Bitcoin boss shares start-up tales and hopes for Hong Kong

Locally based entrepreneur urges officials to tackle talent shortage in city

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 October, 2017, 8:33am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 October, 2017, 2:46pm

Bitcoin entrepreneur George Harrap, 27, saw the potential in the digital currency in 2011, two years after it was introduced to the world.

The thought of “being [his] own bank and in control of [his] own money was liberating”, so he capitalised on the fast and secure transfer of the cryptocurrency.

“I was working in a tech company in Australia for a while and when I first discovered bitcoin it got me interested knowing as a student I could make some money on the side with my computer,” Harrap said.

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“From there I taught myself about finance through bitcoin and the internet and tried many bitcoin services. Eventually I thought bitcoin is going to change the world and I have to go do it so I got on a plane to Hong Kong.”

Two years later, Harrap established his start-up, Bitspark. The remittance payment company accepts fiat currency such as Hong Kong dollars for overseas transfers. Bitspark sends bitcoin to a remittance partner who pays the recipient in fiat currency.

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The advantages of using bitcoin are the low transaction fees, compared to more well established money transfer companies, and the rising value of bitcoin. His company turned its first profit this year.

Hong Kong’s start-up scene is growing, but finding qualified people to fill vacancies is proving difficult for technology companies like Bitspark.

With Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor set to deliver her policy address on Wednesday, Harrap hoped the government would not introduce more regulations against financial technology companies, which he felt would hurt innovation.

The universities are not teaching relevant programming languages to students who want to enter the new tech world
George Harrap, Bitcoin entrepreneur

According to the government’s investment promotion agency, InvestHK, there were 1,926 start-ups in Hong Kong last year – a 24 per cent jump from 2015.

The number of staff employed at start-ups also saw a 41 per cent increase to 5,229 people.

In a survey by US human resources consulting firm Robert Half, 92 per cent of chief information officers said it was harder to find qualified IT staff than it was five years ago.

Harrap said the government needed to focus on Hong Kong’s talent shortage if it wanted to turn the city into a technology and innovation centre.

He suggested the government could start with what is taught at universities.

“There are computer science degrees that come out of the local universities. However, the universities are not teaching relevant programming languages to students who want to enter the new tech world. They’re teaching programming languages from 20 years ago,” he said.

He said local students “might graduate from [the University of Hong Kong] with a distinction and all of that kind of stuff but the skills which they have are irrelevant for building a tech business in 2017.”