Identifying specific markets and developing technologies using input from the target end-users helped Waste & Environmental Technologies (WET) beat the odds as a green company.
But facing up to challenges has been a hallmark of the company's founder and manager, Leung Wai-on. The former Greenpeace campaigner - who sailed from Hong Kong to Singapore aboard the vessel Fri in 1976 to protest against political oppression in Namibia - has taken his ideas into the marketplace in a big way.
Since launching his environmental company 17 months ago, the privately-held firm now posts sales of more than $1 million per month and is projected to grow at 30 per cent every six months, according to Mr Leung. In addition, it has been awarded a global patent on a new water treatment process that is currently under study at the University of Manchester in Britain.
It all adds up to an extraordinary track record that did not escape the attention of the judging panel as they honoured the company with a New SME Silver Award. That success was largely created by Mr Leung's 'street smarts'. The high school drop- out said his years of working as a labourer gave him the knowledge of what it would take to make a new technology succeed: it would have to make financial sense while also being easy to use on the job. 'You have to identify your target market,' he said.
'Right now we are targeting the construction industry.' Mr Leung said most companies were willing to allocate up to 1 per cent of a project's budget for environmental protection. With that in mind he set out to create a water treatment system affordable to the construction, agriculture and food production industries. He spoke to the workers and field engineers who would actually use the system, to find out what they wanted.
When a commercial roll-out began months later, more than 40 units were snapped up at an average price of $300,000. 'There was a demand for a simple, user- friendly system in the market,' he said.
In addition to water treatment equipment, the company has also begun to diversify into recycling solid wastes. Mr Leung said the company, which employs 18, including research, engineering and manufacturing staff, was currently investigating recycled plastics that could be used to replace tropical timber used as marine fenders throughout Victoria Harbour.
More than 400 landing peers that ring Hong Kong's harbours are fitted with rare timber that must be replaced every three to four years. Plastic fenders could do the job just as well, and reduce the damage to the rainforests, he said.
New SME Silver Award