long-term competitiveness. But that is changing.
It’s also easy to judge a place by big trends and generalizations without being aware of what’s happening among niche players and leading indicators that can make a difference.
Reasons often given for Hong Kong’s lack of startup culture include lack of cultural support (Hong Kong parents have a lot of sway on their children’s choice of career and prefer corporate jobs), a lack of investors looking at tech (preferring to invest in real estate, for example), and a lack of computer science talent graduating from local universities (where finance, law, and medical degrees are more highly respected). Meanwhile, other tech locations in Asia, such as Beijing and Singapore, see much more activity, both in support from local governments, investors and in terms of development talent willing to work at startups.
But things are changing. Hong Kong today reminds me of New York in 2008 when people started to come together to develop another generation of tech startups in their own way, different from Silicon Valley. For example, startups in New York, similar to startups in Hong Kong, often think about their business model from the beginning — earlier than a startup in Silicon Valley might. Some startups in Hong Kong, like Makible and 8-Securities, are also building on Hong Kong’s historical manufacturing and finance strengths. Realizing that different parts of the world have different realities, what also plays up to Hong Kong’s strengths is a form of grassroots entrepreneurship combining locals and expats from other countries. That combination of different people in Hong Kong’s small market means startups often have a natural focus on serving an international audience.
That makes startups in Hong Kong different.
You’re definitely correct about how HK parents tend to guide their kids to choose more secure occupations.
I’ve talked to my friends in HK about this and they said that during their parents generation, they encountered discrimination at the higher levels in certain industries, e.g. high finance and technology. Basically, companies in those industries preferred to work with Westerners instead of locals, so it was hard to building any connections, let alone get funding.
As a result, they often chose to go for a more secure route that was based on meritocracy. Also, if they did have the entrepreneurial spirit, they would choose fields where they had more clout, such as real estate and food.
Of course it’s not like that now, but as my HK friends tell me, old habits are hard to overcome sometimes.
That was a great article, Paul. Startup culture certainly isn’t very pervasive yet, still being limited to a few select areas through the world. It’s great to hear, however, that this is changing in HK and hopefully other areas of Asia.
Funding is certainly one of the most difficult aspects of running a startup as I have encountered first-hand. I think crowd-sourcing (e.g. Kickstarter or Indiegogo) could become a very valuable tool to entrepreneurs in Asia. We are attempting this ourselves on Kickstarter with a project that we have been working very hard on
I will definitely keep my eyes peeled for some interesting things that will be coming out of HK and Asia.
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