Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Hong Kong needs to throw more caution to the wind when it comes to backing start-ups

BusinessCompanies
THE VIEW
2017-09-22
The biggest problem is an acute shortage of angel investors and seed money available, even before any venture capital money becomes involved – we need to take unconventional risks to succeed

The Hong Kong government is trying to transform the economy from its traditional to a new innovative economy, but doesn’t realise that creative failure rather than cautious success will lead the way.

Last week, Hong Kong launched its HK$2 billion (US$256 million) Innovation and Technology Venture Fund (IVTF) to encourage investment in local innovation and technology start-ups in an effort to improve economic activity.

The government is inviting venture capital funds to apply to become co-investment partners of the new fund, said Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung, the Secretary for Innovation and Technology. The government will only make investments alongside VC funds.

The government is risk averse even though it needs to take more risks to build Hong Kong’s new economy. It does not want to directly and autonomously choose which investments to make because historically, civil servants do not want to take responsibility for losses.

Yet successful venture-capital investing requires the ability to accept and learn from losses. So the IVTF is depending on venture capitalists to do the due diligence and cover the bureaucrats’ collective reputations.

Matching funds are the easy way out for the government because this assumes that venture capitalists in Hong Kong are actually effectively serving the unique needs and problems of the city’s start-up ecosystem. Instead, the government needs to take on the most difficult part of kick-starting a new economy – tech or otherwise.

The biggest problem in funding start-ups in Hong Kong is that there is an acute shortage of angel investors and seed money available before venture money.

VCs prefer to invest minimum amounts of about US$3 million and more. Then, there is so much private equity available globally that private companies like Uber can be valued at US$60 billion and still be funded by private money. VC has grown so big that you can’t tell the difference from private equity.

And that tends to crowd out investment at the smaller, seed levels. As high net worth investors would prefer to make bigger investments in bigger, non-listed companies.

But, the problem in Hong Kong’s funding channel is that many start-ups are looking for less than a million US dollars, more like US$500,000 to roll out their product after a few years of development, or angel money of US$100,000 to begin a business.

Start-ups can attract investments of US$3 million and up if they demonstrate revenue or profits, or have completed a desirable technology. But Hong Kong’s relatively new world of new-economy start-ups require more support at an earlier stage. And only the government has the resources.

Hong Kong entrepreneurs have less experience in developing start-ups and even fewer have the initial capital. Even the GoGoVan founders had to desperately scrape together HK$20,000 each seven years ago. Lack of capital and experience are major problems in Hong Kong.

Incubators in Hong Kong tend to rent or give out shared office space; some may render business advice, but few are capable of actually funding start-ups.

Start-ups and their founders also tend to require lots of attention from their investors. Business plans rarely go according to plan. And turnaround strategies rarely turn around, since so much guidance and intervention is required.

The start-up game requires a tolerance of low-level failure. Using a VC expression, this means it is important to “fail early and fail often”.

The success rate is low for start-ups. And most people should be working for someone as employees rather than running their own business. It takes tremendous self-confidence and determination to launch a business. Historically, it has been much easier to flip property.

Local Hong Kong investors tend to ask start-ups the wrong questions. They ask, “How does it make money?” The right question is “ What problem does this solve?” There’s a big difference in mentality and mission.

It is difficult to raise VC money in Hong Kong. Many of them are interested in businesses that can scale outside Hong Kong, into mainland China and internationally. They are looking to turn a 10-million dollar company into a billion-dollar company in a few years. Mainland China is the only place in Asia where this can happen quickly.

I detect a natural prejudice against Hong Kong Chinese-founded start-ups. Most VCs think Hong Kong Chinese cannot operate successfully in China and are treated like foreigners in China as they need to take on a mainland joint venture partner.

This is especially risky in terms of divergent management attitudes or outright intellectual property theft or misappropriation.

The entire government and local financial community needs to take on more risk if it wants to transform the Hong Kong economy away from property development and traditional industries.

Hong Kong’s financial industry professionals are still divided over how they can remake the city’s stock exchange. Many of the conservative, traditional stockbrokers think the proposed start-up board is too risky in terms of regulation.

