The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem
Long acknowledged as one of the most business-friendly places in the world, Hong Kong has in recent years invested heavily in attracting tech-based, scalable enterprises — the Silicon Valley-style businesses most people associate with the word “startup.”
Helped along by Hong Kong’s strategic location, well-educated population, enviable infrastructure and diverse international community, Hong Kong’s startup ecosystem has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years.
The Global Innovation Index 2020 report named Hong Kong the third most innovative economy in Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania, and first worldwide in market sophistication. The report also identified Hong Kong-Shenzhen-Guangzhou as the world’s number-two science and technology cluster.
The number of startups in Hong Kong nearly tripled from 2014 to 2019, accompanied by a proliferation of accelerators, incubators and coworking spaces — the catalysts of innovation. These include corporate accelerators, government incubators, programs run by venture capital funds and university programs (which are usually limited to students and alumni).
The Global Innovation Index 2020 report named Hong Kong the third most innovative economy in Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania, and first worldwide in market sophistication.
Entrepreneurs outside the tech sector — manufacturers, design startups, and other SMEs — can access support from government-sponsored bodies such as the Hong Kong Productivity Council, Hong Kong Design Council, and Hong Kong Trade Development Council, as well as associations for entrepreneurs and business leaders.
Resources for All Startups and Entrepreneurs
Regardless of the type of business you’re creating — tech, service, lifestyle, manufacturing — here are organizations and networks that can help you on your entrepreneurial journey.
Chambers of Commerce
National Chambers of Commerce in Hong Kong are a great place to start networking and meeting members of the local business community, and usually have special interest committees for areas like innovation and technology or SMEs and startups. For a list of active chambers in Hong Kong, see Arrive > Getting Settled > Joining a Network.
The Entrepreneurs Club
Unlike many of the associations and organizations listed below, The Entrepreneurs Club focuses on assisting established and evolving entrepreneurial businesses, not startups. Accordingly, their events and speakers focus on topics like going global and upscaling, as well as getting funding, valuation and planning an exit strategy.
The Entrepreneurs’ Network (TEN)
TEN is a nonprofit association that organizes monthly events where entrepreneurs can network and learn from each other.
Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC)
The Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) was established in 1966 to provide opportunities for Hong Kong companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Offering a variety of business-enabling services, HKTDC promotes trade of Hong Kong-produced goods and services worldwide, explores markets for Hong Kong startups and SMEs and connects them with business partners around the world.
HKTDC’s support for startups includes Start-up Express, a pitch contest and entrepreneurship development program; startup zones at HKTDC trade fairs; and an annual Entrepreneur Day.
Created by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the HKSS is a resource-sharing platform for successful startup founders and cofounders. It’s open by invitation only to founders whose companies have been in business for three or more years, with USD$1 million or above annual revenue or funds raised.
StartmeupHK, an initiative of InvestHK, is the place to begin for overseas startup founders looking to establish a presence in Hong Kong. Whether you’re looking to start from scratch or expand existing operations into Hong Kong, StartmeupHK has a comprehensive website and a team that will help connect you to the startup community in Hong Kong. Their signature event is the annual StartmeupHK Festival (see Events below).
The Hong Kong chapter of global organization Startup Grind features successful entrepreneurs, investors, and other members of the startup community at its live talks.
Claiming to be Hong Kong’s largest startup community and “power connector,” WHub organizes hackathons, workshops and seminars aimed at connecting corporates to startups. WHub also helps companies recruit talent via an online job posting board and tech and startup job fairs.
Funding and Investor Networks
Created by the team behind startup community WHub, AngelHub is the first equity crowdfunding platform to be licensed by Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC). Companies go through a rigorous vetting process in order to have their fundraising campaign added to the platform, with AngelHub taking a flat-rate cut from successful campaigns. Professional investors (as defined by the SFC) are eligible to invest small amounts of capital in exchange for an equity stake.
Venture Investor Alliance of Hong Kong
This friendly organization is oriented toward connecting young founders of tech-based or innovative companies with venture and angel investors, who provide advice and potentially funding.
For additional investor networks and a list of venture capital funds, please visit StartmeupHK and the HK Startup Society.
Design-centered startups can access help from the following sources.
Hong Kong Design Centre (HKDC)
The HKDC is a publicly-funded agency whose mission is promoting design in Hong Kong. In addition to their incubation programs for fledgling fashion brands and design startups (see below), they also run contests and events to celebrate design excellence and cultivate design entrepreneurship in Hong Kong.
The Mills Fabrica
The Mills Fabrica is the innovation arm of The Mills, the landmark revitalization project in Tsuen Wan, New Territories. The Mills Fabrica runs a 12-month-long incubator program for startups operating at the intersection of technology and style (“techstyle”). Having recently expanded to London, the program now offers cross-border benefits and exposure to participants.
