Why Hong Kong can be a gateway for UK tech in APAC

Hong Kong UK tech trade mission Image credit: leungchopan / Shutterstock

Hong Kong has a pro-business administration and well-developed infrastructure that makes it a perfect foothold for UK tech companies not just in China, but in the wider Asia Pacific region. 

Like many British tech founders, my engagement with Hong Kong began in part due to the sophistication of doing business in Asia Pacific. I’ve been travelling to Hong Kong for more than a decade, and actively working there with Hewlett Rand for more than six years, and know from experience the vast untapped opportunity that’s here for UK tech.

That’s why this November, Tech West England Advocates is leading the first-ever Global Tech Advocates trade mission for British businesses to Hong Kong. As part of that, we’re launching the Tech Hong Kong Advocates group and running events to enable British tech founders to make connections and foster deals in one of the most important business markets in the world.

Strategic location

As straightforward as it sounds, geography matters. Hong Kong’s strategic location makes it a perfect place for British businesses to set up, as it allows for access to both China and the other major APAC markets, such as Japan and India. Its time zone means that the working day can comfortably encompass business in Australia and the Middle East. Overlap with London and San Francisco is also possible. 

Across the region, we’re seeing healthy growth trajectories, meaning that Hong Kong can serve as a base for business growth across neighbouring Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. For UK businesses looking at the relative stagnation at home and across Europe, these markets are a key part of creating a truly ‘Global Britain’.

Closer to home, Hong Kong is one of the key cities in China’s Greater Bay Area, with a vast talent pool of 86 million people and a consumer base worth US$1.6tn that is right on the doorstep. While its location delivers access to the wider APAC region, Hong Kong is also being slowly reintegrated into China, opening up access to the world’s largest population and second-largest economy. What’s more, previous barriers for UK companies doing business in China, such as language, regulatory and cultural differences, don’t exist in the same way.

One country, two systems

Hong Kong is a much easier route to the Asia Pacific market, and its pro-business policies are designed to demonstrate to the world that the city is open for business. While the territory is now part of China, the national government is keen to leverage Hong Kong’s international connectivity and as a result, there are still very good incentives for businesses setting up in the region.

This pro-business outlook has led to the IMD World Competitiveness 2023 rankings placing Hong Kong 7th in the best places to do business worldwide.

From a UK founder’s perspective, the Hong Kong business landscape is one of the easiest to navigate, as the British shaped the banking structures, the legal structures and the regulatory structures. Moreover, the tax structure is a simple two-tier system with lower rates than Singapore and the rest of China, creating a favourable business environment.

A knowledge economy

The infrastructure of Hong Kong makes the city a highly attractive place for UK businesses to set up operations. In the city alone, five universities are ranked in the top 65 globally, with numerous other academic institutions in the Greater Bay Area. On top of this large, well-educated white-collar workforce is a large expat community enjoying the high living standards, safety and generous salaries of one the world’s ‘global cities’.

The infrastructure of the city has been developed accordingly, with world-class R&D facilities and research institutes across the city covering sectors including fintech, AI, biomedicine, electronics, smart cities and ecommerce.

The city also has well over a hundred incubators, accelerators and collaboration spaces. The result is a knowledge economy optimised for technology, professional services and finance, and a market that is friendly and welcoming to British businesses.

Building a legacy

Our UK Tech Advocates trade mission has been timed to coincide with the StartmeupHK festival, giving our tech founders access to an even greater networking opportunity as businesses across the region come together to celebrate the city’s innovation ecosystem. 

As the first major UK tech delegation to travel to Hong Kong since the Covid pandemic, we are looking at this as an opportunity to open a trade corridor between the markets and leave a legacy well beyond a handful of meetings.

By creating the Tech Hong Kong Advocates group, we are setting the scene for a return delegation in the near future, and by running our own events on the ground, we are ensuring that our British tech businesses get real exposure to investors, partners and other collaborators.

Hong Kong is perfectly set up to be a gateway to the entire APAC region for British tech businesses, but we must be proactive in seeking these global opportunities out.

Richard Lowe is the MD of Hewlett Rand and founder of Tech West England Advocates.