Hong Kong Tech Is New York Tech In Asia

Hong Kong is by far my favorite APAC city. Its environment, culture, and lifestyle are one of a kind. “It’s like a real-life Blade Runner,” a longtime expat resident said to me on my most recent trip. Hong Kong is the true concrete jungle where the tops of towering skyscrapers contrast the lush green tropical foliage. The very tops of these buildings line up with the bases of nearby mountain-straddling high-rises precarious and spectacular in their positioning. Hong Kong is a place where roads transform from flatland to barely walkable elevations around every corner and where luxurious yachts are juxtaposed with ancient junk boats you expect to see in old paintings and steampunk fan art.

Hong Kong is a futuristic city clinging to the past. A towering building with a massive mall representing all the biggest brands will be greeted by a waft of pungent dried fish outside, roads are often contested by next-gen vehicles and dilapidated double-decker trams, and the culture is a power balance of Western imperialism, Cantonese traditionalism, and Chinese nationalism. These ‘isms’ cultivate a complex amalgamation of unrest and opportunity that drives the city forward in multiple directions at once. Every design comes with the latest social features built in. Readers can easily share posts on social networks like Facebook and Twitter and view how many people have liked a post, made comments and more.

As the third largest financial capital of the world, Hong Kong is a lightning rod for economic development and trade, partially due to its position as a gateway into mainland China, the next frontier for technological development. Being a 10-minute bullet train ride away from Shenzhen makes Hong Kong a perfect landing pad for foreign companies who are looking for the familiarity of western litigation, regulation, and privacy but benefit from being within close range of 20% of the world’s population. Not to mention being part of The Greater Bay initiative which is developing a seamless channel of opportunity and access to the 70 million person population of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Macao, Zhuhai, Guangzhou, and many other surrounding mainland cities.

Population in each city of the Greater Bay area

As this was my first business-focused trip to Hong Kong, I had the opportunity to explore the tech ecosystem in this fascinating international city. What I found was a very similar culture to that of New York City, one that relies heavily on relationships, multi-industry buy-in, and diverse foreigner integration. Their sector focuses are similar to New York (a lot of hyphen-tech) and their lifestyle is one of breakneck pace and caffeine-infused double-ended candle burning. The lights of the city blaze indefinitely and the streets are rarely empty. Hong Kong has even copied New York City naming with their own Soho, Upper East, Gramercy, and other districts. Although Hong Kong is in no way a mirror of New York City, its tech scene feels like the other side of a coin.

SOHO in Hong Kong

While Hong Kong’s tech scene has a similar vibe to New York City, it does not hold the same kind of influence and prestige as the big apple and other top tech hubs. It doesn’t make it on most of the top lists and its economic output, although formidable, falls short in many ways. However, what Hong Kong does have, is the only port into China that operates (relatively) independent from China’s policy and control. This fact alone makes Hong Kong one of the most important cities of tomorrow and certainly one I will return to frequently.

On the other hand, as China’s governance slowly creeps into Hong Kong over the next 30 years, it is hard to say what will happen first, rapid technological advancement, or independence erasure. Many people I spoke to believe China benefits from the “One China, Two Systems” model and will continue to promote them as such but the differences between Shenzhen and Hong Kong are stark and, in some ways, discordant. The gradual linking will indefinitely bring about change. For example, in Shenzhen people looked at me weird when I tried to pay with cash, but in Hong Kong, I was still dropping coins into slots. And when I tried to use Mandarin in Hong Kong four years ago, Hong Kongese people would shake their heads and respond in English, now Mandarin and Cantonese chatter fills the air equally. As the two regions blend together through ease of new bridges and speed-rails, the differences will slowly dissipate. It makes me wonder if the positive influence of Shenzhen can change Hong Kong for the better without the worse. While only time will tell, I have no doubt Hong Kong will continue to rise with the tide of China’s development and grow in prominence as a gateway to their interconnected future.

View of Hong Kong-Shenzhen border

I’d like to specially thank all the folks we connected with during our trip including SpringBoard, Whub, Next Chapter, Betatron, Nest, Eureka Nova, Tencent Westart, Brinc, Rise, Tuspark, HKSTP, Cyberport, Metta, Click Ventures, Nordic Innovation house, InvestHK, The Hive, Naked Hub, Shadow Factory, Sino-ocean Group, Startup Launch Pad, HKSSG, and KYT.

If you are interested in connecting with Hong Kong’s startup ecosystem, please do reach out to me. I am happy to put you in touch with relevant groups where possible. You can also learn more about Hong Kong tech by downloading Whub’s Hong Kong Startup Ecosystem White Paper, a much more comprehensive guide than my limited insight.

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