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Hong Kong and Taiwan take different start-up routes

What can a start-up really sell? A product, service, or just a concept? This must be the first question every start-up founder should ask.

I was in Taipei for a Google event about start-ups and innovations last week. Google sent 10 best-performing Hong Kong start-up "students" in its EYE Program, an initiative to support small businesses to grow, to Taipei to meet their peers.

The difference in a start-up business model between Hong Kong and Taipei is obvious from the first slide in their presentations.

Most Taiwan start-ups are more about hardware design and production, such as smart helmet and health care devices to track the heartbeat and other key indicators. The common interest comes from the island's long advantage in technology-related manufacturing.

We all know Taiwan's Foxconn Technology Group, which made Apple's iPhone that changed the global mobile phone industry. Seen from that view, Taiwan's contribution to the world has been huge.

Today, Taiwan is more ambitious than just making iPhones, or any product for already well-established names. It wants to have its own Apple on the world map - a Taiwan start-up that can make the world say "wow".

If hardware technology is Taiwan's forte in the new global competition in start-ups, then Hong Kong's advantage looks more ambiguous.

Chien Lee-feng, Google's head in Taiwan, said Hong Kong could focus on financial-related services such as financial technology (fintech), given the city's position as a leading financial centre.

Well, there may have been a lot of buzz about fintech, but it is still far from being a mature market. In other words, fintech is still a concept in the Hong Kong market.

The reasons for fintech's slower development in Hong Kong - certainly much slower than on the mainland - could be mixed, including regulatory restrictions. Moreover, fresh graduates would prefer working for big banks or developers for the stable income, so the talent pool for those daring enough to try something new with a high chance of failure is quite small.

In the start-up world, people literally means everything.

Anita Huang, a former executive of Google and Yahoo and now the head of Taiwan Startup Stadium, said she believed the Hong Kong government intended to interfere less in business, while the Taiwan government wanted to be the "captain to lead a big ship" designing every aspect of the economic and business development - and thus limiting the scope for innovation and even imagination for new business.

Hong Kong should note this compliment and continue to defend its free market spirit.


Sunday, October 18, 2015
Media Name: 
South China Morning Post