Entrepreneurs looking to build successful start-ups should strive to solve problems in society, which will in turn create value and result in monetisation, according to Alibaba Group Holding executive vice-chairman Joseph Tsai. “Most start-up companies start with a technology or an idea … [and then] search for a problem to solve,” said Tsai, who gave welcoming remarks at Jumpstarter on Thursday, a start-up event organised by the Alibaba Entrepreneurs Fund. “It’s actually exactly the opposite of how you build a long-term, long-lasting sustainable company.” Tsai’s remarks come as Hong Kong’s start-up ecosystem becomes increasingly vibrant. Data from InvestHK, the city’s investment promotion agency, in December showed that there were 2,625 start-ups operating in co-working spaces and incubators in 2018, up 18 per cent from the previous year. These companies employ 9,548 people, a rise of 51 per cent from 2017. “The great companies in the world tried to find problems to solve, whether it’s problems in business, or in society,” Tsai said, adding that Alibaba was founded 20 years ago to help small businesses reach the rest of the world. New York-listed Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post . Will cash boost for Hong Kong Science Park drive real innovation? At the time, small businesses and export companies in China had a problem reaching the rest of the world because the trading sector was dominated by state-owned enterprise, Tsai said. “We wanted to help SME private enterprises use the internet, to level the playing field and allow them to reach overseas markets around the world so they can display their products and information on the internet,” he said. “So we created our mission. to make it easy to do business anywhere.” Alibaba has since expanded from e-commerce to 35 business units, including a cloud computing division, its logistics affiliate Cainiao as well as financial services arm Ant Financial Services. The company, which started in founder Jack Ma’s flat in Hangzhou in 1999, currently has a market capitalisation of about US$394 billion, with Ma having a net worth of US$37.9 billion. “Even though today we have multiple businesses … that single mission [to make it easy to do business anywhere] flows through the entire company and makes it strong,” he said. Tsai advised entrepreneurs to have a mission and live for it, so that they will know what the company should look like. “Mission, vision, values, [these are the] three most important things to think about as you start a business,” he said. In his remarks, Tsai also advised corporations that innovation should come from a bottom-up approach. “Companies don’t innovate, it’s people that innovate, and it’s the young people that are close to the market and close to your customers that will figure out great ideas and innovate,” he said. “Let the young people in the organisations flourish, give them the space and resources to do that.” Separately, a Jumpstarter start-up fund competition attracted 600 applications this year, with 50 per cent coming from outside Hong Kong. The fund has pledged HK$1 billion (US$127 million) to help nurture start-ups in the city.