EDITORIAL – The forest for the trees

Macau Business Editorial | November 2021 | By José Carlos Matias – Director

At the end of October, Macau hosted two worthy events which shone a spotlight on innovation and youth entrepreneurship and rekindled Macau’s key Sino-Lusophone link. At the “928 Challenge” – the first competition for university start-ups to be held among the Portuguese-speaking countries and China – and the “Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition (Macao) for Technology Enterprises from Brazil and Portugal” a whiff of hope, inspiration and return to normalcy hung in the air. Young startuppers and students trotted out solutions and business models that put the environment, public health and sustainability centre stage.

Against the background of prevailing low spirits arising from the COVID-19 conundrum we find ourselves in, events like these serve as a reminder we must look beyond the present need to extinguish the pandemic-induced economic fire. The point: Macau should aim to develop an ecosystem truly attractive to start-ups. The 2016 Startup Macau Forum was a step in the right direction, as were the Macao Young Entrepreneur Incubation Centre, the Macau Envision Accelerator, 10 Fantasia – A Creative Industries Incubator, the Macau Start-up Club and the Macao-Hengqin Youth Entrepreneurship Valley (Inno Valley HQ), alongside other initiatives. Still more must be done.

Macau cannot afford to be left behind, found wanting in terms of the skilled manpower required to fuel the new economy. Remember: cosmopolitan, creative cities are destined to succeed.

A bolder, more sustained and open-minded strategy, one with real consequences, will need to be embraced if we are to nurture a vibrant start-up hub in the city and make the most of future ties with the newly launched Guangdong-Macao In-depth Cooperation Zone in Hengqin, as well as the Greater Bay Area regional market. The overall direction is rightly and wisely addressed in both the Hengqin Master Plan and the SAR’s new Five-Year Plan, which is under consultation. Concrete policies along with market conditions – domestically and externally – will determine the success of an innovation-driven dynamic. The ability to attract top talent and events is requisite to creating a virtuous cycle of modernization and establishing a startup ecosystem. 

Competitions, startup weekends and tech fairs will keep momentum going. Next month’s inaugural edition of Macau’s BEYONDInternational Innovation Expo could pave the way for a new generation of innovation and tech-themed events. In addition to government support, private venture capital and angel investors play a key role in the success of a startup ecosystem.

There are a number of obstacles, however, impeding the city’s climb up the innovation ladder, from ineffective public policies to the short-sighted, rent-seeking mindset still prevalent among local traditional elites. Moving forward, this should give way to a more free-thinking, inclusive and less risk-averse critical mass. An open and welcoming spirit is indeed the key. 

While addressing the dire needs of the local economy and society at this critical juncture, we mustn’t downplay the importance of building and retaining human capital and broadcasting a sense of hope and vision for the future. 

Over the last couple of years, many highly skilled imported professionals have left the city. The human landscape is changing and – while other countries and regions stay a step ahead with preparations for the post-Covid world economy – Macau cannot afford to be left behind, found wanting in terms of the skilled manpower required to fuel the new economy. Remember: cosmopolitan, creative cities are destined to succeed. 

If we remain stuck in this challenging pandemic loop, we risk failing to see the forest for the trees. Shall we take a step back and take the longer view?