Hong Kong innovators

How Hong Kong can join the global pursuit for truly useful technology

James Chen believes the remarkable growth of the city’s start-up ecosystem can help the world find solutions to everyday problems

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 June, 2016, 12:17pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 June, 2016, 12:17pm

The decision of Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave to launch its first spin-off event in Hong Kong last year was a resounding endorsement of the city’s entrepreneurial potential and global ambition. The Rise summit returned to Hong Kong this year, and again brought together world-leading entrepreneurs and investors. This year, however, the city is more confident of its entrepreneurial strengths.

The past 12 months have seen a landmark government investment of HK$2 billion into an innovation and technology venture fund, as well as the creation of Alibaba’s HK$1 billion investment initiative for Hong Kong entrepreneurs.

Research firm Compass has estimated that there are over 2,000 active start-ups in Hong Kong, making it the world’s fifth-fastest-growing start-up ecosystem. The potential benefits are not limited to job creation or economic growth. The innovations that have come out of the world’s start-up hubs have created new industries, and sparked progress where it’s needed most.

The Hong Kong workshop teaching kids to make drones, robots, wearable tech and 3D printers

For example, drone technology is transforming health care and aid provision in developing nations. This summer, a start-up called Zipline will launch a service to deliver blood to hospitals and health centres across Rwanda. Drone technology is also being used by aid groups to overcome the infrastructural problems that have hampered many projects.

The concentration of talent, innovation and investment in Hong Kong can drive innovation that could transform developing economies. A number of everyday, yet severe, challenges desperately need innovation, attention and investment.

Take access to vision. It’s been 700 years since spectacles were invented and yet, today, 2.5 billion people have poor vision and no means of improving it. Poor vision reduces productivity, lowers literacy rates and reduces the effectiveness of education. According to one estimate, poor vision is costing the global economy US$3 trillion a year.

Inventor’s stair-climbing wheelchair set to conquer obstacles for Hong Kong’s disabled

And yet, even small-scale innovation can have an enormous impact. For example, Peek – an app being tested in Kenya – allows health care workers to take retinal images with a smartphone, allowing them to detect a range of conditions, including cataracts.

We recently brought together entrepreneurs and innovators in Hong Kong for a first-of-its-kind curated brainstorm called the Clearly Lab, to find new solutions to the problem of poor vision.

When Elon Musk came to Hong Kong earlier this year, he said the first flights to Mars would go ahead in just nine years. If we can put mankind on Mars, we can certainly find solutions to the everyday problems that stymie growth.

James Chen is the founder of Clearly.