Young Hong Kong and Chinese mainland entrepreneurs have struck the right note by teaming up and leveraging their strengths to succeed in business. Ao Yulu and Zeng Xinlan report from Hong Kong.

It was all about business and the prospect of finding the right entrepreneurial partner.

When Vince Poon and Arthur Chen met up in a coffee shop in Shenzhen, it was a lively two-way discussion with a lot of give-and-take. Both were convinced they had found the right person in each other, and decided to give the idea of starting a logistics software business a go.

“We speak the same language although my Mandarin may not be up to the mark. It was the first time we had met. I proposed getting the business off the ground and Arthur was on the same page,” recalled Poon, co-founder and CEO of Hong Kong-based ZhenHub Technologies.

“We really got excited about it. We talked for hours. I was already in the business and his (Poon’s) ideas were very similar to mine. So, it was almost an instant decision,” said Chen, who’s chief technology officer of the cloud-based logistics operating system provider.

Poon, who’s from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and Chen, from Shenzhen, are among a growing number of entrepreneurs who’ve been actively seeking partners from either side of the border in pursuing their business dreams. They believe that, by taking advantage of their respective strengths, they could create a “one-plus-one is greater than two” result.

The trend has become more evident as interaction between young people in Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland grows, greatly increasing their understanding of each other and laying a solid foundation for cooperation.

Jackal Xu Zhenda (left), co-founder and CEO of Zero Dynamic Technology, and Rex Ma Chun-hung, co-founder and chief operating officer of the company. After meeting on Cyberport’s GBA Young Entrepreneurship Program, the CEO with a mainland-background and the COO of Hong Kong origin are combining the mainland and Hong Kong’s respective strengths for screening adolescent scoliosis. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

“Such joint-venture collaboration is becoming popular and we’re delighted to see that,” said Ian Chan Chi-hang, chief corporate development officer of Hong Kong Cyberport Management Co.

So far, about 70 enterprises incubated at Cyberport — a sprawling project launched by the HKSAR government to breed homegrown technology companies — have expanded into the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, with more than 80 offices across cities in the area, according to Cyberport, which began operations in 2004.

“With team members from both Hong Kong and the mainland, startups can have a better and more comprehensive understanding of the business model, laws and regulations, as well as the market operations on both sides,” said Chan.

ZhenHub’s cloud-based e-commerce platform provides clients with an overview of inventory, orders and shipments globally by cooperating with 18 warehouses worldwide. It helps companies, including manufacturers in mainland cities in the Greater Bay Area, to export their products to overseas markets.

Poon said the Greater Bay Area has plenty to offer entrepreneurs, including an established infrastructure and supportive policies from the HKSAR and mainland authorities.

Hong Kong’s tax regime benefits manufacturers on the mainland, and Hong Kong is a free port that can help many companies, he said, adding that Hong Kong International Airport strengthens reliability with international flights.

Calvin Zhang Jiangang (left), a graduate from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Richard So Hau-yue, an associate dean of engineering at HKUST, showcase the intelligent hearing aid and related devices they developed. The mainland student and his Hong Kong professor founded Incus, a tech startup that provides brain-inspired noise reduction hearing aids, to commercialize their research outcomes. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Encouraging environment

Jackal Xu Zhenda had thought of setting up his own business for years. It wasn’t until he saw a significant change in Hong Kong’s entrepreneurial environment that he began putting the idea into practice.

“It’s obvious — the environment for startups in Hong Kong has improved considerably since 2019,” said Xu, co-founder and CEO of Zero Dynamic Technology, a health tech startup founded last year to detect and improve teenagers’ posture, and conditions such as scoliosis — a sideways curvature of the spine — through its digital tracking system.

Xu studied electronic science and technology both in Hong Kong and on the mainland. He’s currently a doctorate student in computing at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. “I had been planning to start the business since 2019, but Hong Kong’s environment for startups was relatively conservative at that time. Many people were reluctant to go into business and unwilling to take the risk,” he said.

However, the business environment has changed remarkably since then as the HKSAR government introduced various measures and allocated large capital and resources to create a favorable climate for startups. 

Hong Kong and mainland students teaming up in business will create a complementary effect as they excel in different aspects, said Xu. “Many mainland students are strong in engineering, while Hong Kong students are full of ideas. Combining them will create good products.”

