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Eye for business

Tony Liaw 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The internet's rapid pace of development has reshaped how businesses should be run. At the same time, it has also created many opportunities for young entrepreneurs to start new businesses, for small firms to grow, and for all businesses to increase productivity.
Those with ambition and drive don't have to start in a garage anymore. A computer connected to the internet can give companies a global footprint.

But despite a well-developed infrastructure and the free flow of information and ideas in Hong Kong, prohibitively high start-up costs, high rents and a fragmented community of entrepreneurs seem to be some of the biggest obstacles for budding business types to seed their visions.

Now Google and the Chinese University of Hong Kong have started a program to encourage local entrepreneurs to prepare themselves and explore the endless possibilities in the business world.

Launched last month, the Empowering Young Entrepreneurs Program, or EYE Program, is designed for those who have a brilliant business idea but lack the right skills and resources to action their plans.

In Hong Kong, there is a lack of people who have multiple hard and soft skills, and those who can think outside the box, said Kevin Au Yuk-fai, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the university.

"The EYE Program aims to fill this skills gap in these potential entrepreneurs," Au said. "For example, a business school graduate will have to learn how to write [computer program] codes, while a programmer will need to learn marketing theory."

Eligible applicants will be invited to join the two-stage, pre-mentorship training program in early 2014. A series of workshops, seminars and networking sessions, organized by the Center for Entrepreneurship, will help applicants learn about entrepreneurship and how to use technology to build effective business models.

"This is a tailor-made program for participants and covers different topics - from product development, project management to fund-raising and investment pitching," said Mingles Tsoi, project director of the Center for Entrepreneurship.

The program comprises four major domains - business planning, marketing, application of information technology and basics for start-ups.

Upon completion of pre-mentorship training, participants will form teams to work on their ideas or business proposals. The selected teams will then be invited to pitch their ideas, business plans or prototypes, if any, in front of a panel of experienced judges to secure their place in the mentorship program.

At the time of writing, CUHK has not decided on the number of places in the program due to the difficulty in finding mentors.

"We are able to find many successful business persons who run good start- ups, but they may not know how to teach," Tsoi said. "We will have to provide some training for these people to become good mentors."

This is where Google comes in. The tech giant not only targets technology professionals, but also provides the right partners to entrepreneurs, and provides financial backing to the program. Besides top-notch programmers, Google can also provide valuable knowledge from its experts in business, management and marketing.

"The internet and entrepreneurship are key drivers of economic development. Through the EYE program, we hope to help young entrepreneurs launch and accelerate their businesses, and connect with the global community," said Scott Beaumont, Google's managing director of Greater China.

Still, technical skill is undeniably crucial for business operations, Tsoi noted, adding that nowadays entrepreneurs need all-round development.

Initially, the EYE Program is slated to run only in 2014, with Google and CUHK later deciding if they will continue with it annually.

Au is optimistic that potential entrepreneurs can start their businesses after learning the right skills from the program. However, he added, some may also find themselves unsuitable for running a business after joining the program.

Au also hopes various organizations can come together to help foster an ecosystem of entrepreneurs. "After all, small- and mid-sized enterprises support nearly half of Hong Kong's economy," he said.

Tsoi added that organizations such as Cyberport and the Science Park are helping local start-ups. Teams of angel investors will also provide financial support to new ventures.

To join the EYE Program, eligible applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 35. They must be a Hong Kong resident and be primarily living, working or studying full-time in the territory. Entrepreneurs who have started a Hong Kong-based business within the past five years are also welcome.

The program has started accepting applications online at eyeprogram2014. Along with the form, applicants have to prepare a compelling personal statement for the judging panel as to why they should be admitted to the program. The application deadline is January 20.

"Before applying, ask yourself if you would like to start your own business and become a successful entrepreneur," Au said.

Besides providing the program with financial support, Google will also sponsor a grand prize for the most outstanding program participant - a trip to Google headquarters in Mountain View, California to meet and connect with experts in the global community.

Meanwhile, CUHK graduate Hanley Li Chin-nung said the program will be helpful to young graduates, like himself, who wish to start their own business.

Li founded CarryAD earlier this year to help companies advertise on biodegradable plastic bags. He said the knowledge he lacks in running a company will be available through the program.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Media Name: 
The Standard 英文虎報