All you need to know about start up business in Hong Kong

Many of the top listed companies such as Apple, Tesla and Microsoft began as startups. Though starting a startup might be prosperous, 90% fail. What exactly is a startup? How is the startup ecosystem in Hong Kong? Any tips for running a successful startup? Preface has gathered everything you need to know in this article.

What is a Startup?

The term ‘startup’ is obviously one of the hottest business buzzwords. Though people talk about startups all the time, only a few actually understand what it is.

In general, a startup company refers to a newly formed business founded by one or more entrepreneurs. Aiming to bring unique and innovative products or services to the market, many startups are also known as the ‘disruptors’ within their specific industries.

Unlike traditional corporations, startup culture focuses more on the following aspects:

    • Open communication

    • Creative problem-solving

    • Flat hierarchy

    • People-centric

    • Passion driven

    • Flexible working schedule

Hong Kong’s Startup Ecosystem

As a leading financial centre across the globe, Hong Kong is home to nearly 4,000 startups as of 2021. These startups span a wide range of industries, with financial technology (FinTech), e-commerce/ supply chain management/ logistics technology and professional and consultancy services accounting for the lion’s share.

| Industry | Number | Industry | Number | | FinTech | 472 | Food Technology | 44 | | E-commerce | 432 | Retail Technology | 61 | | Professional Services | 399 | Biotechnology | 69 | | IT & Computer | 372 | Green Technology | 104 | | Design | 280 | Smart City | 113 | | Data Analytics | 257 | Entertainment & Gaming | 130 | | Education & Learning | 218 | Social Innovation | 135 | | Hardware | 184 | Robotics Manufacturing | 62 | | Medical & Health | 145 | Others | 216 |

To boost Hong Kong’s startup ecosystem, the Hong Kong government has always been very supportive to small and medium enterprises – apart from integrating an array of entrepreneurship resources, it also provides startups with access to an extensive investor network.

Source: Start Me Up

Successful Startups in Hong Kong

Thanks to Hong Kong’s closely-knit community, some startups have managed to achieve market valuations of over $1 billion and become top listed unicorns. Examples include:

| Startup | Industry | Valuations (USD) | | Platform | | GoGoX | Logistic | $1.5 – $2 Billion | | Lalamove | On-demand Delivery Platform | $30 Billion | | Klook | Travel Activities and Services Booking Platform | Over $1 Billion | | Financial Technology (Virtual Banks) | | WeLab | Democratising Finance | $1.5 – $2 Billion | | Airwallex | Virtual Bank | $2.6 Billion | | TNG | Electronic Wallet | Undisclosed | | Financial Technology (Cryptocurrency) | | BitMEX | Bitcoin Futures and Options Exchange | Over $1 Billion | | AmberGroup | Cryptocurrency Trading Platform | Over $1 Billion | | Animoca Brands | Digital Entertainment | Over $1 Billion | | FTX | Cryptocurrency Exchange | Over $20 Billion |

How to start a business in Hong Kong? (Step by step guide)

1. Business ideas/plan

Organisation is key to success.

At the very first stage of your business, you might have many ideas and strategies waiting to implement. But before getting your hands dirty, you should better begin with writing down your thoughts to avoid being overwhelmed.

Differ from traditional companies, you can keep your business plan lean as startup is all about cost-effective solutions.

A high-level focus business plan should include the following elements:

    • Key partnerships

    • Key activities

    • Key resources

    • Value proposition

    • Customer relationships

    • Customer segments

    • Channels

    • Cost structure

    • Revenue streams

2. Company Registration

Upon completion of the business plan, you might feel more confident and professional.

However, the preparation work doesn’t end here, you still need to obtain your Hong Kong business registration certificate.

Business registration is essential to legal business operations and tax payment, fortunately, the process is straightforward with minimal requirements. If any, you can also hire an agency to file the application for you to make the process even simpler. On average, it only takes 5 to 7 working days to register a new company.

3. Funding

Cash is definitely king for startups. Therefore, funding your business is always one of the first and most vital financial decisions to make.

There are multiple types of startup funding options, such as bank loans, venture capital, angel investors, crowdfunding and more, each suits different business needs. For instance, crowdfunding is ideal for startups at an early-stage with no viable products, whereas bank loans are for people who are looking for more long-term funding options.

