Small is beautiful when it comes to making it big in business

University hopes to rekindle the city's sense of entrepreneurship with competition

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 February, 2013, 3:46am

Hongkongers seeking a good living are being offered the chance to become "seed planters, not bean counters" in a university programme aimed at encouraging entrepreneurs.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) account for about 98 per cent of the city's economy and provided 47 per cent of total employment - excluding the civil service - at the end of last year, according to the Trade and Industry Department.

Professor Ali Beba , director of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's Entrepreneurship Centre, said this statistic showed it was not the "big guys" - the multinational corporations - that were driving the world economy but small businesses.

This is similar to the situation in the European Union and the United States, where SMEs account for more than 90 per cent of businesses, according to official statistics.

"Entrepreneurship is a monetary or social wealth creation process," said Beba who is advocating for more people to become their own boss through HKUST's One Million Dollar Entrepreneurship Competition.

Beba hopes to revive the spirit that drove entrepreneurs in Hong Kong in the late 1950s, so that the city can keep its place as the "powerhouse of the region."

"Entrepreneurs are seed planters, not bean counters," he said. "They are not satisfied with simply having jobs. Instead they use their initiative and imagination to generate breakthrough products and services."

The need to encourage entrepreneurs may be due to Hong Kong's rapidly ageing population.

"With a reducing labour force, productivity will decline and entrepreneurs will be needed to create and innovate," Beba said.

The deadline for submitting a business plan to the HKUST competition is February 25. The winning team will get a package worth more than HK$1 million. Teams from anywhere in the world can enter if they have one member who is a current or former HKUST staff or student.

Beba dispelled the notion that entrepreneurs are "pure risk takers" and "reckless gamblers of commerce". He said that "successful entrepreneurs are strategists, calculating the extent of risk and acting when the circumstances are favourable".

While encouraging more people to start their own business, Beba also said that former entrepreneurial businesses that had evolved into family businesses need to be reformed.

"Very few family businesses survive to the third generation," he said. "Not all children have the acumen or incentives of their parents."

The root of the problem, Beba believes, lies in that fact that entrepreneurs treat their businesses too personally.

He often asks entrepreneurs if they plan to sell their business one day - a question many not consider. "Business is business, it's not a child," he tells them. "You treat it and manage it like a child, but at the end of the day, you have to be able to let it go."