Israel continued this week to develop its business and tech relations with the Far East. On Wednesday, the Office of the Chief Scientist at the Israeli Economy Ministry, in tandem with the Innovation and Technology Commission in Hong Kong (ITC), announced the launch of an R&D Cooperation Program to fund joint projects.
Under the joint program, both entities will seek out and match up companies from both locations for the purpose of conducting cooperative projects.
Companies chosen for the program will received funding from either, or both, groups — depending on the project and location. Hong Kong entrepreneurs will receive funding through the ESS (Enterprise Support Scheme) program, managed by the Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF); in Israel, funding will be given by the Office of the Chief Scientist and the program will be managed by the executive branch of the Office of the Chief Scientist, the Israeli Industry Center for Research and Development (MATIMOP).
Although now a part of China, Hong Kong still retains its status as a more accessible (to Westerners) “gateway to the East,” providing entrepreneurs access to the markets of China and other Far Eastern countries in a language — and legal system — they can understand, according to Simon Gaipin, director of investment promotion at InvestHK (Invest Hong Kong).
When the UK officially handed the territory over to China in 1997, the two countries agreed that Hong Kong was to have autonomy in all matters, except for defense and foreign affairs, for at least 50 years — and China has been satisfied to adhere to that arrangement, said Gaipin, because of the territory’s unique role in bridging East and West.
“Hong Kong has been a great engine of investment for Mainland China, providing access to capital that has enabled Beijing to become a world economic power,” Gaipin explained.
For Israeli start-ups — especially those that want to do business in China — that’s good news, he went on. Just as Hong Kong is distinguished from much of the Far East in its political culture and Western leanings, so is it acclaimed as one of the few places in Asia that truly “gets” Israeli start-ups. While Asian countries — including China, Korea, and Japan — have been frustrated by the difficulty of getting a start-up ecosystem going, Hong Kong in recent years has become a mecca for entrepreneurs, said Gaipin.
“Unlike in China and other countries in this region, Hong Kong has a strong entrepreneurial spirit and culture,” the director continued, pointing to the colony’s early history as an outpost of British business and a free-trade zone. “Most of the people who come here, whether from Europe or China, do so because they want to make money, so Hong Kong is more amenable to start-ups than most cities in Asia,” he added.
One thing Hong Kong would like to have more of is tech start-ups — and Israel is a likely place to find some, said Gaipan. InvestHK, as an official government body — it’s a department of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government — is in a position to help Israeli entrepreneurs set up operations in the city.
The organization recently started an accelerator program called StartMeUpHK — the first Israeli companies enrolled last year — and start-ups chosen for the program are entitled to a basket of goodies worth $500,000, including a free trip to Hong Kong, mentorship programs with top Asian business executives, entree into several major tech events in the region, and connections to customers and partners in Hong Kong and China.
The new agreement steps up that cooperation, and will further enhance R&D and business ties, said Nicholas Yang, secretary for innovation and technology representing the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR). At a signing ceremony with Sagi Karni, consul general of the State of Israel in Hong Kong, Yang said that “when the business and technology communities of both Hong Kong and Israel join forces, they will no doubt generate stars that will shine in the global technological landscape. The Hong Kong-Israel R&D Cooperation Program marks a new milestone in our endeavor to forge closer ties in the private sector, creating new opportunities.”
Economy Ministry Chief Scientist Avi Hasson praised the agreement, saying that it will “make it possible to realize the unique technological ideas brought forward by various companies from Hong Kong and Israel. I certainly believe this program will further advance technological ties between the two countries to even higher levels.”