By John Lo, Partner, Corporate, King & Wood–Hong Kong

Hong Kong has a strong venture capital industry and a vibrant capital market, which together afford a much needed financial backdrop for financing growth businesses. This business friendly environment provides funds for start ups as well as exit strategies for more mature companies.

Venture Capital
A strong venture capital presence to provide follow-on financing for post-angel companies is important to the development and growth of angel financing. In this light, Hong Kong is blessed as a key VC hub in Asia, with 294 venture capital firms operating in the territory as of first half of 2008. It has a strong lead in raising funds, raising US$16 billion in 2007 and about US$8 billion in the first half of 2008.

Before the 1990s, Hong Kong did not have much of a venture capital industry. Financing of new businesses relied largely on one’s own savings or pooling of resources from the immediate family members or close friends. In the late 1980s, the first venture capital companies began to emerge in Hong Kong. This marked the first time when newly established companies without self-funding resources were able to seek equity financing from unrelated third parties.

The Internet boom in the late 1990s and the China factor attracted even more foreign venture capital firms to Hong Kong and also spurred the growth of some home-grown VC funds. Today, Hong Kong probably remains the largest VC hub in Asia, having weathered ebbs and flows, including the blow from the dotcom bust and an increasing trend for those VCs focusing on mainland China to locate their operational bases to Beijing or Shanghai.

In terms of size and depth, Hong Kong’s venture capital industry pales compared to Silicon Valley. The industry also has perhaps paid too much attention to later stage companies to the neglect of early stage companies. With more quality angel financed companies coming on scene in Hong Kong, a shift of emphasis hopefully will gradually occur to catch up to the needs of early stage companies.

Capital Markets
For years, Hong Kong has been a significant world-class investment banking center servicing IPOs of local and PRC companies both on its own stock exchange and overseas bourses including the NASDAQ. Since the mid-1990s, we have witnessed a spate of listings on the NASDAQ or the Hong Kong Stock Exchange of PRC focused Internet or technology companies, many of which were managed primarily out of Hong Kong.

The first wave from mid- to late-1990s included the listing of, Sohu, and Netease on the NASDAQ, followed in more recent years by Baidu, C-Trip, Tencent (operator of QQ) and Alibaba, etc. on the NASDAQ or in Hong Kong. These listings provided the ultimate exit for their founders and investors and a road map and prized goal for countless other striving startups and entrepreneurs.