But we will need to take unconventional risks to succeed.

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商科課程適合你嗎?

信報財經新聞
教育講論
2016-01-16

梁文光

香港是一個發達的服務型經濟體系,在配合中國改革開放、經濟高速發展中,香港服務業現佔了本地生產總值比率達93%,其就業人數佔總就業人數比率亦達88.5%。每年,很多大專商科畢業生為不同行業提供商業服務貢獻,支持香港整體經濟的發展。因應市場需求,有關商科學士學位課程,在眾多政府資助及自負盈虧大專院校所提供的課程中,因其就業出路較廣及報讀資格限制較少下,備受高中學生歡迎。

商科課程是以廣博為根基,涵蓋商科核心的科目如財務、管理、會計、市場學等;加上中英語文、資訊科技運用、商業統計學;又為配合學生不同興趣選擇,輔以範圍甚廣的通識科目,包括社會科學的心理和社會學、歷史及人文科學、自然學科的介紹等,進一步擴闊學生的知識基礎。為此,很多人會認為商科課程是博而不會深入探討各學科知識。事實上,念商科最大的挑戰是需要學員綜合不同類別學科的理論,多角度思考商業問題,評估已有資料和證據,作出對各持份者(僱主、顧客、同事和社會大眾)負責任及平衡的決定。再者,商科學員亦可博中帶專,主修一核心科目為其專業如市場營銷、管理等,或應用商業知識於特定發展迅速的行業,如理大商科課程的全球供應鏈、航運及物流業。

看重英數能力

商科課程在收生政策上,通常特別看重英語和數學,因英語是國際商業共用語言,數學是方便明白不同商業、金融和財務數據的統計和含義,若學生對英語和數學有較好的水平,他們會更快融會和掌握課程。其他主要高中學科,包括了被認為是商科課程預習的經濟科和企業、會計與財務概論,在入學評分比重方面,多會一視同仁。商科課程歡迎不同學術及種族背景學生一起上課互動,擴闊同學間彼此學習和生活經驗,有助於創新思維。

事實上,若同學有興趣去合併不同商科,社會和其他學科的知識,體驗於接觸、了解周邊的人、事和物,商科課程可配合他們在這方面的發展。商科生亦應有主動性,不時自我檢視多方位的個人能力,如溝通能力、創見思維、道德理解、國際視野及創業精神等,持續改善自己。這種自我檢視及增值能力,對商科生尤其重要,在未來的職場上,他們需要去面對瞬息多變的工作環境,以及現今商業社會對社會責任和持續發展的要求。課堂內,學生學習各專業理論和案例,討論如何提升個人能力培養的建議。課堂外,實是商科生的無形、龐大實驗室,他們應主動多找機會去測試及修正自我能力,大學及商學院亦會開辦不同的分享工作坊、就業講座等,幫助同學提升上述個人及專業能力。

當然,在商科課程中提供的公司實習機會,海外交換生計劃,更能使學生知己之不足,擴闊視野。

畢業生前景佳

商科畢業生為廣大行業吸納,就業率通常很高。政府、公營機構、社福界、教育界都會聘用商科生。商科生初次就業公司的規模、職位及起薪點,或會與畢業成績掛鈎。但有經驗的僱主,會從簡單面試中,很快便知悉這準畢業生,在自我能力提升方面,是否下了苦工,又能否把商科知識和技能融入於個人興趣和就業發展目標,成為對工作熱誠的僱員。

若你不滿意一茶餐店的食物,並有想法予以改善。若你喜歡旅遊,覺得某些外地產品在香港會有需求。若你有興趣去多了解某些國際或本地公司成功例子,或為什麼有些會失敗。商科課程可能是你合適的選擇學科。

梁文光
香港理工大學工商管理學院 副院長(學務統籌)


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How our innovative youth can make Hong Kong even greater

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2015-04-27

Tony Chan

Tony Chan says the city needs new engines of growth, and investment in science and technology is one way to diversify the economy to benefit the next generation

A decade ago, an ambitious young man named Wang Tao attended Hong Kong University of Science and Technology as an undergraduate student with a dream to develop his own flying machine. Despite having few means, he took his chance and started his own company in Shenzhen. That company, DJI, has turned into the world’s No1 drone maker, and is now believed to be worth billions of dollars.

