The Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp is on track to achieve its goal of attracting the first batch of research institutes to the city in health care, artificial intelligence and robotics, as part of a broader push by the city to build itself into a hub for innovation and technology, according to chief executive Albert Wong Hak-keung.
The government-run company, which manages the Hong Kong Science Park in Sha Tin, has vetted and is poised to award successful applicants in the next few weeks, Wong said in an interview on the sidelines of the RISE conference in the city on Tuesday.
It has also disbursed financial support to its tenants, revamped its incubation programme for start-ups and is getting approval to support promising companies with strong core technology with grants to help them with capital and operating expenditure, he said.
“I can assure you that every one of them is really, really good,” Wong said, referring to the successful applicants. “My biggest challenge is to help them come out. They can’t just stay in the labs and work on white papers”, but must look at how to commercialise their technology in two to three years, he said.
Hong Kong is competing for talent, capital and start-ups with other hi-tech hubs like Singapore, Israel and Silicon Valley, as governments worldwide look at tapping the opportunities thrown up by the array of new technologies while trying to minimise the impact that these disruptive forces may have on current jobs and industries.
In October last year, the Science Park announced a wide array of new initiatives as well as enhanced programmes and support services aimed at strengthening and accelerating the growth of Hong Kong’s innovation and technology sector and start-ups.
Those new measures are the first phase of roll-outs using the HK$10 billion funding support provided by the Hong Kong government. The focus is on nurturing start-ups of different stages to achieve their next level of growth.
That effort would enhance the park’s current suite of value-added services to attract talent and funding, as well as build a strong and robust portfolio of innovation and technology companies, helping create new opportunities for business and employment, according to Peter Mok, the park’s head of incubation and acceleration programmes, in a separate written statement.
Commenting on the current tensions between China and the US, Wong said Hong Kong is benefiting to some degree based on the increase in inquiries over the past six to nine months for overseas talent to be based in the city. Indeed, interest has risen even before the election of US President Donald Trump, he said.
Chinese researchers, academics and university graduates have reported facing more suspicion in the US, especially in industries that may have military applications, such as in aerospace and advanced materials. Some have faced lengthy reviews for visa applications, causing them to give up job offers.
For Hong Kong, the aim is to retain research and development and core financial operations in the city, even if many companies may move their supply chains to the Greater Bay Area, Wong said. The biggest challenge to building a tech ecosystem in Hong Kong is cultural, in the sense that many parents still want their children to become doctors and lawyers, though that mindset is changing.
“I spent four hours recently speaking with professors and medical students at Chinese University,” Wong said, adding that it was encouraging as typically many top students in Hong Kong tend to choose to go into medicine. “They all wanted to do something in tech, want to know how to set up a company.”