To increase chances of getting your startups funded, it is highly recommended to have a presentable business plan ready. This way, you can explain to the lenders exactly what your business is selling, what you plan on charging, how you’ll make money, and many other important factors they might take into account.

4. Building a team

Having the right team in place is crucial to a successful startup. According to Harvard Business Review, 60% of startups fail because of a problematic team.

It is therefore of utmost importance to recruit team members with shared entrepreneurial passion and shared strategic vision, as well as in-depth industry knowledge.

Upon team formation, the next step is to quickly get the new hires involved in the day-to-day running of your business and put your ideas into action.

How are Startups funded?

Startups founders must understand the basic concepts behind fundraising. Basically, there are 4 stages of startup funding:


Self-funding, or boot strapping, is usually the number one source of funding for a new company. Simply put, self-funding means the initial funds to start a business come out of the business owners’ or founders’ pockets.


As the business continues to grow, founders have to look for new sources of funding except for their own savings, that’s when seed-capital comes in handy.

The amount of seed funding typically ranges from $250,000 to $2 million USD. In exchange for an investment, the founder may need to offer certain benefits such as equity and gift.


Venture capital generally comes from well-off investors, investment banks, and other financial institutions.

Since the investments are fairly large, startups better have an established reputation or even a tangible product or service to attract these higher-tier investors.

There are 3 rounds of venture capital financing:

| Round | Requirements | Investment Amount (USD) | | Series A | * You have achieved product-market fit

    • You have a proven revenue model

    • You’re generating $500k to $4M in annual revenue

    • You’ve built your core team | Around $15.7 million | | Series B | * A large customer base

    • A proven and consistent acquisition strategy

    • Solid leadership team

    • The ability to grow 2x year over year (YoY) | Around $40 million | | Series C | * You’ve started to expand internationally

    • You’re nearing profitability

    • You have multiple revenue streams and a diverse revenue model | Around $59 million |

Initial Public Offering (IPO)

An initial public offering (IPO) refers to the process of offering shares of a private corporation to the public, which is a big step for a startup as it provides the company with access to raising far more money.

In a nutshell, an IPO consists of 2 sections, the former is the pre-promoting period and the latter is the first stock sale. After listing on the stock exchange, the company becomes a publicly-traded company and the shares of the firm can be traded freely in the open market.

Source: Finmark, Forbes

Government Funds For Startups in Hong Kong

Supporting Research & Development

1. Entreprise Support Scheme (ESS)

Launched in 2015, ESS aims to provide funding support for local companies to conduct in-house research and development (R&D) work with a view to encouraging the private sector to invest in R&D.

Funding Size:
    • $10 million per approved project

Key Features:
    • Provides on a dollar-for-dollar matching basis

    • Maximum Project Duration: 24 months in general

    • Intellectual Property Rights Ownership: recipient company

    • Recoupment of Government’s Contribution: NOT required

    • Benefit Sharing of Commercialised R&D Results: NOT mandatory

    • Incorporated in Hong Kong under the Companies Ordinance (Cap.622)

    • Registered in Hong Kong under the Business Registration Ordinance (Cap.310)

    • Not a government subvented organisation

    • Not a subsidiary of any government subvented organisation

2. Innovation and Technology Support Programme (ITSP) (Platform & Seed)

Launched in November 1999, ITSP aims to support applied research and development (R&D) projects undertaken by R&D Centres or designated local public research institutes.

Funding Size:
    • Platform Project: At least 10% of the total project cost

    • Seed Project: $2.8 million undertaken by R&D Centres; $1.4 million undertaken by other applicants

Key Features:
    • Support platform R&D projects and seed projects

    • Platform projects– Industry-oriented applied R&D projects with potential for commercialisation– Maximum Project Duration: 24 months

    • Seed projects:– Exploratory and forward-looking in nature– Maximum Project Duration: 18 months– Industry Sponsorship: NOT mandatory

    • Intellectual Property (IP) Rights Ownership: lead applicant


The lead applicant must be an R&D Centre or a designated local public research institute.

3. Research and Development Cash Rebate Scheme (CRS)

Launched in April 2010, CRS aims to encourage more research and development (R&D) investment in the private sector and encourage companies to establish stronger partnerships with local public research institutes.

Funding Size:

40% cash rebate of the companies’ eligible expenditure contributed to ITF projects and Partnership projects as undertaken by designated local public research institutes.

