With a slick, professional-looking slideshow, 12-year-old Brian Cheng Han-chen and his three "business" partners are pitching the app they have developed over the past two weeks.

They rattle off a series of figures - the number of domestic helpers in Hong Kong and the percentage who have experienced different forms of abuse - and explain how employment agencies exploit the workers. The children are hoping to alleviate these problems with Helpchat, "a platform for questions and answers for domestic helpers".

Brian's Team Dragon is pitching to Team Abbie, another group of four aged between 12 and 16 years old; they are all participating in a two-week boot camp at the First Code Academy, a computer programming school in Wan Chai for young students, which has set them the challenge of designing an app to help prevent domestic helper exploitation in Hong Kong .

To achieve their task, they were taught to use design thinking, a framework for creative problem solving which advocates a strict process: empathise, define, ideate, design a prototype and test.

"This course has taught me how to look at a problem from different angles. It's told me that crazy ideas aren't necessarily bad ones," says Cheng, who is going into the eighth grade at the ISF Academy, in Pok Fu Lam, and has been teaching himself how to code since he was seven.

Across the harbour on the same afternoon, there's a camp for high school students at the Polytechnic University's Institute for Entrepreneurship. About 20 students, split into groups of five, are gathered in a classroom for a "creativity lab". Their task: stage a short theatrical interpretation of the lyrics of a Canto-pop song. At their disposal are items such as chairs, plastic bags and buckets.

William Chan Wai-lam, 19, and his group ponder how best to portray the idea of time and change as imagined in Eason Chan Yik-shun's Tourbillon.

They're a little stuck, but Chan is relishing the freedom to play with ideas.

"If you come up with a wacky idea at school, they would think, 'Hey, you've got to walk my line.' They would pull you back into their box. But with these kind of activities, there is much less of a frame," he says.

"ENTREPRENEURSHIP IS A buzzword. It's sexy," says Cheung Chi-kim, a senior lecturer at the University of Hong Kong's education faculty who has a research interest in entrepreneurship education.

Indeed, the city is boiling over with start-up fervour, electrified by the growth of private incubators and accelerators such as Nest and Blueprint, the rising popularity of co-working spaces, official campaigns including online portal StartmeupHK, and various government funding schemes.

Yet Hong Kong's overall entrepreneurship rate (calculated by totalling the number of people involved in early-stage entrepreneurship and the number of people who own and manage an established business) remains poor at 6.5 per cent of the adult population, according to a 2009 report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor - it's 35.7 per cent in the mainland and 13.7 per cent in the United States.

"Compared to other countries, [Hong Kong's] entrepreneurship rates are considered to be low," wrote the authors of the report "Entrepreneurship Ecosystem of HK 2014".

"[That] 'have a go spirit,'" - which characterised an earlier generation of Hong Kong entrepreneurs, most iconic of whom is Li Ka-shing - "is sinking fast," wrote Stephen Vines, a Hong Kong-based journalist and restaurateur, in a South China Morning Post op-ed article last year.

Hong Kong might have the fourth most efficient government and the best infrastructure in the world, as ranked by the World Economic Forum's 2014-2015 Global Competitiveness Report, but the city does much worse in innovation, placing 23rd. The report cites an "insufficient capacity to innovate" as the most problematic factor in doing business in Hong Kong.

Furthermore, in the 2015 Global Creativity Index, which takes into account technology, talent and openness to diversity, and is compiled by the Martin Prosperity Institute, the city ranks a low 21st, putting it 12 places behind Singapore.

What can be done to improve Hong Kong's creativity and innovation - arguably two of the most important elements in entrepreneurship?

Some believe the answer lies in reforming the education system to change the mindsets of entrepreneurs-to-be.

"They're on the wrong track," says Cheung, referring to the government's approach of focusing on massive projects such as Science Park and Cyberport while neglecting entrepreneurship education. "You should instil in [students] an entrepreneurial framework when they're in school so they can start things very slowly."

Entrepreneurship, of course, is not just about building a start-up.

