Lawmaker Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun’s comparison between the pan-democrats delaying tactics, meaning a new Innovation and Technology Bureau won’t be set up, and Islamic State militants beheading hostages was a bad use of hyperbole.
Yet without her exaggerated comments or the pan-democrat’s usual filibustering, the entire issue would not have generated much attention. Although is has been advertised as the solution to Hong Kong’s extreme dependence on financial sectors, the bureau is not enough to transform the industry.
I would argue that it is quite simply a problem-solution mismatch.
The first problem lies in the lack of platforms to connect established businesses with entrepreneurs. Sky-high rent means unaffordable office spaces for budding startups, while Cyberport, built amid controversies of collusion and favouritism, remains a mockery.
Even Google abandoned plans to construct a data centre in Hong Kong due to difficulty in acquiring space in 2013.
Rather than the government intervening and acting as a wealthy patron who squanders taxpayers’ money, concentrating tech firms in an easily accessible location (e.g. not Pokfulam) and actively promoting the businesses would perhaps be a better form of assistance.
Garage Cafe in Beijing, home to a burgeoning technological scene and offices for 140 young companies, serves as an ideal environment for start-up businesses. It made headlines when it was visited by Lu Wei, minister of the Cyberspace Administration. The space holds regular exchange sessions and lectures from established businesses, and is responsible for fostering multiple success stories where interested investors contributed towards budding companies.
The second obstacle is harder to tackle. Startups are synonymous with risky investments, and being an app developer can be a less reliable career path than a career in finance. While Mark Zuckerberg came up with Facebook while at university, most students would opt for paid internships instead.
Ray Chan, a former Hong Kong University student and founder of 9gag, is one of the few examples of a successful local entrepreneur.
Even in high school, when we are faced with a choice of subjects, ICT is seen as a somewhat obscure choice whose appeal is dwarfed by traditional science and business classes.
Furthermore, lack of emphasis on originality and out-of-the-box thinking hampers the ability to come up with revolutionary ideas, like smartphones or social media.
I find it especially ironic that the same lawmakers who supported the new bureau also advocated for the criminalization of online sharing of copyrighted materials, which many see as essentially stifling creativity and innovativeness.
While it is wise to move away from a traditional economy based primarily on service sectors, a hasty push to establish a new department without thinking of alternatives might not be the solution.