Hong Kong builds itself into a hub of creativity, innovation

PASSIONATE, creative, unique” — these are the three words that fashion designer Jessica Lau, 33, used to describe young creatives in Hong Kong, which celebrates the 20th anniversary of its return to China today.

Her studio is located in PMQ, formerly the Hollywood Road Police Married Quarters in the heart of Central, which is now a huge tourist draw. The government turned the historical building into a complex of shops and studios that opened in 2014 to support local designers and young entrepreneurs.

Hong Kong has a reputation as a world-class center for finance, shipping and logistics. The metropolis is emerging as a capital of creativity and innovation.

Lau is among the 100 or so designers with shops or studios in PMQ. Lau and Walter Kong co-founded BLIND by JW in 2012, with a pop-up shop and a boutique opened in the next few years. They applied for a space in PMQ earlier this year and got accepted. “This place is really nice. We often exchange ideas with other designers and make improvements together,” says Lau.

Tenants of PMQ pay only half of the market rent, and they can receive training courses on customer service, overseas business development and funding, according to PMQ management.

In April, PMQ led a team of Hong Kong-based designers to the Ontime Show in Shanghai, including BLIND by JW. Speaking of her future plans, Lau says: “There are no restrictions. I will grab opportunities whenever there is one.”

“The exchanges between young people from Hong Kong and those from the mainland have entered a new phase,” says Johnny Ng, chairman of Hong Kong United Youth Association and an entrepreneur himself.

Two decades ago, when Hong Kong had just returned to China from the British rule, most young people did not understand Mandarin, including himself, says Ng.

Work with mainland

Now young people from Hong Kong not only seek business opportunities in the mainland, they start business together with their mainland friends, Ng says.

Ng’s own story offers an example of deepened cooperation between entrepreneurs from Hong Kong and the mainland.

He went to Beijing in 2004 — the first post doctorate student from Hong Kong that ever studied at Tsinghua University, and met professionals who supported his company Titanium Group, which specialized in facial recognition systems.

He suggested that other Hong Kong entrepreneurs should go there, too. “With policy, capital and platforms all improving, entrepreneurship in Beijing and Shanghai has entered a golden age,” he says.

He adds that young people from Hong Kong can play an important role in building the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area and in the Belt and Road Initiative as well.

The government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region set up its Innovation and Technology Bureau in 2015 aiming to develop Hong Kong into an innovation hub. In the first year that followed, the number of start-ups in Hong Kong grew 24 percent to 1,926. By the end of 2016, Hong Kong had 48 maker spaces, a substantial increase from only 5 of them in 2015.

Less than one-hour drive from the bustling city center, Hong Kong Science Park in Sha Tin District is home to some prominent research teams and laboratories.

Fanny Law, chair of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks (HKSTP), says Hong Kong does not lack talent, but it needs to create more jobs for them. To support young innovators, the HKSAR government has rolled out a series of policies “in areas ranging from RD, promotion, to market application,” Law says.

According to Law, the Science Park’s facilities are a major advantage, and save the startups money. Besides, sharing lab facilities increases exchange of ideas among different teams, she added.

The HKSTP has inked cooperation agreements with four maker spaces or incubators in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Shenzhen, she says, hoping these partnerships to further exchanges between innovators from Hong Kong and those from the mainland.