Meet the Tech Entrepreneur Opening Up the Start-Up Scene
February 1, 2017 | BY Samantha Leese
Joanna Cheung is bringing the spirit of Silicon Valley to Hong Kong
Joanna Cheung (a member of our Generation T list) is the kind of businesswoman who boards a flight to Beijing at a day’s notice, with a category eight typhoon approaching, in order to stay ahead of the storm. She’s visiting a key outpost of her business incubator and co-working space in “China’s Silicon Valley,” Zhongguancun, and the weather isn’t going to slow her down.
She’s also the kind of entrepreneur who sounds like one even when not talking shop. Here she is, for example, on her love of skiing: “I like to capture the different hemispheres and I really try to maximise the time on-slope.”
Joanna is managing director and co-founder of TusPark Global Network (TGN), a joint venture that provides working spaces along with accounting, legal and business registration services to start-ups. The idea grew out of Workground, a co-working space she founded in 2014 in response to a global boom in the collaborative, creative office style that was catching on in Hong Kong.
“It’s a culture that’s changing because of the younger demographic of the working population,” she says. “The cost of starting up your own company has fallen dramatically because of technology, and that has been the propelling force of entrepreneurship.” Running a business isn’t for everyone, however, and Joanna cautions that having an idea is the easy part.
“Execution counts for 99 per cent of the effort. Perseverance is very important and so is timing.”
Earlier this year, Joanna seized “the opportunity of a lifetime” to team up with the Mainland Chinese science park giant TusPark to create TGN. TusPark, which holds a 60 per cent stake, has built and operates around 50 hubs on the mainland and has made some 450 investments in early tech ventures, a number of which have reached IPO stage.
Joanna’s mission is to strengthen ties between Chinese investors and international start-ups, especially those based in Hong Kong, and to help the best of those companies expand on the mainland by providing the space and resources they need to grow. “I wanted to help young entrepreneurs in Hong Kong to understand that the mainland really is not that scary if you have the right partner.”
Her decision to partner with TusPark was motivated by a gap Joanna perceived in a market dominated by expat investors. “I felt like there had to be something China could give,” she says. “You saw a lot of unicorns coming in from North America, like Uber and Airbnb, but you didn’t see a lot of [their Chinese counterparts] like Didi trying to capture Hong Kong. Often, they don’t see a market here because it’s too small and complicated. It was a bold move for us to believe in the value of building a platform to look at investments in Hong Kong from a China point of view.”
It’s worth noting, she adds, that TusPark chose to set up in Hong Kong and not, say, in Macau or Singapore. Hong Kong’s benefits—from its stable financial and legal infrastructure to a cosmopolitan way of life—make the city “a unique super-connector” that attracts and retains talent from all over the world.
While there is a vetting process for specific programmes, anyone can sign up to be a member of TGN. To date, the company has four spaces in Hong Kong and a presence in Beijing, Shanghai and Shekou. The latter, a 40-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong, provides an impressive space for members’ use equipped with 3D printing and high-tech machine tools to fabricate parts, as well as prototyping and manufacturing assistance. Entrepreneurs and small businesses can also make use of affiliate co-working spaces throughout the region, and Joanna has further plans to expand the map through partnerships and new outposts in Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Singapore.
With this drive to keep moving, it’s easy to see why Joanna relishes skiing. You’ll find her on the slopes of Canada’s Whistler resort this season and she’d also like to explore Hakuba, Japan. “It’s an awesome way to not hold your phone,” she says, before joking (or maybe not) that perhaps Siri could read out her emails as she zips along on her skis.
This article was originally published in the January 2017 issue of Hong Kong Tatler.
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