Design Incubation Programme
Organized by HKDC, this two-year government-funded incubator offers financial assistance, office space, mentorship and business training to early-stage design startups.
Fashion Incubation Programme
Designer brands selected for the HKDC’s two-year Fashion Incubation Programme have access to studio space, funding, marketing support, and entrepreneurship training.
Manufacturing, Goods and Supply Chain Innovation
Startups and established companies seeking to solve supply chain, productivity and manufacturing problems can check out the following resources.
This corporate innovation hub works with incubators and accelerators across Hong Kong and the GBA to boost startups focused on disrupting global supply chains and sustainability.
Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC)
The Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC) promotes productivity excellence among Hong Kong enterprises. HKPC’s headquarters in Kowloon Tong features various advanced manufacturing and testing facilities, including a makerspace and coworking space. It also operates three wholly owned subsidiaries in Dongguan and Shenzhen to serve Hong Kong’s manufacturers in the Greater Bay Area.
This ten-month accelerator organized by the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (see below) serves mid-cap corporates and small and medium enterprises with major manufacturing operations. Its aim is to encourage corporate innovation — i.e., getting established companies to boost growth through adopting novel practices and technology. The program includes briefings on technology trends and networking with local and international tech ventures to find innovative solutions to manufacturing challenges.
Hong Kong has funding opportunities and accelerator/incubator programs for tech-driven startups at all stages.
CoCoon is more than just its coworking space in Tin Hau; it’s a hub for tech entrepreneurs in Hong Kong. It offers pitch nights, a partnership program with Google for hardware startups, an online community, a job listings site, and a venture capital fund, Cocoon Ignite Ventures, that provides funding for early-stage entrepreneurs.
Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP)
HKSTP manages the Science Park research and innovation hub in New Territories. Their offerings include TecONE, a one-stop information and support center for SMEs; the TechnoPreneur Partnership Programme, promoting resource-sharing and networking between key players in the startup community; and the Global Acceleration Academy (GAA), connecting tech innovators with corporate partners.
Hong Kong Startup Founder 101
This meetup group hosts free events to connect aspiring and experienced tech entrepreneurs and educate new founders on the best practices of starting a company.
Incubators and Accelerators
Betatron, founded by several of Hong Kong’s leading venture capital firms, has an intensive four-month acceleration program that helps startups grow and prepares them for large institutional funding rounds. They concentrate on technology-driven companies across all industries with a scalable business model and an international reach.
Cyberport Creative Micro Fund
Cyberport’s pre-incubation fund offers grants of HK$100,000 for participants with ideas for high-potential digital tech startups. Participants are expected to set up limited companies in Hong Kong and produce proof of concepts and prototypes over a six-month period.
Cyberport Incubation Programme (CIP)
Digital tech-related companies with a product or service that will be ready to go to market in 12 to 18 months can apply to the two-year-long Cyberport Incubation Programme, which provides up to HK$500,000 in funding and free working space at the Cyberport business park in Pok Fu Lam. They have three intakes a year.
Cyberport incubatees and alumni also have exclusive access to additional Cyberport funding schemes. An accelerator support program offers financial aid for companies to attend Cyberport-approved accelerator programs (both inside and outside of Hong Kong), while the market development support scheme provides funding to help companies develop their markets outside of Hong Kong.
Eureka Nova was created by Hong Kong property developer New World Group to incubate and accelerate tech startups offering business solutions. Their most recent cohort focused on smart retail. Eureka Nova’s programs include Impact Kommons, a two-month accelerator for sustainable development startups, and Mizuho Crowd Brain, a B2B accelerator in partnership with Japanese bank Mizuho.
FinTech Innovation Lab Asia-Pacific
Sponsored by Accenture, this competitive 10-week program is open to early- to growth-stage fintech companies with an alpha or beta product. Benefits include mentoring, workshops, complimentary coworking space in Cyberport and networking opportunities with financial institutions, including a demo day at the end of the program. Unlike many accelerators, the program does not take equity from participants.
Incu-App, Incu-Tech and Incu-Bio
HKSTP runs three multiyear-long incubator programs, for companies working on applications of existing technology (Incu-App), deep tech research (Incu-Tech) or biomedical technology (Incu-Bio). Benefits include funding support and rental subsidies for office space at Science Park or InnoCentre (HKSTP’s coworking space in Kowloon), as well as account management, technical, and business support.
