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Friday, July 21, 2017, 11:25
‘Waking up’ to the big tech march
By Luo Weiteng in Hong Kong
Friday, July 21, 2017, 11:25 By Luo Weiteng in Hong Kong

Cyberport chief Lee George Lam tells Luo Weiteng HK’s young entrepreneurs mustn’t miss the boat as the city forges ahead to be Asia’s tech capital.  

Cyberport Chairman Lee George Lam hopes Hong Kong’s younger generation can look at failure with an open mind, and that includes exploring the vast business or work opportunities on the Chinese mainland. (Photo by Parker Zheng / China Daily)

Hailed as a dynamic hub for global finance, Hong Kong has long jostled with cities like Shanghai, Singapore, Tokyo, New York and London for the crown in the traditional financial industries.

A new race is now underway — to embrace innovations of financial technology (fintech), which is set to be the next big thing in reshaping our world.

Despite its impeccable strength in finance, Hong Kong is still striving to build up its reputation as a world-renowned innovation center in its quest for a combined advantage in the realm of fintech.

Cyberport — a digital community for tech startups to grow and thrive — is on track to bolster the city’s goal to be a magnet for budding tech enterprises worldwide.

Since its inception more than 15 years ago, Cyberport — one of the Hong Kong government’s twin initiatives to boost technology and innovation — has moved in line with the city’s vision to diversify the local economy away from its reliance on real estate and financial services.

In the midst of the new economy, there’s no border. You have to think and act globally early

Lee George Lam, chairman of Cyberport

Today, it fits in well with a big trend of the innovation-driven “new economy” — a buzzword for what’s expected to be the territory’s next growth engine.

As a firm believer in Hong Kong’s competitive edge in digital technology, Dr Lee George Lam, chairman of Cyberport, is pinning high hopes on Hong Kong gaining “tremendous momentum” from the “era of the new economy”.

“Hong Kong is leading the world when it comes to digital connections. We’re connected totally to the world. We’re well connected in terms of land-based cables and satellite systems. Our internet data center is well managed. Our security record and standards, known for a staggering 99.99-percent track record of power supply security, are topping the world as well,” he says.

“Overall, Hong Kong’s status as a global information and communication technology (ICT) hub is clearly unquestionable. For such a tiny place, we have already been the No 1 worldwide in terms of ICT infrastructure development a good five or six years ago.”

Lam, who took the helm at Cyberport in May last year, believes Hong Kong has what it takes to sharpen its edge as a big data center along the Belt and Road (B&R) route.

The B&R Initiative is more than a massive trade and infrastructure plan to revive the ancient trade route of the world’s second-largest economy. When people talk about a huge ribbon of infrastructure projects on the table or ready for construction along the “physical” Silk Road, a “Data Silk Road” also spells potentially huge opportunities for those with the foresight to jump on the bandwagon, he notes.

Success stories 

As Hong Kong seeks to ride high on the undertakings and goals of the B&R strategy in the year marking the 20th anniversary of the city’s return to the motherland, its potentials as an information hub, where multinationals and Chinese mainland firms feel both comfortable and safe to put their data, should never be underestimated, he reckons.

Such potentials are underpinned by Hong Kong’s geographical proximity with the mainland, whose digital economy, with its sheer size and head-spinning speed of change, stands as the inarguable global trailblazer.

“We’re very lucky to be located next to the mainland market, where tech startups can be subject to the most stringent test. If you can succeed on the Chinese mainland, you can essentially succeed in the world,” Lam believes.

Nowadays, the buzzing startup scene in Hong Kong and at Cyberport continues to produce a dazzling array of success stories showcasing the city’s determination to cement its role as Asia’s tech capital.

Lynk — a data-driven and knowledge-sharing platform linking enterprises and experts from a wide range of fields — testifies to that success.

The home-grown startup, hailed as the poster child of Hong Kong’s startup boom by Lam and a beacon of hope for the territory in realizing its “unicorn” dream, is the very first investee of the HK$200-million Cyberport Macro Fund launched by former chief executive Leung Chun-ying in his 2016 Policy Address with the goal of helping startups fill the funding gap.

Greener pastures

For young entrepreneurs in Hong Kong, Lam points out, it always matters to think and act globally, scaling greener pastures overseas rather than glued to the paltry local market. “Lynk stands as a good example of going global right away. Its founder and CEO Peggy Choi, just like many promising entrepreneurs we see at Cyberport, didn’t just wait there to get some funding and milestones. She immediately set her sights on the mainland market and the B&R.”

Hong Kong’s young generation, he urges, should spare no time in engaging themselves in the new economy and the B&R, which are the golden opportunities they should never miss out on. “In the midst of the new economy, there’s no border. You have to think and act globally early. Hong Kong youths should have their eyes trained on the (Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao) Greater Bay Area, the Silk Road and the world, rather than just think about Central and Causeway Bay.”

“We are just waking up our young people,” Lam says.

In April, Cyberport unveiled its three-year strategic plan to groom local digital entrepreneurs. The management team is betting big on raising the number of companies in the Cyberport community from the current 900 to 1,200 over the next two to three years. But Lam believes they could “add more than that”.

“Looking ahead, I hope Cyberport is not only an incubator, it’s also a user-friendly, entrepreneur-friendly and world-class ecosystem to help young talents make their mark.”

‘Lifelong learner’ on a mission to change our world

A “lifelong learner” is how digital tech veteran Lee George Lam would like to call himself.

The newly-appointed chairman of Cyberport saw his career take off in the technology industry, but it ended up in the financial sphere instead. Now at the helm at Cyberport, he aims high in burnishing the city’s brand as the predominant global epicenter of financial technology.

“Over my 30-year career, I had started off as an assistant engineer. And because I had stepped into management, I got my MBA. Later on, I was so interested in policy that I got my MPA. When I moved into governance, I took an interest in accounting so that I became a fellow of CMA Australia and CPA Australia,” recalls Lam.

“You learn to serve, not learning for yourself. Learning fixes my problems at work and, of course, it helps my career to advance a lot.”  

Echoing Cyberport’s paramount mission to consolidate Hong Kong’s position as a leading “digital economy” around the world and a highly sought-after destination for fledging global tech companies, Lam’s next learning plan is to really do something in the local public services sector.

This resonates with his belief that “life is not just about being an entrepreneur, a unicorn, a shareholder and a billionaire, but also about innovation, entrepreneurship and doing good business to make our society better and change our world”.

As a top brass in the local startup scene, Lam says the journey to entrepreneurship always comes with failures and setbacks.

“But, life is a marathon rather than a 200-meter dash. Failure makes no big issue,” he stresses, reiterating his hope that the city’s young generation could embrace failure with a more open mind.

Such an open mind also means looking north and feeling what our motherland has achieved so far.

Over the past few decades, the Chinese mainland’s economy has stunned the world with an economic miracle that has lifted millions of people out of poverty.

More importantly, what makes China’s future so exciting comes from its overwhelming influence on the tech world, where we’ve seen mainland companies setting global trends with home-grown technology products and business models not only in traditional areas like digital technology, but in promising new ones such as digital payment and artificial intelligence.

“Such a sense of sympathy and togetherness will make our young people more successful and global,” says Lam.

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