Published 14 February 2017 Category: Startups

Hong Kong's Startup Scene: What You Need To Know

Welcome to Hong Kong: Home of Bruce Lee, the stunning Victoria Harbour, and now, perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, one of the most dynamic start-up scenes in Asia. Having played host to Asia’s well-established financial companies for decades, the city is finally being disrupted by budding, hungry entrepreneurs with ideas extending finance to tech to life and style.
The numbers are growing, which is a fantastic sign. InvestHK found the startups are up in 2016 to almost 2,000 from about 1,500 the year before; and the world is taking notice. Elon Musk himself made an appearance at last year’s StartmeupHK Venture Forum. For Hong Kong, it’s an exciting time to be a startup.
But how are these young entrepreneurs pulling it off—and what do startups need to survive, both in Hong Kong and the rest of ever-moving Asia? Basically, they’re getting incredibly creative with their ideas. Take Neat, which helps students and first-time jobholders, register for pre-paid credit cards without a credit history. Instead; all they need to do is register their faces through its facial recognition software.
They’re not all so serious, either—but just as ingenious. There’s new wine-and-dine app Happy Owl, which lets users get a break from Hong Kong’s high prices and redeem drink and meal deals everyday. By doing something as simple as promising foot traffic through the door to the venues it partners with, the app thrives from a mutually beneficial partnership between users and partners.
There are two major factors that help startups to thrive so well in Hong Kong. One is the blockchain: basically, a decentralized database that records digital transactions. It seriously cuts down on the time that startups need for transactions, making the city an attractive choice to do new business. Second are the choices for flexible office space: with demand set to rise 63%, Hong Kong has ample choices for startups to rent offices.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong-based Lalamove—has been dubbed the “Uber of logistics” for its services. A user launches the app to order a van for moving services; in January, it announced a new motorbike service. The startup plans to launch an IPO in two years and already has a presence across southeast Asia and upwards of 40 cities in China. The startup received funding last year from giant Alibaba.
Also, in Hong Kong, accelerators abound, like Betatron, which offer not only funding and mentorship, but flexible office space to work in. They’ve converted some of that flexible office into a “lab”, where they can focus on the startup’s challenges on how to move it forward. The SuperCharger Fintech Accelerator Program this year entered its second phase, where representatives from major banks sponsor programs to scale-up new entrants on the booming fintech scene; they also use flexible office space from Hong Kong’s cutting edge Cyber Port to create an incubator.
Of course, Hong Kong still has its challenges when it comes to the startup culture. Rent and startup costs are expensive; also, society is still conservative, meaning many young people rather go into traditional job roles. Ultimately, though, the city is getting more progressive.
Hong Kong is fast becoming an attractive city for entrepreneurs and venture capitalists alike. And while it will have to compete with the likes of Alibaba’s campus not far in Hangzhou—where over 1,000 startups have boomed—and of course, Singapore, also a thriving hub for startups—the prognosis for Hong Kong is optimistic. Startups, accelerators, government programs, and flexible office spaces are ticking up every year, especially last year.
There’s even talk of what’s called “Shen Kong”—merging the booming startup scenes of Hong Kong and Shenzhen, just over the border in mainland China, to cut competition and create something even bigger than Silicon Valley.