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Can an Elon Musk succeed in Hong Kong?

Last week InvestHongKong held a public forum on entrepreneurship. Among the guest speakers was Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX, who shared his views on the future of new technologies.

Among other things, the legendary entrepreneur predicted that in ten years’ time, self-driving cars will be on the roads around the world.

It is indeed no overstatement to describe Musk as a pioneer and game-changer, because like Steve Jobs, every new invention he made has changed the way of life of the average individual.

For example, PayPal turned out to be instrumental in facilitating the rapid growth of online shopping. Tesla has completely changed the way people view electric vehicles, and SpaceX’s recent successful launch of a new-generation rocket means we are one step closer to sending human beings to Mars.

The key to success of Musk is his passion for innovation and his eagerness to alter the status quo.

Now, can Hong Kong produce a genius like Musk? And what kind of situation must be dealt with if a person like Musk is determined to pursue his dream in Hong Kong?

It is perhaps not difficult to imagine that he might first have to face a lot of lawsuits or even criminal charges since his business model is against our existing law. Moreover, it is also likely that he would be deeply frustrated by government bureaucracy, the rigid mindset of our officials, red tape, and the backlash of vested interests, not to mention that he would probably get a lot of doors slammed in his face when seeking financing.

I haven’t made up these scenarios; they are actually the real difficulties tech start-up founders have to encounter in Hong Kong on a daily basis.

The newly established Innovation and Technology Bureau has set up a HK$2 billion Innovation and Technology Venture Fund to help tech start-ups get off the ground. However, I really doubt whether the fund can truly make a difference in terms of turning our entire business environment into more tech-friendly.

The situation won’t improve unless our top officials as a whole adopt a more receptive mindset to new technologies, think outside the box, break down barriers and get rid of old bureaucratic practices.

The lesson of Uber indeed speaks volumes about how non-receptive our government is to new technologies.

Taking the initiative to understand new technologies and allowing them in daily life applications, adapting the existing law to the new business environment and ditching the rigid and bureaucratic mindset are key to success in promoting new technologies in our city.

These are not something that money can buy. Rather, it requires pro-activeness, determination and long-term commitment on the part of the government. Talk is cheap, what really matters is action.

I sincerely hope that our government will adopt a new mindset in order to deliver on its promise of promoting new technologies in our city.

Otherwise, the entire plan will turn out to be yet another token gesture by the administration — no matter how many times Innovation Secretary Nicholas Yang meets Musk.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 1.

Translation by Alan Lee

Office Of Hon. Charles Mok, Legislative Councillor (IT)