Hong Kong has lost its spirit of entrepreneurism

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 April, 2013, 2:31am


Hong Kong was built on entrepreneurism. Its free economy, first-rate infrastructure, low tax rates and legal system are the ideal support for someone with a bright idea wanting to start a business. Our wealthiest citizens, among the richest people in the world, got to where they are because of the opportunities our city and China provided. Yet the spirit that took our tycoons to the upper reaches of the global billionaire rankings is today not as prevalent as it once was. Openings that would once have been seized upon are instead seemingly being ignored or left to others to exploit.

This is surprising given that just to our north, there is a hive of entrepreneurial activity. We share the same background, yet somehow have lost the drive to push ourselves, and the city we live in, to greater heights. Here and there are people with creativity, innovation and new thinking, but they are few in number. The result is that even a straightforward opportunity, like taking advantage of the needs of mainland parents for safe baby milk formula - which could have been met by improving supply and converting an industrial building into a large-scale retail outlet - has been ignored.

So, too, it would seem, has gone the chance of Hong Kong becoming a hub for medical tourism, a regional centre for education or the Silicon Valley of Asia. Other cities saw gaps, took the risks and are prospering. It is not the fault of the government; it can facilitate, but it is up to the free market to innovate. Nor can we heap the full blame on landlords and high rents; communities will usually support good homegrown ideas and allow them to prosper.

No definitive study has been done on Hong Kong entrepreneurism. Anecdotally, though, a number of factors can be pointed to for the apparent lack of spirit. Parents have great sway on their children's education and careers and prefer them to join the corporate world or civil service. Universities turn out relatively few people with development talent. Investors have more faith in well-established companies and real estate than start-ups.

Entrepreneurship involves risks, commitment and hard work. As our billionaires prove, though, there is no other way to gain significant wealth. For the entrepreneurial spirit to again thrive requires a supportive culture and community. Landlords have to be not so greedy and parents less demanding. With the right mindset, we will all benefit.