RISE 2018: HK gov't steps up support for tech sector

This year's RISE Conference expects more than 15,000 delegates from 102 countries

The government is ramping up efforts to create a conducive environment for the growth of the innovation and technology sector, according to Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam during an interview at the RISE Conference yesterday.

“We need an environment where the government is friendly in providing facilitation for the sharing of big data, in the manner of government procurement and in updating some obsolete laws to facilitate the application of technology. We also need more talents, so we need to provide more up-to-date immigration policies to make it easy for the admission of tech talents in Hong Kong,” Lam said.

Hong Kong has made inroads in all these areas, Lam added, with resources allocated to the I&T sector estimated at HK$78 billion in the last 12 months.

Avoiding missed opportunities

Lam also said that the government hopes to avoid missed opportunities such as the listing of Alibaba in 2014 and the development of leading Chinese drone maker DJI by providing more support to technology companies.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam

“We learned the lesson when we lost the Hong Kong listing of Alibaba in 2014 to the New York Stock Exchange, as back then our listing rules didn’t allow dual class shareholdings,” she said, referring to the market debut of Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, which this week became the first dual-class stock listed on the Hong Kong bourse.

The government’s new listing rules, which took effect on April 30, allowed dual-class shares – a structure seen as favorable to technology companies. “We are making listing rules more in step with the new economy … because the world is changing and to stay competitive and on top, we need to continuously revisit our rules and regulations to adapt to the new changes,” said Lam.

Besides encouraging technology companies to join the city’s capital markets, the government is doubling efforts to retain talent and nurture its own tech start-ups.

Hong Kong has famously missed out on the opportunity to nurture further growth of the world's largest maker of recreational drones, DJI, whose founder Wang Tao, an alumnus of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, moved to Shenzhen.

“The case of DJI reflects Hong Kong’s strength in basic research and good universities,” Lam said. “Of course to translate research into practical technology applications, we need more support, whether it’s incubation support, venture capital or lab space.”

According to Lam, the planned development Greater Bay Area, which seeks for tighter economic integration between Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong province, would put tech companies like DJI in a place more accessible to research and development capability and venture capital in Hong Kong, as well as the huge manufacturing base in Guangdong.

The Greater Bay Area is envisioned as a world-class center for advanced manufacturing, innovation, international shipping, finance and trade. It is expected to surpass the Greater Tokyo and New York areas by 2030 with a GDP of US$4.62 trillion.

Seeking opportunities at the RISE Conference

The four-day RISE Conference currently running at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre is an annual event that gathered together the startup community worldwide.

The Pitch area at RISE Conference

This year, more than 750 startups are exhibiting at RISE, with 70 of the early-stage startups will be going head to head over the even to win the 2018 PITCH competition sponsored by HSBC.

“We have a 40% increase on the number of startups at RISE this year,” said Paddy Cosgrave, CEO and co-founder of Web Summit, which organizes RISE. “This is a testament to how the region truly has arrived on the global tech scene. Our exclusive poll of global investors bears this out. Two thirds agree that China will become the world power in tech within five years.”

Over 500 investors are attending the conference including ZhenFund CEO Anna Fang, GGV Capital’s Hans Tung and Tencent’s Dan Brody.

Computerworld Hong Kong spoke to several exhibitors at the conference – most of them first-time RISE attendees – to get a glimpse of their expectations.

“We hope to meet fellow startups to exchange experiences and have the opportunity to meet some potential investors,” said Jeffrey Lam, head of product, Mobile.Cards.

The two-year-old company has created a mobile app for loyalty points that small and medium retailers can customize and brand as their own. Currently, about 100 shops have deployed the Mobile.Cards app in Hong Kong.

“Today, we are working on integrating blockchain into Mobile.Cards app to allow multi-merchant loyalty points to be traded in a secure and trusted way.”

The Mills Fabrica, a project of the Nan Fung, group will officially launched this year so we are taking this opportunity to show the startup community what we have done to date by having five of our incubatee companies exhibiting in our booth,” said Alexander Chan, co-director of The Mills Fabrica.

Established in 2014, The Mills Fabrica is a business incubator for “techstyle” startups and strategic partners – all of whom work at the intersection of fashion, textile and technology.

The company has three components. Besides acting as an incubator, its Fabrica network serves as a platform connecting startups to business opportunities. Also, the company provides two floors of flexible working space for its strategic partner and creative professionals.

Startups on the exhibition area

Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific is also a first-time participant at the conference where it launched its Ignition Project, an initiative that includes sponsoring 10 local-based startups’ entry and participation at RISE.

“The startups we are supporting share Cathay Pacific’s values and vision for innovation and to do good for the local community in Hong Kong,” said airline CEO Rupert Hogg. “They also provide divergent thinking, specialist knowledge and dexterity in adjusting to an ever-evolving environment.”

Asia PropTech is a community for companies especially startups that are focused on property technologies, often referred to as proptech. 

“Proptech has gained traction in Europe and the US for over five years. Yet, it is relatively new in Hong Kong,” said Leo Lo, founder of Asia PropTech. “We aim to build proptech awareness by joining events like RISE.” Asia PropTech also hopes to get more connections with proptech startups at RISE.

According to Lo, 30 to 40 of the startups in the Asia PropTech community are Hong Kong-based, which specialize in different technologies and business models such as virtual reality, augmented reality, data analytics , and co-living,

Gritus designs, manufactures, and operates smart vending consoles. The company hopes to share its business experience with startups at RISE.

“We have already installed 150 consoles. We’re in a stage where we’re ready to share a little bit more with our model and our business to the world,” said Eddie Sit, director of growth at the company. “We also want to mingle with the startup community in Hong Kong.”

He added, “We bring customers online to offline and vice versa. We deliver technologies, branding campaigns, and interactions on our consoles,” said Sit. “We own the hardware and software, so we are able to quickly adapt and customize experiences.”

More than 15,000 delegates from 102 countries are expected to attend this year’s RISE Conference.

Nancy Ho contributed to this article.