18 Oct 2016
As Chairman of Hong Kong’s Commission on Youth, Lau Ming Wai advises the government on issues relating to the city’s young population, gathering information and opinion through engagement and outreach. The Chairman and CEO of Chinese Estates Holdings Ltd says that he wants to help connect young people to opportunities and resources that will help realise their fullest potential. And as head of the commission, Mr Lau, who attended the HKTDC Entrepreneur Day in May, says he’s committed to promoting young entrepreneurship.
What struck you most during your visit to the HKTDC Entrepreneur Day?
In talking to young entrepreneurs at Entrepreneur Day, I was deeply impressed by their enthusiasm and creativity. This type of event is very meaningful in that it incorporates exhibitions, seminars and networking activities and offers the latest start-up opportunities and support services to potential and newly minted entrepreneurs.
How would you describe Hong Kong’s entrepreneurial environment?
Hong Kong’s entrepreneurial ethos is becoming increasingly vibrant and the related industries have become diversified, ranging from Fintech and microbreweries to opening a shop in a mall. There are entrepreneurs from all levels of society and they are very creative.
The media often times portray a rosy picture, but this is not the only scenario of entrepreneurship. I went to a local craft-beer workshop to get practical training with a group of young people. We were covered in dust and it was not a pretty sight but they were passionate and innovative, and stories like this should get more attention.
What should young people consider first before jumping into entrepreneurship?
There are many risks and uncertainties and no sure-win formula to starting a new business and this has been the case for many decades. Nowadays, if a young person tells me that he or she wants to start a business, I would ask, why? The motivation behind every entrepreneur will directly affect the chance of success. Some young people have told me that they want to be the boss and do not want to work for somebody else. If that is your only reason, it is totally wrong and I would not suggest that you start your own business.
For a business to succeed, it should target a product or service that is either lacking or not up to standard. Take for example, the company Diamond Cab, which provides point-to-point transportation service for wheelchair users. Its founder noticed that while there were many vans offering such a service, their safety and sanitary conditions were left wanting. It was by spotting a niche in the market that the founder decided to start the business.
Do you believe that young people should first acquire a certain amount of work experience before starting a business?
The success of a start-up very much depends on having a business mindset. Holding a job in the workplace would help improve communication skills and planning capability and, specifically, provide experience in convincing other people. Except for technology-led enterprises, acquiring a certain amount of work experience before embarking on setting up a new business would help increase the chance of success.
How effective are start-up funding schemes?
Several organisations in Hong Kong offer start-up funding schemes, but some of them are specific to certain sectors, such as design and technology, so some business sectors are not covered. That is why the Home Affairs Bureau and the Commission on Youth recently launched the Youth Development Fund, which operates in the form of a matching fund to work with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to help young people start their own business. It also supports NGOs in organising innovative youth development projects not currently covered.
In Hong Kong there are many NGOs, such as various chambers of commerce, that are endowed with funds and rich business experience. The key is how we can bring relevant resources to the grassroots and link them up to tap society’s potential to the fullest extent possible.
What are your thoughts on tapping so called “hot” industries, for instance, AR technology?
It is not a very good strategy to turn something trendy into a business opportunity. Take Pokemon Go as an example, which actually involves a multitude of technologies that are not easily mastered by everyone and the related AR technology has already gone very far. Instead of blindly going after fads such as AR and Fintech, entrepreneurs should tap opportunities in industries that they are familiar with. They shouldn’t just look at the glamour of starting a business; they should also look at the downside. Entrepreneurs should also consider how they should deal with competition or when copycats appear. In addition to passion, start-ups also call for long-term planning.
What advice do you have for young people interested in starting their own business?
In the course of starting a business, many young people will stumble and the majority will go bust within three years. Whether or not you should start a business depends entirely on individual circumstances. Say, if you have a stable job and you’re expecting a child, would you be willing to undertake financial risk? Also, due to the changing economic structure, youths the world over are without doubt seeing less upward mobility opportunities. But one should never regard starting a business as a shortcut to becoming upwardly mobile because the failure rate is high. Nevertheless, if you have not started a family or you have a relatively light family burden, or in other words, you can afford to lose and you also enjoy the process of starting up a business, I believe you will have something to gain whether or not you eventually succeed.
Also, because the Hong Kong market is so small, entrepreneurs must possess a global perspective and understand the business environment in various places. I am referring to having an intimate knowledge of the business environment in different places, such as the cultural differences in running factories in Vietnam and Indonesia. It is only by stepping out of Hong Kong to the world arena that you can make your business sustainable.