Science Park transforming into innovation ecosystem

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Access to affordable housing is one of the key fundamentals in Hong Kong's ability to attract and retain global R&D talent, says Science Park chief Albert Wong as he unveils latest expansion plan

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 November, 2017, 10:58am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 November, 2017, 10:58am

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As part of continuous efforts to foster the development of innovation and technology (I&T) ecosystem, Hong Kong Science Park, the city’s incubation hub for innovative start-ups, is planning to build a multi-storey tower or what it calls “InnoCell”  to provide at least 500 residential units with flexible floorplans and amenities to attract local and global talent.

“Not only will InnoCell be desirable housing for entrepreneurs, overseas or mainland staff employed by our tenants and incubatees, as well as visiting scientists and researchers, it will also help promote a genuine sense of community, combining workspaces, labs, meeting facilities, homes, and ease of access to a top-notch university, to create a convenient, fulfilling lifestyle for the Science Park members,” said Albert Wong Hak-keung, chief executive officer of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP).

It is estimated that the InnoCell project will benefit the companies in the Science Park by attracting talent from the mainland or overseas, retaining existing ones, and creating direct and indirect employment opportunities, ultimately generating wider economic benefits to Hong Kong, according to a consultancy study commissioned by HKSTP.

Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation is a statutory body established in 2001 with a public mission to facilitate the establishment and the nurturing of a world-class technology community dedicated to applied research and development (R&D) in Hong Kong, and to strengthen Hong Kong's position as a regional technology hub by promoting innovation, technology development and commercialisation of five technology clusters, namely electronics, information technology and telecommunications, precision engineering, biotechnology, and green technology.

Tony Yung, co-founder and chief executive officer of Sanomics Limited, one of the biomedical technology start-ups located at Hong Kong Science Park, which provides blood-based genomic testing services for cancer patients and their doctors, admitted that the local talent pool alone is not sufficient to support scientific research projects.

“It’s very difficult to hire enough local specialists in genomic testing. From time to time we need to look abroad for talent. However, even if some suitable candidates really consider Hong Kong as a place to go to, its high-density, crowded living conditions, coupled with high rental costs, often deter them from relocating to the city,” he said.

For innovative start-ups like Sanomics, housing affordable to them but considered to be acceptable in terms of size and location by expatriate professionals is far from enough, Yung said.

“If there’s some sort of affordable yet quality housing within the Science Park compound, I believe it will help transform it into a self-sustaining innovation ecosystem, in which like-minded entrepreneurs, scientists and professionals can meet and inspire one another any time they like.”

If gauged by ease of doing business or tax rates, Hong Kong is among the world’s top business cities, according to a PwC report. But judging by quality of life, which the report says plays a fundamental role in a city’s ability to attract and retain global talent, London, Paris, Singapore and New York score much higher than Hong Kong on liveability.

Haris Begovic, a native Bosnian, is among those sought-after specialists in the biomedical technology field preferring Hong Kong to Europe or Singapore to pursue their career.

Trained as a clinician, he is currently working at Science Park as clinical advisor to Rehab-Robotics Company Limited, which specialises in the design and development of robotic rehabilitation system, as well as a Post-Doc Fellow at the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

“Besides career advancement, research opportunities, working environment and remuneration, one important fringe benefit that overseas talent look for is whether accommodation is provided by the employer,” he said. “The ability to attract top talent is crucial to our company’s and Hong Kong's competitiveness. Providing housing for them is imperative.”

Besides the iconic Science Park compound, HKSTP also has a portfolio of managed Industrial Estates located in Tai Po, Tseung Kwan O and Yuen Long.

A surrendered site in Tai Po Industrial Estate HKSTP owns is now being retrofitted as Precision Manufacturing Centre, which is earmarked as a smart production base to attract high value-added industries for prototyping and advanced to trial production, according to Wong.

With an aim to promote “re-industrialisation” to foster revitalisation, modernisation and growth, the building is purpose-built for tenants in the areas of healthcare and biomedical, electronics and optical, precision engineering and assembly, as well as specialised manufacturing and advanced materials, preferably those nurtured by Science Park and are now ready to take off.

“We received an overwhelming response from applicants when it was open for application in July. After a stringent evaluation process, all floors in the multi-storey building have been pre-leased to well qualified tenants, including a promising firm, which was once a Science Park incubatee during its infant stage, that manufactures synthetic, lab-grown diamonds,” Wong added.

After moving tenants into the Science Park Phase Three development, HKSTP has embarked on the Stage One Expansion Programme as it seeks to increase the Park’s capacity to accommodate more start-ups spinning off from local universities and international research institutes. 

Under the expansion programme, two purpose-built office buildings of fourteen and fifteen storeys are to be added on a 1.18-hectare site west of Science Park Phase Three. A further floorspace of 74,000 square metres, or 22 per cent more office space, will come on stream when the development is completed in 2020, according to HKSTP.

As a testing ground for Hong Kong’s smart city vision, both the existing and future facilities will continue to be outfitted with smart technologies, such as security access control, robotic customer services and delivery, virtual reception, car-park navigation, VR- and AR-based educational tour, and so on.