Hong Kong startup hubs expand city’s partnership with Saudi Arabia to forge closer ties a year after John Lee’s visit

By | March 5, 2024

Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks (HKSTP) and Cyberport each signed memoranda of understanding with Saudi King Abdulaziz City on science and technology in Riyadh, a year after Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu attended the Leap technology conference to promote closer ties . between the two markets.

The third annual Leap event is the first to feature a pavilion in Hong Kong, where HKSTP and Cyberport exhibited eight and seven companies respectively.

Biotechnology and other healthcare-related technologies formed an important part of the pavilion as this is an area, along with green technology and construction-related technology, that Hong Kong can most benefit from Saudi Arabia, said Albert Wong Hak-keung, CEO of HKSTP, who sponsored the Post’s trip to Riyadh, said at the event.

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“I really think health tech is a big area, ESG [environmental, social and governance] is a big area, construction is a big area,” Wong said. “Efficiency is a problem, lack of manpower is a big problem… The whole region is trying to transform the economy from oil to other things.”

With the new MOUs, Hong Kong’s leading start-up hubs aim to expand opportunities in their technology sectors through closer collaboration. HKSTP explores opportunities to collaborate on technology platforms and software, and share knowledge on infrastructure development best practices and design standards.

Among the health tech startups at the event were Cornerstone Robotics, which designs robots to assist in surgeries, and GenEditBio, a gene editing company that was on hand to sign an MOU with Saudi company Anwa BioSciences.

On a busy first day at the packed Riyadh Exhibition and Convention Centre, Hong Kong representatives and companies held panel discussions and met with Saudi officials to showcase the city’s technical prowess and the benefits it has to offer.

Abdulrahman Alsufvani, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Governor for Research, Development and Innovation, told Hong Kong Minister of Innovation, Technology and Industry Sun Dong on the sidelines of the event that he looks forward to further cooperation

“We would like to visit the science parks there and hopefully activate in the coming days what we agreed on to build the bridges,” Alsufvani said. “We believe in what you have done. You have successful stories there. We now need to strengthen these companies between the two.”

Sun also noted Post Saudi Arabia’s position as a key partner in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. “We will look at the great opportunities to further improve our national strategies in this aspect,” he said.

In addition to the other three areas of cooperation, Sun said the “Saudi leaders continue to discuss AI with him.”

As with most technology shows this past year, artificial intelligence (AI) took center stage, with seemingly every company eager to talk about how related technology is being implemented into their own products.

Chinese big tech companies also had huge booths on display touting their AI cloud offerings.

Huawei Technologies booth at the Leap conference. Photo: Xinhua alt=Huawei Technologies’ booth at the Leap conference. Photo: Xinhua>

Huawei Technologies and Alibaba Cloud, part of the South China Morning Post owner Alibaba Group Holding, faced companies such as Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services in the main hall. Huawei’s Pangu model took center stage on the stand, and a representative there said the Saudi government was already using Pangu.

Huawei has expanded its cloud offering in the region after setting up a data center in Riyadh in September.

Smaller companies face greater hurdles. Some Hong Kong startups listed, such as speech recognition company Fano Labs, are working on specific types of AI. Another is Geek+, which builds robots for warehouse automation.

However, the main focus was on the three areas Wong mentioned, especially biotechnology. Sun also highlighted Hong Kong’s “strong capacity in biotech research.”

However, the success of the Saudi partnerships can be measured by the types of opportunities that arise from them. The Hong Kong startups were keen to pitch the kind of business opportunities they were looking for in the kingdom. Beyond just investments, the companies want to commercialize their technology, something HKSTP’s Wong said the group was keen to achieve.

“We hope that [the start-ups] can find out what the business opportunities are in this part of the world and maybe even come up with a commercialization plan,” said Wong.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice covering China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP Facebook page Tweet Pages. Copyright © 2024 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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