Is 'ShenKong' the high-tech future combining Hong Kong and Shenzhen? (Photo: Benjamin Joffe)

Is ‘ShenKong’ the high-tech future combining Hong Kong and Shenzhen? (Photo: Benjamin Joffe)

What should Hong Kong be?

The question of the city’s strategy was underlying discussions on fintech, smart cities and the future of health during its week-long StartMeUp Innovation Festival.

Competition from Shenzhen

Hong Kong is generally seen as a place for finance, and Hong Kong’s fintech sector keeps growing despite some uncertainty due to regulations from Beijing. Yet, it is also facing increasing competition from Shenzhen.

Shenzhen’s GDP–$269 billion in 2015–has caught up with Hong Kong’s, which stood at $274 billion in 2013. GDP/capita will follow as Shenzhen’s workforce is transitioning from blue to white collar. The Shenzhen stock exchange–arguably overheated with sky-high price-to-equity ratios–has also become a serious competitor.

Aside from finance, Hong Kong is also seen as a gateway to China. But its time as such may too have passed. Companies who want to enter China today head directly to Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen or other cities.

Again, take Shenzhen, the “Silicon Valley for Hardware.” The city is the home of global technology leaders who could help define the future of the region: DJI (drones), Huawei (telecom) and BGI (genomics) are established champions, and more will grow. A door-to-door commute from Hong Kong Island to Shenzhen is a mere 75 minutes, but in the mind of many it is–like Silicon Valley and Napa Valley–a world apart.

A First Step Towards Synergies?

After years of negotiations, a new plan to develop a tech park has been decided for the ‘Loop,’ the land reclaimed from the river between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Could this help the former become a net innovator with only 7 million people? Should Hong Kong be a facilitator for Mainland and foreign companies to leverage the strength of the combined ecosystems in finance, trade and manufacturing? Could it be a test market and springboard for Chinese innovation? A gateway to the West, perhaps?

The biggest complaints of foreign companies in Shenzhen are regarding visas, the Great Firewall and the lack of “first-world” entertainment. Putting aside whether distractions are beneficial to startups, perhaps the ‘Loop’ could help companies have the best of both worlds. Think about it: a sort of integrated metropolis–call it ShenKong–that blends advanced electronics, finance and healthcare. While the focus on the former two is obvious given the strengths of both cities, the developments happening in the healthtech sector should equally not be ignored.

The Healthiest People On Earth

Places like Thailand, India and South Korea have become popular destinations for medical tourism, but “ShenKong” is uniquely positioned to be a pioneer in next-generation healthcare and health technologies.

At the HealthTechAsia event last week, a representative of Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority gave an overview of the city’s progress on digitization, i.e. going from pen and paper in the ’90s to fully digital. The evolution includes computerized health records and dozens of mobile apps created to help professionals and citizens track conditions, book appointments, and measure efficiency of the whole system. Today, Hong Kong’s healthcare system ranks higher in performance than other developed nations.

Karin Munasinghe, Founder at APAC BioHealth Consulting, introduces HealthTechAsia 2017 (Photo: Benjamin Joffe)

Karin Munasinghe, Founder at APAC BioHealth Consulting, introduces HealthTechAsia 2017 (Photo: Benjamin Joffe)

Optimizing what exists is a first step, and the invited startups and speakers gave a broad view of what is coming next: telemedicine of course, but also genomics, microbiome treatments, robotics, bioprinting and healthtech devices including “wearapeuthics” that could complement or replace various therapies. Even virtual reality can be used to solve various conditions, for instance by re-wiring our brain to not feel “phantom pain.”

The increased expectations of the population and the challenges of aging will require not just optimization, but entirely new ways to deal with healthcare. ShenKong could be a great ‘proving ground’ for advanced health technologies–like select cities in the U.S. and around the world are for self-driving cars. The integration of the research and development ecosystems would help accelerate time-to-market while mainland China could also help lower the costs of clinical trials for new therapies.

Time will tell if ShenKong will give birth to “Gen H”–the healthiest generation on Earth.