“Entrepreneurship is the solution to all the world’s problems,” according to Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, who was in Hong Kong today to launch a new program to foster greater start-up talent within the Chinese SAR.
Schmidt’s visit was something of an anti-climax in the end. Media were not invited to ask any questions and what we finally got from the Google man after a half hour delay was less than insightful.
He trotted out the usual argument that more innovation and technical invention will likely gravitate to this part of the world because there is a “numerical advantage” in terms of graduates with degrees in STEM subjects.
Several times he also repeated the notion that “the native underlying Chinese culture is entrepreneurial”.
“We all know this, it’s been true for 1000 years. It’s a great asset of Chinese history,” he said.
The inference here is that the region and its people should be more inclined than most to producing innovative technology start-ups.
However, we heard very little about why that’s simply not happened thus far, in Hong Kong at least, although Schmidt did acknowledge that there wasn’t enough of a VC industry here and that, although entrepreneurial, the locals are also culturally afraid of being “different”.
Google’s announcement today – a program of mentorship and incubation with the Chinese University of Hong Kong – is surely yet another indication that the SAR government has singularly failed to foster the kind of innovation that can start local and grow internationally.
It’s a view I’ve heard time and again – even from successful international technology companies who came to Hong Kong with an impression of a hi-tech city and found instead something much less mature to work with.
The conversations at most local tech conferences I’ve been to are still at a “what is the cloud?” stage. It’s difficult to believe sometimes.
When asked whether Google was thinking of founding a formal incubator project even Schmidt had to admit: “You don’t have a big enough software industry. Your lack of software … will hurt you in terms of your global ambitions.”
The one year project announced today is unlikely to change that much.
We don’t know exactly how much access to Silicon Valley “mentors” and help with start-up costs local entrepreneurs will get as part of the initiative, but at first glance it seems like a pretty good way for Google to cream off some of the best of that limited Hong Kong talent.