This success story serves as proof that innovation can indeed be nurtured in Hong Kong. But there will always be sceptics who wonder whether Hong Kong should make innovation, and just as importantly, science and technology, a priority. Some will argue that Hong Kong would be better off focusing on its finance and professional service industries. Some will say Hong Kong will only become a talent farm for other competing cities (Shenzhen or Silicon Valley, for example), or for multinationals, which brings little benefit to the local community. Some say that science and technology are high-risk industries and their children would be better off pursuing a stable career such as medicine or law.

These are fair points, which should be addressed. A recent report released by the Legislative Council found that the four pillars of our economy, namely, financial services, professional and producer services, tourism, and trading and logistics, are all slowing and saw their contribution to GDP drop to 58.3 per cent, a trend that began in 2007. That means we must seek new engines of growth, and investment in science and technology will be one way to diversify our economy. Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea are all spending much more than Hong Kong in science and technology’s research and development. We must change course if our city is to maintain its competitive edge in the world.

I see no reason to fear that Hong Kong will become a talent farm for multinationals and bring little back to the community. The cities of Boston and Pasadena, where the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology are located respectively, would never ask what these schools would do to benefit their community. Their very existence and reputation benefit not only the US, but indeed the world. Ideas are generated in Silicon Valley and products are manufactured elsewhere; that is an example Hong Kong can follow. Instead of fearing an impending brain drain, the right question to ask would be what we can do to bring more world-class company headquarters here to utilise our people’s talent.

The time has come for our society to accept that our children’s career choices may well be different from ours. Americans, much like us, also embrace the security that comes with a stable job, yet still some dare to try something different.

The likes of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg did not take the path of an ordinary office worker; they wanted to make a difference, had a dream to change the world, and they did just that. US students look at these entrepreneurs as role models who make lots of money and are cool at the same time.

The success of Chinese entrepreneurs such as Jack Ma, Pony Ma and Wang Tao will only bring more inspiration to Hong Kong and mainland students alike to dream and make a difference on their own.

The recent push by the Chinese government to make innovation a catalyst for economic growth will only work in Hong Kong’s favour: we have all the elements aligned to shine as the new innovation hub for China. The city already has world-class infrastructure, highly regarded rule of law, low tax, a skilled bilingual workforce and excellent universities; our prime geographical location allows us to tap easily into the wealth of resources in mainland China. A number of mainland technology enterprises have already recognised these benefits and opened research and development laboratories in Hong Kong recently, including Huawei, BGI, TCL, Lenovo and DJI. There is no better time to start building science and technology as a cornerstone for our economy.

Hong Kong’s younger generations are more ready than ever to embrace this challenge. Mounting evidence shows they are now more eager to take risks and work on their own instead of following their parents’ advice to secure a stable career. When Jack Ma came to Hong Kong to host a forum on entrepreneurship in February, more than 8,000 youngsters showed up to listen to him. Co-working spaces, where young people meet and pitch their ideas to venture capitalists, are booming in Hong Kong, and applications for entrepreneurial funding are at an all-time high. A sea change is looming.

As older citizens, it is our responsibility to create an environment where the talents of our young can flourish. The establishment of the information and technology bureau will be an important first step. It should not aim to become a government-owned venture capital establishment betting on risky projects; its mission, I believe, should be to provide long-term planning and infrastructure for the development of science and technology, set policies and incentives to attract talent and investments, as well as inspiring young people in Hong Kong who want to pursue their dreams. A key task is to spearhead programmes for collaboration between Hong Kong and the mainland.

The world renowned MIT Media lab came up with a new motto recently: “Deploy, or Die”. That captures the essence of embracing innovation: some of the ideas will succeed; some will fail. But we must not fault our young people for daring to try and having a “can-do” attitude. Let us all have confidence in our young people. We made Hong Kong a great city. They will make it even greater.

We must take fate into our own hands and act. As our financial secretary recently said, quoting Albert Einstein: “If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got!”

