South China Morning Post
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Dominic Allon says the start-up spirit must be nurtured and rewarded
If you live in Hong Kong and are reading this, you probably use your smartphone more than anyone else in the world.
The World Bank ranked Hong Kong second in the world (Macau placed first) for mobile cellular subscriptions for every 100 people. Studies also show that four-fifths of Hongkongers access the internet every day on their smartphone, and most never leave home without it.
You knew this already. All it takes is a ride on the MTR to observe the hyperconnected nature of Hong Kong’s citizens. The question is: do Hong Kong’s businesses, universities and governments see this technology in the same way you do? Are businesses able to make the same use of this technology that you do in your daily life?
The internet age has lowered the barrier for business entry and created a wave of aspiring entrepreneurs aiming to transform ideas into real business ventures. These men and women are figuring out how to wield contemporary technology in a way that reshapes our world. The sad fact is they’re not getting the support they need.
Many people think that the government supports the internet by helping it get built and connecting to it: yes it does, but not enough. The next big step is to ensure that businesses and entrepreneurs use Hong Kong’s impressive connectivity to its full potential.
While I admire Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, I admire even more a system that rewarded and facilitated their innovations. Their benefit to society is incalculable. Silicon Valley’s culture’s benefits to them, equally so. Why can’t Hongkongers enjoy the same kind of support?
Hong Kong has the talent and potential to produce these businesses. We see successful homegrown startups such as Cherrypicks and Divide. There’s also Myflat.hk , which aims to strengthen a neighborhood’s networks and link neighbours and businesses digitally.
The spirit shown by these start-ups needs to be nurtured. We should be creating a new environment that helps the next generation grow their ideas and manoeuvre their start-ups through a labyrinth far more complex, but also far more rewarding, than the corporate ladder.
Academia needs to think about grooming entrepreneurs as much as it does job candidates for big companies. The US shows that academia has a huge role to play in a nation’s entrepreneurial output. Schools there are increasingly including entrepreneurial studies as part of their curriculum. One of the goals for Google and the Chinese University of Hong Kong launching the Empowering Young Entrepreneurs programme is to encourage everyone to embrace entrepreneurship, not just the techies.
Governments have a role to play beyond figuring out how to connect people to the internet. The government’s handling of the data it controls is as important as its handling of the roads. Many governments don’t realise the sheer value of seemingly dull data about roads, traffic lights, weather patterns or population movements.
The liberation of public data from museums and city departments can create new lines of business and even save lives; we’ve seen this in disaster-prone areas of Japan and the Philippines, where access to government data led to the growth of emergency apps alerting citizens to take shelter in the event of a tsunami or typhoon.
If Hong Kong is going to become a hub for creativity and innovation, let’s focus more on creating a new business culture that the internet makes possible. It’s easier and less risky than ever for young people to pursue their business dreams, thanks to technology. It’s up to everyone else to make sure they have the support and knowledge to take that opportunity.
Dominic Allon is managing director of Google Hong Kong