Science and Technology Entrepreneur Programme (STEP)
For tech-focused entrepreneurs who aren’t quite ready to apply to Incu-App and its sister programs, HKSTP also runs a one-year idea-validation program. Participants in this pre-incubation program receive HK$100,000 in seed funding, learn fundamental startup skills like pitching investors and business modeling and have access to coworking space.
Funding and Investor Networks
Hong Kong Business Angel Network (HKBAN)
HKBAN is a joint collaboration between several Hong Kong universities and organizations, including HKSTP and Cyberport, to connect tech entrepreneurs to angel investors at bimonthly gatherings. HKBAN’s investment matching gatherings are open to HKSTP incubatees and tenants, university startups, and startups belonging to one of the HKBAN partner organizations.
Cyberport Macro Fund
Cyberport’s co-investment fund is open to Cyberport incubatees and program graduates as well as Cyberport and Smart-Space tenants. Applicants must be scalable digital tech companies with operations based in Hong Kong, and can receive between HK$1 million and HK$20 million.
The corporate venture fund of HKSTP works with private co-investors to support early-stage tech startups across a variety of sectors.
For additional investor networks and a list of venture capital funds, please visit StartmeupHK and the HK Startup Society.
Women wanting to start a business in Hong Kong will find themselves in good company: in 2019 Hong Kong came in 15th out of 58 countries on the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs.
Over 45 percent of the entrepreneurs in Hong Kong are women, according to a global entrepreneurship report published in 2015 by international banking group BNP Paribas.
One key factor smoothing the path for female entrepreneurs in Hong Kong: the availability and affordability of live-in domestic help. Thanks to the Hong Kong government’s policy allowing the importation en masse of foreign domestic workers, having a live-in “helper” (usually from the Philippines or Indonesia) is the norm for expatriate families — especially those with younger children. For many expatriate women, having someone at home to assist with childcare and other household duties makes it possible to pursue business and career opportunities that wouldn’t be feasible in their home countries.
This networking and professional group for women is run by the American Women’s Association (AWA). All women are welcome at their events, which include professional workshops, seminars, and networking meetups.
Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide
Operating in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Singapore, Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide hosts an annual Female Entrepreneurs Day conference and offers networking and skills training opportunities.
Hong Kong Association of Business and Professional Women (BPW)
This association, founded in 2015, advocates for women’s issues, undertakes community initiatives to empower women and girls, and promotes members’ professional and career development. BPW Hong Kong is an affiliate of BPW International, founded in Geneva in 1930.
Hong Kong Momtrepreneurs
This nonprofit strives to support entrepreneurs who are also mothers, with an emphasis on reaching women of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds. They host themed coffee meetups and organize workshops and fellowship programs to teach hard and soft skills relating to motherhood and entrepreneurship.
Founded by a former PwC consultant, Next Chapter offers a crowdfunding site where female founders can raise money for their ventures. Next Chapter also has a digital community whereby members pay a monthly or annual fee in exchange for access to investment experts and investors- and entrepreneurs-in-residence.
The Women Entrepreneurs Network (WEN)
An outgrowth of The Women’s Foundation, the Women Entrepreneurs Network helps female entrepreneurs to scale up their businesses through workshops, networking, and “circle” sessions on themes like business technology or human resources management. WEN’s signature circle events are conducted in small groups to encourage participants to share and seek advice in an intimate atmosphere.
For-profit and social enterprises are both welcome. WEN’s business directory is also a helpful resource for anyone looking for women-owned businesses.
Women of Influence Committee (AmCham)
AmCham’s Women of Influence (WOI) Committee promotes professional women’s leadership and aims for gender parity in the workplace in Hong Kong and Greater China. Their signature public-facing event is the annual Women of Influence Awards and Conference, which in 2020 had more than 250 virtual attendees from all over the world. Many other chambers also have women-centric committees, like AustCham’s Women in Business Network and BritCham’s Women in Business Committee.
Startup founders, entrepreneurs, and those interested in plugging into Hong Kong’s thriving innovation scene should mark their calendars with the following events.
Hong Kong FinTech Week
Hong Kong FinTech Week, featuring hundreds of speakers and networking opportunities, is held annually in late October/early November. (The 2020 event was conducted entirely online.)
HKTDC Entrepreneur Day
The Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s Entrepreneur Day includes two days of seminars and exhibitors spread out over three zones.
Organized by StartmeupHK and its parent organization, InvestHK, the StartmeupHK Festival is a week of events connecting Hong Kong’s startups to each other and to the world. It’s also a showcase for Hong Kong’s thriving startup ecosystem, with key accelerators and power connectors partnering with StartmeupHK to host their own events and conferences during the festival week.
While most tech conferences focus on startup success stories, the daylong Postmortem Conference (now in its sixth year) examines what entrepreneurs can learn from failed ventures.