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StartmeupHK seminar: Why Hong Kong may just be the place to grow your business

Written by Shawna Warmington-Brown Thursday, 26 June 2014.

I had the pleasure of attending the StartmeupHK seminar and networking lunch last week, and there was no mistaking the buzz of excitement in the air. Held at the highly-regarded accelerator space Level 39, the backdrop of Canary Wharf from 39 floors up was the perfect accompaniment to what was an inspiring and informative afternoon. The aim of the event was to show the potential of Hong Kong as a vibrant island with unlimited potential for business growth, and following an afternoon of impassioned talks by entrepreneurs already working in the city, there was certainly a positive impression left.

The event also served to highlight InvestHK's StartmeupHK Venture Programme – a global competition to find 'high-growth, innovative and scalable' startups looking to globally expand their business from Hong Kong.

Following an enthusiastic welcome from moderator and founder of Cospa, Oli Barrett, and Head of Level 39 Eric Van Der Kleij speaking on the exciting expansion plans for the accelerator space, notable entrepreneur and co-founder of Company Shortcuts Lara Morgan took the floor. Having spent a portion of her life growing up in Hong Kong, Lara was certainly familiar with the city and referred to it as a 'growth nation', saying it was a great platform to use in Asia. She mentioned that it's key to promote when you go out there and be 'utterly ambitious about profitability.' Calling it the most enterprising nation, she also made the bold statement that their logistics and finance were better than much of the world and that they welcome innovation.

Director-General of Investment Promotion at InvestHK Simon Galpin was next, and gave a keynote speech on the opportunities present in Asia and just what they are doing to startup and promote the ecosystem. He began by listing the advantages of relocating to Hong Kong, beginning with the location itself. He said that while the city was compact, it is a great vantage point to access other areas of Asia. He went on to elaborate on Hong Kong's 'one country two systems' model, which creates a high degree of autonomy and in turn gives large and small companies a greater element of security. As well as this, due to the low tax economy, maximum income tax is capped at 15 per cent. This is particularly remarkable when compared to the UK's 45 per cent or the US's 39.6 per cent. Galpin also noted their world-class ICT infrastructure which results in faster broadband speeds. According to Galpin, Hong Kong also has access to all social media channels across the mainland, extending their global reach in the area.

One point he made which seemed to be echoed throughout the afternoon, was that 'Hong Kong is a great place for leading new tech as they are early adopters of new technology' and that they are now 'one of the fastest growing ecosystems in the world.' He also gave the impressive statistic of 80% of startup founders being non-local, which shows the true extent of the volume of entrepreneurs coming to Hong Kong to expand their businesses. He followed this up by listing notable organisations already operating globally within Hong Kong and experiencing success. These included: JP Morgan, Schneider Electric and Infiniti – the luxury vehicle division of Nissan Motor Company.

A panel comprised of Charles Ng (Associate Director-General of Invest HK) Anand Verma (Founder and Managing Director of Brilliant Basics Ltd) Andrew Young (Vice-President/Marketing and Sales at Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation) and John Barclay (Managing Director of Primasia Corporate Services Ltd) followed. Charles started things off by saying that the retail industry will do well in Hong Kong since it is the 'retail capital', and called it an 'important trading platform.'

According to John, the idea that there would be a language barrier was a common misconception, and instead there was a tremendous pool of qualified and skilled people as well strong teams due to a good company culture. The panel were then asked what they considered the main challenges that Hong Kong presented, with John commenting that Hong Kong is an expensive city.

Anand had some great advice on hand, saying that it is imperative to get the right leader and not to restrict yourself solely to Hong Kong, and instead take advantage of the access it gives to other areas. Andrew reiterated his point by referring to it as a 'connected city', adding that it's unique in that it mixes the culture of East and West.

The second panel was made up of Doug Richard (Founder of School For Startups) Nick Giles (Co-Founder of Seven Hills) and Tom Adeyoola (CEO and Founder of Metail). The focus was on London businesses moving to Hong Kong, and Nick began by saying that the ecosystem in both London and Hong Kong were very similar. Tom called Hong Kong the fastest-growing marketplace, while Doug expressed the importance of being in 'place' to do business. Tom spoke mainly about the speed in which deals were closed in Hong Kong, with a meeting to the first payment and completion of the contract all being done within an impressive three months on average.

When asked what their words of advice would be for fellow entrepreneurs looking to expand to Hong Kong, Tom commented that the key is to network like crazy. Nick said that entrepreneurs need to be brave and bold (as well as applying for the StartmeupHK programme) while Doug simply said, 'buy a plane ticket.'

Tech London Advocates founder, Russ Shaw, closed off the afternoon with a rousing talk on the business opportunities present in Hong Kong. He said that while it is important to develop the startup community in London, we need to find out how we can connect with others around the world. He went on describe Hong Kong as the leaders in fintech, and said that they had the potential to do great things and are on the top of the list when it comes to starting both big and small business. His final remarks summed up the general notion of those in attendance, saying that that Hong Kong has the dynamics of creativity and innovation. Can't say fairer than that.

I had the opportunity to ask Simon a few questions during the event:

What is the tech landscape like in Hong Kong?

Well it's changing incredibly fast. We're a long way behind London in that our startup scene has only really started to kick of three or four years ago, but what we've really started to see is the number of co-working spaces grow from three in 2012 to 30 today. Therefore it could be considered one of the fastest growing startup hubs in the world today.

How do you help open doors for entrepreneurs in terms of connecting them with businesses in Hong Kong?

First of all we listen, We try to understand what an entrepreneur is trying to achieve by having a base in Hong Kong, and they're incredibly diverse in what they want to do and how they want to use Hong Kong and then we try to make sure they understand all the support mechanism they can tap into. Whether it's support from the Government – but also what support through different entrepreneurial networks and support groups. I mean every night of the week – it must be the same in London – there are events aimed at tech entrepreneurs on Tuesdays, we have web entrepreneurs events on Wednesdays and we have The Entrepreneur Network that do regular events, so we can people an idea of the events they might want to tap into when they're visiting Hong Kong and then we have specialist teams that can sit down and work with an entrepreneur over maybe 2 or 3 years to help them understand which parts of there business may be suitable for Hong Kong, and to help them with practical stuff such as visas, getting the right office space and that sort of stuff – and it's all free?

What's next for InvestHK?

This our second event in London where we're promoting our StartmeupHK event programme. We hope we're going to get significant number of business plans and entrepreneurs from the UK entering the competition this year and then based on that we hope to be back next year. Not simply to sell Hong Kong as a location, but we want to bring some of our Angel Investors and entrepreneurs back to London to network with the communities you have here in tech city.

The closing date of StartmeupHK event is on the 31st July. Apply here.

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About the Author

Shawna Warmington-Brown

Shawna Warmington-Brown joined entrepreneurcountry in December 2013 as Global Content Manager. Her current responsibilities includes creating a monthly magazine and newsletter for investors and entrepreneurs in addition to managing a catalogue of leading entrepreneurial contributors, uploading content online and reaching out to the community via social media. Her interests include business, writing on current affairs and the arts.

Graduating from notable media and communications university The London College of Communication with a honours degree in Journalism, Shawna has also had experience working as a freelance journalist within a wide variety of media genres.

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