"It is also a profoundly moral human activity," Raul Chao and Cristina Lopez-Gottardi, of the University of Virginia, in the United States, wrote in a Forbes article in May. "Entrepreneurs advance society by imagining and creating innovative solutions, products, ventures, services and technologies that help us all."

Looked at broadly, entrepreneurship paves the way towards "solving the global challenges of the 21st century … and advancing human welfare", according to a 2009 World Economic Forum (WEF) report.

Educating more entrepreneurs, then, not only advances an economy, it is also advantageous for society.

"Not everyone needs to become an entrepreneur to benefit from entrepreneurship education, but all members of society need to be more entrepreneurial," says the report.

The authors continue, "It is not enough to add entrepreneurship on the perimeter - it needs to be core to the way education operates … This requires a fundamental rethinking of education systems."

Cheung is a vocal advocate of making entrepreneurship education part of the official curriculum.

"It can start as early as primary school. Nowadays, especially primary students, they don't have any notion of budget management. If you ask them, 'How much does a coke cost?' The answer is: 'A dood [the beeping sound a card reader makes].' Because they use their Octopus card. They have no idea of money, the price of the product. So actually, we can start entrepreneurship education at the early stage, looking at budget management," he says.

The WEF report recommends that every school system in the world offer entrepreneurship education that "celebrates each child's entire range of talents and aspirations", with a focus on "hands-on, project-based, multidisciplinary approaches" including simulations, games and interactive teamwork activities, and field trips to local businesses.

Some junior schools in Hong Kong may already be inadvertently engaging in a form entrepreneurship education. Alternative education systems, such as those used in Waldorf and Montessori schools, celebrate the importance of active, participatory and integrative learning.

The Waldorf method, pioneered by Austrian educator Rudolf Steiner - the first Waldorf school opened in 1919 in Germany; there are now 1,000 worldwide, plus kindergartens and education centres - emphasises the role of the imagination in learning, advocating hands-on, game-oriented activities that develop all the senses, arousing a curiosity for and appreciation of the world around the pupil.

This philosophy was perfectly illustrated on a recent July afternoon, when about 40 people, the majority of them women, gathered in a conference room in Wan Chai for a talk by Christof Wiechert, an educator who has more than three decades of Waldorf teaching experience in Europe.

Shortly before the talk, Cannie Bennett, founder and director of Garden House, a Waldorf kindergarten that opened its doors in Clear Water Bay in 2008, and Nicole Sparks, a teacher there, began to sing in soothing voices. They asked the participants to stand and form a circle by holding hands, with everyone facing inwards. Sparks then broke the circle at one point, and we all started to walk, the line twisting this way and that in a seemingly arbitrary manner. Then, unexpectedly, we came to form a circle again - except this time we were all facing outwards. The circle was broken once more and, as Bennett and Sparks sang a song about going "through the magic woods", the line started to snake, and soon enough, we all ended up facing inwards again.

"Thank you for being part of our movement, children," said Sparks, to the chuckles of the adult participants.

It's a simple game, of course, but to a child, this kind of dance - the technical term for it is eurythmy, an expressive movement art created by Steiner - could indeed be magical, prompting questions about movement, shape and space.

For those who think that the traditional education system, with its focus on exams and test scores, inevitably squeezes the creativity out of children, schools such as those using the Waldorf method may be attractive.

"[Creativity] is one of the top priorities of Waldorf education," says Wiechert. "Artistic creativity and intellectual creativity. Artistic creativity as a stepping stone to intellectual creativity."

If there's one change that Wiechert would like to see in education systems today, it's this: "Getting rid of examinations. Getting rid of pressure. And giving teachers their original responsibility back to take care of [their] students. If that would happen it would change society. And children would be as smart as they are always. They don't become smarter because you make examinations and all this pressure. It's not true."

Waldorf schools put a heavy emphasis on giving students the freedom to develop their abilities and passions. Notable graduates include Kenneth Chenault, chief executive of American Express, German author Michael Ende and actresses Jennifer Aniston and Julianna Margulies.

"One of the main elements of the entrepreneurial spirit is the willingness to take risk. I think Waldorf education teaches kids to be freethinking, and also to be risk takers," says Philip Heung Fu-lap, a trustee member of Forest House, in Clear Water Bay, which will soon be Hong Kong's first Waldorf primary school.