Key Features:

A cash rebate equivalent to 40% of a company’s eligible expenditure in two types of applied R&D projects:

    • R&D projects funded by the Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF) (“ITF projects”)

    • R&D projects funded entirely by companies and conducted in partnership with designated local public research institutes4 (“Partnership projects”)

    • A company incorporated in Hong Kong under the Companies Ordinance (Cap. 622) or an entity registered in Hong Kong under the Business Registration Ordinance (Cap. 310)

    • Not a government subvented organisation

    • Not a subsidiary of any government subvented organisation

Supporting Research & Development

1. Patent Application Grant

A cash rebate equivalent to 40% of a company’s eligible expenditure in two types of applied R&D projects:

    • R&D projects funded by the Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF) (“ITF projects”)

    • R&D projects funded entirely by companies and conducted in partnership with designated local public research institutes4 (“Partnership projects”)

Funding Size:

$250,000 or 90% of the sum of the total direct costs of patent application (including the cost for patent search-cum-technical assessment), whichever is the lower.

Key Features:
    • Individual applicant/company applicant to bear the remaining balance required for the patent application

    • Approval non-transferrable and valid for 3 years from the date of approval of the application

    • Locally Incorporated Companies– The inventor(s) must be directly related party/parties to the applicant company– Not a PAG funded company or related party

    • Individual Applicant– Hong Kong permanent residents or Hong Kong residents permitted to remain in– Hong Kong for not less than 7 years– Have never owned any patents in any countries or territories– Have never received funding under the PAG before

SME Loan Guarantee/ Export Credit Insurance

1. SME Financing Guarantee Scheme

Launched in January 2021, the SME Financing Guarantee Scheme aims to help local small and medium-sized enterprises and non-listed enterprises to obtain financing from participating lenders for business expansion in the rapidly changing market.

Funding Size:
    • 80% Guarantee Product: $18 million

    • 90% Guarantee Product: $8 million

    • Special 100% Loan Guarantee: $6 million or the total amount of wages and rents for 18 months, whichever is lower

Key Features:
    • 80% Guarantee Product– Maximum Guarantee Period: 7 years Maximum Principal Moratorium: 24 months Loan Type: Term Loan, Revolving Credit Facility

    • 90% Guarantee Product– Maximum Guarantee Period: 5 years– Maximum Principal Moratorium: 24 months– Loan Type: Term Loan

    • Special 100% Loan Guarantee– Maximum Guarantee Period: 8 years– Maximum Principal Moratorium: 24 months– Loan Type: Term Loan

    • Registered under the Business Registration Ordinance (Chapter 310) and with substantive ‌business operation in Hong Kong

    • Under the definition of the Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

    • Not an associate of the lender

    • Not carrying on the business of a lender

Pros & Cons of Startups

Differ from well-established companies, working at a startup is another experience. Below table has summarised the most discussed pros and cons of startups, especially in the early stages of launching the business:

| Advantages | Disadvantages | | Agility | Risk of Failure | | Efficiency | Lower Compensation | | Team Culture | Poor Market Access | | Personalisation | Higher Turnover Rate | | Versatility | Lack of Resources | | Flexibility | Unstructured Business Model | | Fun and Laid Back Environment | Stressed Out Easily |

Source: Investopedia


1. Can foreigners start a business in Hong Kong?

With appropriate visas, a foreign entrepreneur has the right to be the individual director and shareholder of a business located in Hong Kong.

Source: BBCIncorp

2. Do startups refer to small-sized companies?

Startups are completely different from small businesses in terms of business growth and revenue.

Startups are very literally created for the purpose of growth, in other words, they are highly focused on top-end revenue and devoted to disrupting the current market or breaking into a whole new market.

Source: Apiumhub

3. What should I consider before working in startups?

Joining a startup can be very tricky given that you might face an uncertain fate. Therefore, you should avoid rushing to a conclusion but take the following things into consideration:

    • What is particularly unique about the company?

    • What does success look like for this role and how will it be measured?

    • What is the company’s revenue growth rate?

    • Who are the major investors in the company?

    • What are the team structures?

    • What are the company’s mission and values?

    • What’s the current growth like?

    • What is the current runway and what are your future funding plans?

Airwallex AmberGroup BitMEX Design E-commerce Fintech FTX GoGoX Hardware Klook Medical & Health Professional Services Startup WeLab 初創 香港初創
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