Hong Kong business says forget flash, keep it simple for start-ups

Proposed hi-tech zone at Lok Ma Chau Loop only requires ‘shelter, water, electricity and a stable internet connection’

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 February, 2017, 11:38pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 February, 2017, 11:38pm

Forget fancy buildings and go for start-ups at low rents in the Lok Ma Chau Loop, the Hong Kong government has been told.

Instead of buildings with shiny glass walls and elaborate designs, like those run by Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks at Tai Po, what start-ups really need is something cheaper and more basic, businessmen said.

“If you look at all the technology areas in the Asia-Pacific ­region, you will find the rental cost in Hong Kong is much higher than elsewhere,” said Hilton Law Yiu-chung, chief executive officer of science parks-based start-up Integrated Solutions.

“What start-ups need is very simple: shelter, water, electricity and a stable internet connection. We don’t need to work in landmark buildings.”

One of the men behind Cafe X, a start-up that makes coffee vending machines manned by robotic arms, shares similar views.

“Although the office space was great for our software engineers and our hardware team when working in [computer-aided design], it was a challenge to build and assemble a large complex product in the space given,” co-founder Henry Hu said.

“I would recommend the science and technology parks designate a small amount of mixed-use space so start-ups working on large hardware products can have a garage-like space to fabricate, assemble and test their products.

Law said buildings with glass walls were more expensive to maintain and prone to problems such as leakage.

He added there would also be need to accommodate workers in hostels and dormitories, not luxurious developments.

The construction of the three phases of the science park cost HK$11.5 billion, and rents range from HK$14 per square foot to HK$37 per square foot. However, it also offers discounted rents to about 250 start-ups for up to four years in an incubation scheme.

Nicholas Brooke, former chairman of the parks board, agreed and said if he were to ­oversee the development again, he would have considered more ­flexible options such as prefabricated buildings.

Brooke said he would like to see the loop acting as an experiment for a new form of technology zone, with no walls separating ­different elements such as education, technology research and housing, so those with different expertise could mix and mingle in daily life.

“I see it as a new model from a planning perspective where we weave these different elements all together,” he said. “It should be planned and designed as a community. I will be looking at doing something different, and certainly not creating a traditional park, ­because I don’t think, in the longer term, that’s the solution.”

Brooke said the loop would be a good opportunity for Hong Kong and Shenzhen to draw on each other’s strengths.

He said Hong Kong had been strong in education, research and commercialisation, while Shenzhen had done better in prototyping, testing, manufacturing and delivering a market.

Meanwhile, an academic specialising in high-tech research hoped the central government would relax its restrictions on capital outflow so the new technology hub can rein in large sums of ­investment from the mainland.

Professor Michael Yu Wang, founding director of the Robotics Institute at the Hong Kong ­University of Science and Technology, said what the city really needs is banknotes, rather than brains.

“We are not short of talents here. I know the [Hong Kong] ­government is stepping up ­support for innovation and ­technology, but it’s far from enough compared to other parts of the ­region,” he said.

While Hong Kong practises “one country, two systems”, the city is considered “foreign land” when it comes to absorbing ­capital from state enterprises, hampering efforts to rein in funds from technology hungry ­investors, Wang said.

“Sometimes our people have to travel to Shenzhen to work and collaborate with our mainland counterparts to get around this hurdle.”