My Take

Forget start-ups, worry about products

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 April, 2015, 1:18am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 April, 2015, 1:18am

Everyone loves innovation. It's just that most of us are entirely clueless about how to achieve it.

But that's the nature of the beast: if you are really innovating, you'd be doing it, rather than talking and worrying about it.

Still, it's an easy sell for politicians, with the result that we are wasting public money on more bureaucracy such as setting up an innovation and technology bureau. Executive Councillor Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, who also chairs the Science Park, said in a recent interview that it's the government's job "to guide" innovation to develop a hi-tech industry. This is the "we need the government" school of hi-tech development. Good luck with that.

There is the opposite, "lone-wolf DIY entrepreneurial genius" school of thought. Look at Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google … Americans tend to mythologise successful entrepreneurs and forget the key role their government - and especially the public-private military-industrial complex - that helped create the backbone of the modern communications and internet technologies that made all those successful start-ups possible.

Many mainstream economists take a middle-of-the-road approach. They consider research funding as infrastructure investment analogous to building roads and bridges, something our bureaucrats would understand.

So yes, public funding and resources are important, but don't let bureaucrats micromanage. Give the money to people who actually do the research. Hong Kong spends about US$2 billion on research and development, or 0.73 per cent of GDP, compared with Shenzhen's US$9.3 billion, or 4 per cent of its GDP. The solution? Double, triple and quadruple our R and D funding. No one ever gets rich by saving, only by investing. Given our record of white-elephant infrastructures, publicly-funded R and D is much cheaper.

Meanwhile, stop worrying about start-ups, worry about the products. It's the products that sell, not the companies. Learn to use the mainland as a base of research and funding. There is a reason why Hong Kong doesn't have companies like Huawei, Xiaomi, Tencent, Baidu, ZTE and Alibaba. Work with mainland industrial, military and space agencies. Our universities are well suited to such collaboration.