Hong Kong has strength to innovate, but other factors hold it back

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 September, 2013, 1:22am

Hong Kong has what it takes to be a place of innovation. We have a highly educated population and some of the world's best universities, top-notch infrastructure, abundant wealth, government incubation programmes and good-quality potential mentors, partners and employees. Yet there is no shortage of concern that we are falling behind other cities by not sufficiently capitalising on our strengths. The latest comes from Beijing's top representative, who says a lack of creativity is holding back development.

Zhang Xiaoming, the director of the liaison office, believes the government, organisations and society should work together to create a better environment for innovative thinking. Young people should make greater effort to not just use technology, but to tap its potential. His advice is amplified by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum's latest global competitiveness index, which showed Hong Kong in 19th place when ranked on higher education and innovation, trailing regional rivals Singapore, in second, and Taiwan, in 11th. The quality of research institutions and limited number of scientists and engineers were cited as areas in need of improvement.

But circumstances are not as dire as they appear. Ranking 19th in a global index on innovation is already a considerable achievement. The international standing of our doctors, researchers and scientists in the fields of transplant surgery and virology prove our capabilities. Projects funded by the government's Innovation and Technology Commission show originality and flair, as do those promoted by a growing number of organisations supporting inventors and innovators.

For all the ideas, though, Hong Kong has not yet spawned a world-beating gadget or device, like the mainland company Tencent's instant messaging application, WhatsApp, Google's driverless car or Apple's iPhone. That may in part be due to the high rents and lack of a garage culture; the backyard shed proved crucial to Silicon Valley's founders, who were long on ideas but short on funds. The Science and Technology Park in Sha Tin goes a way towards nurturing start-up companies, although it does not resolve a host of shortfalls in society. Among them are students steered by parents towards finance and business rather than science and technology, companies reluctant to fund research and development, and investors demanding low risk and quick returns. Until there is greater understanding and collaboration, we will lag competitors.