Rex Ma Chun-hung, co-founder and chief operating officer of the company, began his entrepreneurial journey while studying business administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “I noted the Cyberport GBA Young Entrepreneurship Program and I wanted to make some friends and explore good business opportunities. It was there that we (Xu and I) first met. For a young business project, we need venture capital to turn the idea into a product. Cyberport helped with it. I think it’s very accommodating,” said Ma.

The idea of starting the company was ignited by Xu’s personal experience. “While in college, I noticed I had bow legs and I spent a lot of time trying to correct it. I searched for information on Google and Baidu, but the answers were all different. I ended up missing the best window for treatment,” he said. “The rate of adolescent scoliosis on the mainland is high, and while there’s a universal screening program in Hong Kong, there’s none on the mainland.”

Xu believes the mainland will undoubtedly set up the system. “I did lots of research and started creating products later. Everyone in the team thought positively of this product — it has its social value.”

Guo Song, also a co-founder and technology consultant of the tech firm, and a professor at the department of computing of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said, “We all find such collaboration very valuable, and I think it’s crucial that you bring together a whole range of talented people into your team to help you succeed.”

The company’s team members joined the Cyberport program in 2019 and graduated in August 2020. It now has about 20 full-time and part-time members and two offices in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. The company has teamed up with more than 10 hospitals and rehabilitation centers on the mainland, most of which are based in Greater Bay Area cities, including Guangzhou and Shenzhen, where the company’s products are used in the diagnosis and treatment of spinal problems among teenagers, said Xu.

“Spinal problem awareness is high in the Greater Bay Area. In fact, scoliosis screening is widespread in the area. So, we’ve an advantage in promoting (our products) in this area because people are more likely to accept the screening and rehabilitation products. That’s why we’re placing greater emphasis on the region,” he said.

Rex Ma Chun-hung (in white gown) examines a boy’s spine at a scoliosis screening charity event in 2021. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Multitiered collaboration

Xu hopes to deepen cooperation between Hong Kong, which boasts a world-class medical system, and mainland cities in the Greater Bay Area that have strong innovation capacity. “Hong Kong is a world leader in the healthcare sector, whose endorsement will be very handy in making us known to other places. The Greater Bay Area is really great. It can fully bring together mainland and Hong Kong talents. Together, they can produce a lot of sparks,” said Xu, while urging young people to make use of the supportive policies and market advantages in Hong Kong and mainland cities in the area.

Chan from Cyberport said Hong Kong’s complementary strengths can be seen in three areas — innovation and technology financing, a business-friendly environment, and international prestige. “Hong Kong’s financial system is in line with international standards, with a flexible and smooth flow of capital. Its service industries can respond quickly to the needs of global markets and facilitate financing,” he explained.

The HKSAR’s simple tax system, coupled with all-round and mature protection of intellectual property and regulations, also help to build a good environment for business, he said, adding that Hong Kong currently ranks third globally in terms of the ease of doing business and remains an ideal destination for technology startups and companies.

“As an international hub, Hong Kong can be a springboard to help mainland enterprises in the Greater Bay Area go global and expand to Asian and other markets, while providing a base for overseas companies to enter the mainland,” said Chan.

Shenzhen-based drone maker DJI’s success story of turning itself from a startup into the world’s largest market player in the industry within a few years has put collaboration between Hong Kong students and their university mentors under the spotlight. DJI founder Wang Tao developed his first drone in the lab of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, where he was pursuing his postgraduate studies. He then started his business in Shenzhen, with mentor Li Zexiang offering him support in funding and human resources.

Incus — a technology startup that provides hearing aid solutions — is one of the companies on the path of such a cooperative mode. The company was co-founded by Professor Richard So Hau-yue, associate dean of engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and his student, Calvin Zhang Jiangang.

So, who collaborates with his student research assistants at two laboratories in Shenzhen and Hong Kong, has been trying to find a better way of identifying background noise from human voices and seeking technological solutions to noise reduction. Zhang helps to commercialize So’s research, leveraging the mainland’s manufacturing advantages. “For a startup, the two biggest challenges are money and talents,” said Zhang.

He explained that when a company is short of capital, it could mean the end. “Thus, we always pay close attention to capital. Without money, you can’t do anything and, without suitable team members, you can’t do things well.”

Zhang said collaboration between Hong Kong and the mainland would give his company more choices in seeking talent. “Shenzhen has abundant talents, especially in engineering, while Hong Kong has excellent higher education institutions to nurture potential technology practitioners. So, what we need to do is to make good use of them.”

“Hong Kong is an international city where talents from across the world gather. A team with people from diverse cultural backgrounds would create more innovative and creative ideas,” said So.

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