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Hong Kong entrepreneurs on how to make your start-up a success

Six of the city’s most talented businesspeople share their advice in a new book on how to help turn what you love doing into a profitable business

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 November, 2017, 6:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 November, 2017, 6:16pm

It is almost 6pm on a Friday and Janet Middlemiss is running around the WeWork office in Wan Chai.

She is jumpy because the soft launch is taking place for Born to be the Boss, a self-help guide for budding entrepreneurs that Middlemiss co-authored with Bianca Zee-Geissler.

The pair hand-picked the six entrepreneurs featured in the book who all hail from various industries and reflect Hong Kong’s rich business blend.

It came about through their roles with JEM Group, a social enterprise that is about empowering people from all walks of life.

“In a nutshell, JEM is about making creative dreams come true,” says Middlemiss.

Both women are passionate about nurturing the city’s entrepreneurial spirit. Latest government figures show small- and medium-sized enterprises comprise more than 98 per cent of the business establishments in Hong Kong, employing almost 1.3 million people and providing around 50 per cent of private sector jobs.

For their book they selected men and women entrepreneurs of different ages. “Some are born in Hong Kong, others are expatriate,” says Middlemiss.

They include Jennifer Liu Wai-fun who, in 2003 and aged just 25, founded Sir Hudson International, the hospitality firm that now has Caffe Habitu, The Coffee Academics and Suzuki Cafe under its umbrella.

Liu shares how her travels prompted her to switch from a “safe” architecture job to coffee connoisseur, a move made more difficult by recession at the time and the grip of the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic on the city.

Another entrepreneur, Johanna Ho, the woman behind the eponymous fashion label, describes how a timely “phone call from God” – a Japanese investor – saved her from bankruptcy.

Also featured are Mei Ling Ng Liu, who ignored the “sniggers and jeers” to set up Hong Kong Matchmakers, and Canadian-born Paul Luciw, who launched the AsiaXPAT website.

Nicole Wakley, the British woman who turned her back on a legal career to pursue her passion for eco-friendly furniture outlet Tree, and property developer Philip Morais round out the sextet.

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What the book does best is to share the wisdom of these entrepreneurs and their insights into starting a business, and the struggles they endured themselves.

“Everyone thinks Hong Kong is such an easy place to start a business … but if you’re starting a business from scratch with no financing it’s very difficult. Very few support systems are in place to help fledging businesses,” says Middlemiss. “It’s very hard to get funding. And banks don’t want to lend to the more creative industries, they don’t want to take the risk.”

A handy feature is a comprehensive resource section to help budding entrepreneurs.

To support fledgling businesses, a proportion of the profits from book sales will support entrepreneurs on Kiva, a non-profit crowdfunding platform.

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“Changing attitudes are encouraging more people to seriously consider entrepreneurship as a career and to launch their own start-ups,” says Middlemiss. “This book really helps with the day-to-day issues entrepreneurs in Hong Kong face.”

Available in paperback and as an e-book. For details, visit