Another well-known non-traditional educational system is that based on the philosophy of Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori, which emphasises self-directed learning, mixed-age classrooms and freedom of movement within lessons. Montessori schools have spawned such an illustrious rank of alumni that some have nicknamed them the "Montessori Mafia", which counts among its members Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and the creator of The Sims computer game, Will Wright.

It may all be a coincidence. But perhaps alternative schools such as Montessori and Waldorf can offer Hong Kong pointers on how to reboot its education system and nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs.

There is, of course, a snag. Many of the education systems that are regarded as more conducive to entrepreneurial development - international schools as well as Montessori and Waldorf - come with a hefty price tag. Extracurricular entrepreneurship classes don't come cheap, either: the two-week course at the First Code Academy costs HK$16,500; the course offered by PolyU is HK$7,300.

"Can entrepreneurship education only be given to people of privilege? That's a question mark," says Bernard Suen Yiu-sin, a project director at Chinese University's Centre for Entrepreneurship, who taught computer classes at a Montessori school in the US before returning to Hong Kong in the late 1990s and later co-founding an IT consultancy.

He would like to see the traditional school system embrace entrepreneurship education, but doesn't expect any real change soon. "There is too much 'baggage' in the Hong Kong education system," he says, referring to bureaucracy, vested interests and an unwillingness to upset the status quo.

Education reform can only go so far, anyhow, says Suen. "Producing entrepreneurs is only one function of the education system. To expect the education system to solve the problem is not realistic."

What Hong Kong needs is to focus on the deeper cultural values that underpin entrepreneurship, he says.

"For society to change, there must be a transformation of values. Values affect mindset and action."

One sorely needed value is creativity, says Simon Hui Hing-tak, chief executive of EPSA Corporation, which owns several businesses, including all 23 branches of household products retailer ecHome. Hui founded his company in 1988, after deferring a place to study business at City University for a year. Once he began studying for his degree, he spent his days meeting clients and running his business, squeezing in classes in the evenings.

Hong Kong's success was never built on creativity, says Hui. As a British colony, "a lot of its early success stories were of a Hongkonger running a factory, but it's not a factory that develops new products. The factory's creativity was helping the original creators to solve their problems. This created a lot of industrialists, but not many brands. I think this is related to the culture. People are used to being a follower, but not a creator", says Hui.

"If you think back to the early successful businessmen, like Kwok Tak-seng, Fung King-hey, that group of people, what they did wasn't particularly creative: banking, real estate. In the end, it was all about serving other people." Not creating something new.

Suen believes that media can encourage the values that drive entrepreneurship.

"The media creates cultural products, especially films. And films shape values," he says. "But how many films actually talk about local needs and problems? There is a lack of local magazines for kids, telling local stories. Kids have no channel to get to know their own society."

Suen points to Japan's world-famous anime and manga as a prime example of home-grown products targeted at youths. Hong Kong, on the other hand, has "no local products to shape [kids'] values and viewpoints of [their own] society".

The essence of entrepreneurship is self-determination, Suen says. And that desire to determine your own fate stems from a deep understanding of your own identity.

"For society to have an identity, it's a process of socialisation, a cultural force through cultural products. In that respect we're very weak," he says.

BACK AT THE FIRST CODE ACADEMY, the kids at boot camp are busy polishing their final pitches, fixing bugs in their apps and preparing to film a promotional video.

Michelle Sun, the founder and chief executive of the academy and a former Goldman Sachs analyst, tells me the philosophy behind the project.

"Basically, this start-up is a thesis of how I view the world. It's really about forming a view of the future and forming solutions for the future," she says.

And it seems that she is successfully inculcating new values in her students.

"Silicon Valley is happening. It's so sick," says Keshav Menon, 15, who is part of the team that has created Helpchat. "You're actually creating something. That's so cool.

"Entrepreneurship means not only innovating new ideas but constantly thinking about how to improve. You're always learning.

"A lot of coding is like life - finding the easiest way to solve a problem, but in a plausible way as well."

By the same author: Foraging in Hong Kong