Professor Tony Chan Fan-cheong is president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology


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More R&D spending a smart investment for Hong Kong

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2015-04-21

Paul Yip

Paul Yip says tapping big budget surpluses would be a good way to increase funding and boost competitiveness

The recent Times Higher Education World University Rankings revealed that all Hong Kong universities have been slipping down the table. The University of Hong Kong ranked 43, against 35 in 2013. Yet, the National University of Singapore moved up, from 29 to 25.

Nevertheless, for the social sciences discipline, HKU ranked 29, the same as the National University of Singapore. And HKU still ranks above other institutions in Hong Kong. It is important to know that more than 60 per cent of its weighting relates to research performance – the number and impact of publications; 30 per cent to teaching and learning; and, the rest to industrial income and international reputation (including the number of exchange students).

And it is only a ranking; if others have improved at a faster rate, we can still be slipping behind. At the end of day, it is a comparison and a competition and sometimes we might take it too seriously. Such criteria might not be the most appropriate to best capture the contributions and relevance of universities. Nevertheless, it is still a reflection of how our universities are perceived in the local and international communities.

Universities should be places to nurture innovation, creativity and talent, extending knowledge and making a difference to the world. That all takes time to build up. It is unfortunate that our community (the government and business sectors) has not invested enough in higher education because it has a direct impact on the city’s future.

Innovation and technological advancement lag behind our neighbours’. Long-term investment by business in technology is rare. In 2013, the government spent about US$2 billion on research and development – just 0.73 per cent of GDP. Singapore, by comparison, spent US$5.8 billion, or 2 per cent of GDP. The University of Singapore has been strategic in boosting its ranking, recruiting experts from overseas with generous packages. We are losing out in the international market for high-calibre academics due to high living and education costs.

Shenzhen, meanwhile, has spent US$9.3 billion, or about 4 per cent of its GDP on R&D. This former fishing village is now a manufacturing, technological and innovation hub with a population of more than 10 million. It provides an attractive environment for individuals and companies with matching support and start-up funds.

Hong Kong clearly needs to re-examine its R&D policy to become more competitive. We should not undermine our own advantages of a solid legal system, which protects intellectual property, something yet to be established on the mainland. We need to nourish our local talent and attract foreign talent, too. One can complement the other. With a rapidly ageing population, it is urgent that we invest in innovation and technology to make up the workforce shortfall.

On the human capital front, the government has spent considerable resources to train research students in universities. Unfortunately, there is a mismatch in manpower and opportunities for graduates. According to the latest projections, there is a surplus of workers with postgraduate qualifications because the economy has not been transformed and realigned quickly enough to respond to rapid technological changes. There is a shortage of opportunities in higher education institutions and research centres. We are losing our students abroad after they get their PhDs.

The Macau government is also using tertiary institutions to recruit students from the mainland and overseas. There are 10 post-secondary institutes for only half a million residents in Macau; they hope some overseas students might stay after graduation.

Hong Kong has nearly full employment but only 6.9 per cent are employed in R&D per 1,000 of our working population. The figure is 11.75 per cent in Singapore, and 20.99 per cent in Taiwan.

Over the past few years, Hong Kong has run budget surpluses running into billions of dollars and expects to continue to do so. Yet we are still failing to improve our R&D capacity to prepare for the future. The HK$5 billion innovation fund announced in the budget is a good start but committed efforts and strategic investment are needed to make Hong Kong competitive. Despite limited investment in R&D, HKU still manages to remain in the top 50 global universities. We can do better with more R&D funding. Investing in R&D can certainly make Hong Kong more competitive and attractive.

Paul Yip is professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong


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在漆黑中打開一道小窗

Hong Kong Economic Journal
B04 | 專家視角 | 經濟3.0 | By 曾國平 |
2013-11-09

書的第一頁歪歪斜斜的寫下了一行字:「1998 年8 月旺角世界書局」,那是中學會考過後的暑假,我拿着書單到書局買教科書,捧回家一本又一本的用包書膠保護好,等待新學年的到來。記得新書的氣味,記得書都很厚,不像中學生會讀得懂的書。

