My Observation on the State of Hong Kong Startup Ecosystem

Lately, I have been meaning to write down my opinions of what I see happening here in Hong Kong. I’ve been in Hong Kong since July 2012; arriving from Silicon Valley to attend Paul Orlando’s Startup Bootcamp and now in another program called AcceleratorHK with my startup Taxiwise.

Back when I was going through Startup Bootcamp, we had a visit from Oussama Ammar, Entrepreneur in Residence at Le Camping. Oussama lived in Silicon Valley while working on his own startup and even met the founders of Yelp while “living and breathing” startup life. He explained his theory of why Silicon Valley was able to prosper as the # 1 startup ecosystem in the world; Hackers vs. Suits. Oussama explains that in Silicon Valley there was a war. Not a real war but an attitude and philosophical war between the hackers, entrepreneurs against the business types, the Phd. and Masters holders; the finance guys.

In the end, the hackers won, which is why there are many stories of entrepreneurs skipping school, dropping out to start their ventures, especially with well known symbolic individuals such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. That was the catalyst needed to propel Silicon Valley into the giant it is today. And from that spawned the “Silicon Valley Lust” that my friend Salim Virani discussed with me during Startup Weekend Hong Kong (I was mentoring there and Salim came to visit). Silicon Valley Lust is the desire to replicate the same environment as Silicon Valley and bring it to their local place. Communities should look up to SV, yes, but they shouldn’t try to emulate it because I don’t think that is going to work. They should strive to carve their own ecosystem that benefits their environment.

Now, after living here for half a year, I’ve begun to notice that there is an apparent “Silicon Valley Lust.” There have been programs here where students are sent to Silicon Valley to visit “startups” (many were big companies such as HP and Intel) not startups in my opinion but I assume they were the sponsors), but I feel, as those programs don’t paint the real picture of SV. Go to a coffee shop such as Red Rocks in Downtown Mountain View and you can hear startups all over. Join an entrepreneur meet up if you want to. Email those startups for a tour, I’m quite sure that being a startup they are, they wouldn’t mind giving tours to students from Hong Kong who aspire to be entrepreneurs. Skip the big corporations.

There was even news on the paper mentioning that Hong Kong should become just like Silicon Valley. My humble opinion is that it cannot. Silicon Valley is Silicon Valley and I think it’s almost impossible to recreate this environment anywhere else in the world. It’s a mixture of everything: a common language, great weather, open-minded people, people who don’t fear failing and learning from it. Hong Kong should strive to be the Hong Kong Startup Ecosystem it can be. With access to plenty of resources, individuals from all over the world and next door to China (its also easy to get around to other countries like Singapore), you have other advantage that makes Hong Kong different from other cities; it is called the Pearl of Asia for a reason.

There have been a lot of startup and “entrepreneurial” meetings, gatherings, talks, but often I noticed it is geared around the “suits”. We have plenty of business plan competitions, learn from angels meetings, simple pitching events, talks about what is a great business/what is a great startup and so forth… Even government support requires you to not have traction, customer validation but a good business plan. 

My question is, where are all the coffee shops that bring together all the hackers? Events such as startup weekends are great because they bring together people to start working on something; we need more events like that. In San Francisco, you can go to coffee shops and meet up friends, help each other, talk over a cup of coffee. Dave McClure once said to the HK community “get together in a coffee shops.” That’s how some of the communities such as StartupHK were built and that’s what people from the higher ups (wearing suits) should focus on. Not another competition on how can pitch the best or write the most comprehensive business plan. Want to raise the startup ecosystem? Foster a way for hackers, entrepreneurs, and do-ers to get together and do things. Make it a pleasant one at it too, not just another social excuse to get drunk and meet guys/girls.

I find this article by Byran Goldberg “Finance lost. Tech Won. Here’s Why…” interesting. He even writes on his bio “Failed investment banker.” I like that.

Its still early to tell and its great that the community is forming and taking shape. I think it is an exciting time to be in Hong Kong, all the players are starting to come together which makes it an appealing atmosphere. Let’s see what will come.

Follow me on twitter: @chubucko

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1 Comment

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