Macau bets on start-ups as key to diversifying economy

The gambling hub aims to promote entrepreneurship by linking Chinese start-ups with experts from the Portuguese-speaking world

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 3:10pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 9:55pm

Casino hub Macau is preparing to take on a new role connecting entrepreneurs from the Portuguese-speaking world and China, after staging the city’s first start-up forum this week.

Eric Yeung Tsun-Ma, chairman of the Macau China Thinktank for Fintech Industries, which organised the StartUP Macau Forum, said the city’s start-ups to date had mostly been part-time projects.

But he believes increased cooperation with experts from Portugal would help promote entrepreneurship in the territory.

The forum in the former Portuguese colony was held in collaboration with the Portuguese government. It included workshops led by Portuguese accelerator Fabrica de Startups.

Macau can be a small offshore base for start-ups both for the mainland and Portugal
Eric Yeung Tsun-Ma, chairman, Macau China Thinktank for Fintech Industries

“Macau can be a small offshore base for start-ups both for the mainland and Portugal,” Yeung said on Monday, the first day of the forum. “A lot of the start-ups from Portugal and Europe want to go into the Chinese market and likewise, the other way round.”

Opened by the Portuguese prime minister Antonio Costa, the two-day event invited 20 start-up teams from Macau, Portugal and China to take part in a competition to win cash prizes worth a total of US$20,000 sponsored by Asia Times, MGM Macau and Galaxy Macau.

Start-ups are seen as a way to diversify the Macau economy away from a reliance on casinos and tourism in the wake of a decline in gaming revenues, Yeung said.

Macau has seen fewer high-rollers visiting its casinos after the Chinese government cracked down on corruption and ostentatious displays of wealth by officials.

However, gambling revenues posted a 7.4 per cent rise in September to US$2.3 billion, the second consecutive month of growth, following two years of declines. Analysts said this was linked to the recent openings of new resorts offering more non-gambling attractions.

Yeung said space constraints, low unemployment - which deters young people from starting their own businesses - and the small local market would limit start-ups in Macau, so he sees the plan to act as a bridge between Portuguese-speaking nations such as Brazil or those in Africa and China as the territory’s most promising option.

Macau has a population of more than 650,000 people occupying an area of 30.4 square kilometres, and unemployment of 1.9 per cent.

Yeung said the tourism sector, including gambling and hotels, would be the “easiest starting point” for entrepreneurs planning to set up in the city.

Antonio Trinidade, president and chief executive officer of CESL Asia, a services and technology company specialising in environmental infrastructure and energy, which supported the forum, said the firm plans to open an innovation and start-up centre at its new facilities on Hengqin Island, a free trade zone in Zhuhai.

Trinidade said the 215,000 to 322,000 square-foot campus set to be completed in 18 months will allow the company to bring in international teams to collaborate on technology development. CESL is also finalising an accelerator programme for start-ups with Fabrica de Startups.

Competition participant Wong Iam-Hong, co-founder of Macau start-up Garsland, said the one-year-old company, which allows amateur tour guides to advertise holidaymakers, is part of a global trend for business models based on the sharing economy.

Wong said he hopes the Macau government will work to adapt laws to fit new types of business models, such as Uber.

E-Study Abroad, another Macau start-up and competition participant, is aiming to capitalise on the growing number of mainland Chinese students studying overseas by helping them to find accommodation. Its co-founder Carlos Ling said he hopes Macau will host more start-up events in the future and welcomes the opportunity to exchange ideas with companies from overseas.

“We hope to become a platform that can provide people from Asia with accommodation in the West as well as providing accommodation for westerners in Asia, so connecting people together. Who knows what a Portuguese connection could bring us?” he said.