Hong Kong faces challenge from Singapore in ‘smart city’ planning

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 June, 2016, 1:20pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 June, 2016, 1:20pm

Hong Kong could face a challenge from Singapore in attracting start-ups in the emerging Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices markets, with the Lion City actively supporting entrepreneurs to develop ideas for its “Smart Nation” plans.

Although the Hong Kong government has identified IoT as a potential new economic driver, it is still in the early stages of developing a so-called smart city while Singapore is already promising to give start-ups a role in creating the city of the future.

Slava Solonitsyn, managing partner of Singapore-based hardware accelerator Enchant VC, said that while the city state is further away from manufacturers in southern China, its push to create a smart city is providing an opportunity for start-ups.

“For start-ups it’s not only about convenience, it’s also about the market. Singapore is doing a good job to try and plug start-ups into the ecosystem,” Solonitsyn said.

IoT is predicted to generate from US$4 trillion to US$11 trillion in value by 2025, according to consultancy McKinsey, with up to 30 billion connected devices in use by 2020.

Technology for smart cities ranges from sensors to track traffic flow to indoor temperature monitoring and falls under the Internet of Things umbrella.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced plans to support the creation of a connected Smart Nation in 2014. Earlier this year, his government dedicated US$13.9 billion to research and development, including support for smart cities technology.

The Smart Nation plan encourages universities, start-ups and research and development institutes to work together on the project.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong the government will soon commission a study to map out development plans up to 2030 in order to create a smart city. Start-ups are encouraged to engage in these plans, a statement from the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer said.

San Francisco-based accelerator Wearable IoT World recently established its Hong Kong accelerator programme. Its chief labs officer Kyle Ellicott said it is working to develop a “sandbox” to test out technology in Hong Kong.

Wearable IoT World has allowed its start-ups in the United States to test their devices in an office building, an aeroplane and an airport, Ellicott said.

“In some of these cases with a city or an airport, you’ve got partners who are keeping a close eye on you. This way, you can get engagements or deals with them,” Ellicott said. “You also understand what doesn’t work, what additional needs someone may have.”

He said cities around the world are competing to introduce smart technology, but Hong Kong is in a strong position.

Benjamin Joffe, partner at Shenzhen-based hardware accelerator HAX, which focuses on start-ups developing robotics and health care projects, said Shenzhen’s competitive advantage lies in its manufacturing expertise.

Joffe said Hong Kong has a strong position as an international city for early stage start-ups to work on their ideas and then move to Shenzhen to prototype their products.

“I’m not sure how many home grown start-ups can happen in Hong Kong. What could be interesting is to attract foreign start-ups but for that you need to either be interesting as a test market – which I don’t think can be the case with the population size [in Hong Kong],” Joffe said.

“The other possibility is to attract start-ups when they are a bit more mature, and they want a base that’s more internationalised to operate in.”