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IT / Telecom

Help at hand for business start-ups

by Melinda Earsdon

Brian Lo, assistant commissioner, innovation and technology, The Innovation and Technology Commission

Today's knowledge-based economy demands stellar levels of innovation to stay ahead of the competition

Over the past few years, the Hong Kong Government has committed a significant amount of time, effort and money to encouraging the development of technology, particularly in the areas of infrastructure, human capital and funding. Their initiatives have been designed to encourage creative thinking and broaden the territory's economic activities.

"Coming up with innovative ideas for new technology is not science, it is a creative process, and a sound infrastructure is essential in developing assets and helping Hong Kong companies flourish. The Innovation and Technology Commission (ITC) recognises this and has built several centres that cater to these needs," says Mr Brian Lo, assistant commissioner for innovation and technology.

The Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation offers comprehensive, one-stop support for technology-based companies, including an incubation programme that nurtures start-ups. Its first Science Park opened in June, 2002 and is a cluster-style development providing premises and services for applied research and development in electronics, information technology and telecommunications, biotechnology and precision engineering.

Operational since 2001, the publicly-funded Applied Science and Technology Research Institute (ASTRI) carries out relevant, high-quality research and development that can be transferred to industry for commercial production, thereby stimulating industrial growth. ASTRI's research programmes have initially focused on photonics technologies, integrated circuit design, wireless communications, Internet applications, and biotechnology.

The ITC also supported the establishment of the Hong Kong Design Centre to provide a focal point for the promotion of design as a value-added tool, raising design standards and the profile of Hong Kong as the region's creative hub. "This has assisted with the integration of design into mainstream business processes and helped industry move up the value chain," says Mr Lo.

Developing human capital

Success in a knowledge-based economy depends heavily on the quality of human resources. To this end, the ITC assists in the implementation of the New Technology Training Scheme, which provides financial assistance to companies that want to have staff trained in new technology which will benefit their business either locally or overseas. The scheme also promotes a culture of lifelong learning among the workforce.

Funding schemes

Of course, technological development doesn't come cheap, and funding for new projects is always difficult to come by. To help, the Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF) was set up in November 1999, with the aim of adding value and competitiveness to our economic activities. The fund offers four main programmes, each developed to assist industry in a specific way. Support is given to university research and development and to stimulate private sector projects. It assists technology entrepreneurs with commercially-viable business ideas by providing seed money for start-ups and aims to encourage local companies and inventors to capitalise on their intellectual work through patent registration.

Since its inception, a total of 1,703 applications for funding have been received. Of these, 409 have been approved, distributing $1164.6 million under four programmes. "A wide range of new technology has already been developed as a direct result of these ITF funding programmes, and they have provided an innovative boost to several local industries including the IT sector, electronics and foundation industries," say Mr Lo.

Looking to the future

The initiatives instigated by the ITC have already made an impressive impact on the local economy, but they are by no means finished. According to Mr Lo, they are committed to continuing support of innovation and technology as an economic engine and promoting not only university-industry collaboration in research and development but also in private sector investment. Not content with concentrating on Hong Kong, through CEPA they aim to extend their efforts to the mainland, enabling businesses to tap into the scientific capabilities and technological opportunities China presents.



Taken from Career Times 29 August 2003

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