Greater Bay Area a 'breeding ground' for unicorns

Veteran businessman Jonathan Choi Koon-shum talks to China Daily during an interview. - China Daily

HONG KONG (China Daily/Asia News Network): The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area is abuzz with a whole bunch of enterprising, risk-taking and savvy young blood, presenting an enticing narrative of the region with an innovative tone, a down-to-earth articulation and a daring figure of speech.

Knowledge-based innovations have blossomed in the Greater Bay Area, many by young Hong Kong entrepreneurs who refuse to be mediocre, and want to think out of the box and seek a proper place to incubate their ideas.

They’ve finally settled for the region, taken off and even become unicorns, observes Jonathan Choi Koon-shum, chairman of Sunwah Group, a Hong Kong-based diversified conglomerate.

Choi knows it well because he’s also chairman of the Guangdong-HK-Macao Bay Area Entrepreneur Union.

A raft of new startups have sprung up in the Greater Bay Area, especially in Shenzhen — the city hailed as “China’s Silicon Valley” — amid the social digital economy transformation in China and the world, he notes.

Cloud computing, e-commerce and other digital innovative technologies enjoy a high representation in terms of the startups’ expertise. Their decision to set up a base in the Greater Bay Area mirrors their interest and faith in the region, as well as the support of the Hong Kong and the Guangdong authorities.

“I’ve seen startups at Hong Kong Science and Technology Park and Cyberport setting up bases in the Greater Bay Area, and Hong Kong universities with establishments in the GBA closely working them (entrepreneurs),” Choi adds.

Not only has the entrepreneurial momentum gone up, the whole climate of entrepreneurship has changed dramatically, where a reciprocal relationship among startups, governments and institutions have come a long way.

“Many young entrepreneurs are keen to work together with the government and academic institutions in Shenzhen,” says Choi, calling it a leap forward.

The entrepreneurial fervour in the Greater Bay Area prompted Choi to revamp the entrepreneur union’s management. He decided to absorb more young successful entrepreneurs to take the driver’s seat.

“When the union started in 2017, we reached out to well-established businessmen from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland to be our members. But then, we realised that the situation in the Greater Bay Area had been changing, with many emerging entrepreneurs, specialising in a wide range of areas, coming up.

"We need to invite these budding youths to work with us. Among them is Chen Ning, chief executive of Intellifusion, a unicorn company in artificial intelligence, who is now our executive vice-chairman of the GBA unit.”

Two years ago, the union held its first competition, “Outstanding Young Entrepreneurs in the GBA”, and awarded 78 overachievers for “Best Startup”, “Best Science and Technology Innovation”, “Best Business Service”, “Best Social Responsibility” and “Best Cultural Innovation”. This year, the event attracted nearly 700 applicants.

Apart from introducing the prize winners to different partners and government departments to forge collaboration, the union also helps those intending to expand their businesses overseas to succeed.

In this respect, Hong Kong has a vital role to play. “For example, some companies based in Shenzhen were interested in Vietnam as they were eager to diversify their distribution networks due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“So we connected them with Hong Kong companies that have established ties with Vietnam. These links have enabled them to go global much easier.”

Why is Hong Kong such a widely coveted place for companies to jump from the Greater Bay Area to South-East Asian countries or the other way round? In Choi’s view, it’s due to the SAR’s long-standing involvement in both the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Greater Bay Area.

“Hong Kong has been working closely with the GBA cities for over 40 years (since China’s reform and opening-up), and more than 50 years with Asean members states,” he explains, implying that the overlapping engagement in the two regions justifies Hong Kong’s unique role in communicating with foreign countries.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership — a trade agreement among Asean and its free trade partners — has provided Hong Kong’s irreplaceable position with much relief. Describing Hong Kong’s role as that of a “chief information officer”, Choi explains: “First, we’re both a connector and investor. As an international financial center, we invest in business ventures established here. We’re also an operator, managing many factories and public facilities in the Greater Bay Area.”

Choi is upbeat about the region’s prospects and the RCEP banking on Hong Kong as the springboard to reap dividends through collaboration in trade, investment and the provision of services.

Hong Kong’s bustling manufacturing industry is now history, replaced by a robust modern service industry that accounts for up to 90 per cent of the city’s gross domestic product. As a core pillar industry in the Greater Bay Area, the modern service sector relies heavily on international involvement to maximize its influence and benefits. This is where Hong Kong comes into play, says Choi.

But, Hong Kong isn’t only at the giving end. The city has benefited in return from its “CIO” role.

“If you look at Hong Kong’s capital market, 60 per cent comes from the Chinese mainland,” as traditional companies in Shenzhen or other GBA cities come to Hong Kong in droves to go public. Onshore and offshore trading between the mainland and RCEP countries is complete through Hong Kong, during which “our container terminal and transportation services also benefit considerably”.

In trade transactions, Hong Kong’s strong legal and dispute resolution, as well as management consulting services, are much needed, says Choi. Talent flow also helps Hong Kong to increase its ranks of elites.

The message Choi is trying to get across is crystal clear and encouraging – linking up with Hong Kong promises easy access to the RCEP countries and a shortcut to the world, where tantalising opportunities are ready to be unlocked.

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Hong Kong , Greater Bay , unicorns , startups


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