是十五年前的事了。那一年的特首是董建華,財政司是曾蔭權,而梁振英只是行政會議成員。那時,沙士還未爆發,中港未有衝突,每年7 月1 日未有遊行的「習俗」。十五年前的香港不一樣。

書單上有一本莫名其妙的書,名叫《交易與生產》(Exchange and Production),作者是艾智仁(Armen A. Alchian)和艾倫(William R. Allen),1983 年第三版,不夠500頁,是經濟科的參考書。

黑色封面的右上角有一道小窗,窗外是藍天白雲。書中白紙黑字,一張彩圖照片也沒有。這是一本大學用書,老師列在中六的書單上實在有點莫名其妙。只記得學期初翻了幾頁以後,有數十個英文字不認得,查了半天字典也不知道作者在說什麼,從此丟在一旁。

從被丟在一旁的文字

五年後大學畢業,到美國讀研究院。兩箱行李塞滿衣服,也放進了幾本經濟學的書籍。這本翻了幾頁的黑色課本,不是硬皮精裝,不會為行李添太多重量,於是,課本跟我從香港飛到西雅圖。

研究院追求的是專門學問,經濟學研究生面對的是一條又一條的方程式。隨便翻開一本教科書,文字跟數學的比例是一半一半;同學以希臘字母溝通,但往往說不出聯儲局主席的名字,也不太清楚股市的起跌。

艾智仁和艾倫如是說:第一次修經濟科,都先有一個合理的疑問: 「學經濟,要懂多少數學?」只要算術,加上一點閱讀圖表、理解經濟數量之間的量化關係的能力。(A natural question to ask atthe outset of one’s first course in economicsis, “How much mathematics do I need to know to understand economics?”Only arithmetic, and some ability to read charts and graphs and to interpret quantitative relationships between economic magnitudes.)

這段說話,經濟學研究生是不會相信的。研究院學的是複雜的知識,見樹不見林是必經的訓練。

這黑色的課本,從頭到尾都是文字,除了一些簡單的算術,幾乎沒有方程式。於是,五年的研究院生涯,課本一直呆在書架上。

畢業後找到教職,課本又跟我從美國西岸飛到東岸去。不再是窮的研究生,成了不算窮的教職員,也算是學習經濟學的得益吧。

艾智仁和艾倫如是說:我們想說,懂經濟學會令你賺多一點,但作為服務的賣家(課本作者本是如此),我們不保證經濟知識帶來經濟利益,但我們相信真有其事。﹝ (We) would like to say that understanding economics will help you earn more, but as sellers of a service -which is what textbook authors are – we do not promise that economic learning means economic earning, but we believe it does.﹞

五年的教書生涯過後,學校要求多開一門新課,不限題材。那時候開始寫《經濟3.0》不久,為惡補一下基本經濟學,想起了艾智仁和艾倫,於是把心一橫,為本科生開了一門「管理經濟學」,以《交易與生產》為課本。

到過癮的經濟學課本

課本在30 年前出版,早已絕迹市場,難得在網上找到的二手貨,價錢都不便宜。課本買不到,如何開課?找不到出版課本的公司,發現原來已被另一家出版社收購。幾經轉折下找到出版社負責人,請求為幾十個學生「合法翻印」課本。負責人說沒有問題,但要我先得到作者同意。

那時候,作者之一艾智仁已離世,另一位作者艾倫亦過了退休年齡已久。出版社給我艾倫的電郵地址,於是我寄了一封電郵向他說明原委,卻擔心老人家沒有檢查電郵的習慣。誰知道老人不夠半天就作出回覆,同意讓我翻印課本,也為有人採用課本而高興。

為準備新課,十五年後終於認真的將課本一讀。書中再沒有不曉的英文字,有的是與眾不同的經濟學智慧。

兩位觀點獨特的經濟學家,以流暢的文筆解釋離奇的現象,以簡單的分析道破流行的謬誤。幾位用功的學生對課本讚不絕口,都說從未讀過那樣過癮的經濟學課本。誰說課本一定沉悶?

世事複雜多變,難以看清看透,猶如在漆黑中摸索。經濟學,會為你打開一道小窗,讓你看見漆黑以外的藍天白雲。

作者為維珍尼亞理工大學經濟系助理教授

曾國平