Exclusive Interview with Tony Verb
Seize Greater Bay Area Opportunities
Entrepreneur Tony Verb says he is working to make a reality the regional economic and community integration anticipated under China’s Greater Bay Area policy.
That he stated, involved helping the people in the 11 cities around the South China coastal region that make up the Greater Bay Area – including Hong Kong and Macau – connect to each other in terms of innovation and business culture, and to help the wider world in turn link to them.
“I see the opportunities that inevitably arise from the process of integration of the Greater Bay Area, and I see the excitement in it,” Mr Verb, co-founder and managing partner of Greater Bay Ventures and Advisors, explained in an interview with Innovation Hong Kong.
“What I feel the Hong Kong people have not been offered, is a positive narrative about this integration; and the benefits that can come from it,” he added.
His business is based, he says, on three “pillars” developed with partners: a venture capital firm; an advisory service for business; and a media platform.The venture capital firm is “in the process” of raising the funds, he stated.
“We are looking into urban innovation-related companies. From my point of view, it is much broader than the concept ‘smart cities’.”He added: “If you say ‘smart city’, people maybe think of say a light bulb with a sensor. Under ‘urban innovation’ I think also of media, lifestyle, urban agriculture… any tech that relates to the theme of urbanisation; any technology innovation, service or product that can positively impact the process of urbanisation.”
The advisory service is what he terms an online-based consulting practice.“What we do is partner with people that do have expertise in certain cities about how to run business in the Greater Bay Area and outside it; either to help the companies already located here to go global, or go regional,” Mr Verb explained.
The third pillar of the connecting strategy is what he describes as an “omnichannel media company with multiple layers”.He explained: “One is an exclusive live engagement platform; meaning bringing business leaders, innovators, people; across borders to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the Greater Bay area, and build a sense of togetherness and identity, around the concept of innovation.”
Mr Verb said the company plans to focus on innovators – people in the technology and innovation economy – “because they are the ones that are most progressive and have the mindset that borders do not matter”.“They are the ones that will have an increasingly large influence over the rest of society,” he noted.
Mr Verb says the process to link the 11 cities – which on the mainland side are Guangdong’s provincial capital Guangzhou, the manufacturing and research hub of Shenzhen just across the border from Hong Kong; Zhuhai, next door to Macau; as well as Dongguan, Foshan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen, Huizhou and Zhaoqing – is “unprecedented in history”.
“A total of 66 million people live now in a place where the borders between cities are practically virtual. If you travel from Hong Kong all the way to Guangzhou, you don’t see farmland, you see city. And these people are not yet fully connected,” other than from a supply chain perspective, Mr Verb stated.
He added: “Show me people in other regions around the world that have the sort of authority, the documents guaranteeing free movement; the cultural advantages, the educational advantages; similar to the people of Hong Kong in relation to the integration process in the Greater Bay Area.”
The entrepreneur noted however that there was also “unparalleled challenges” because of the different systems, different languages and different traditions across the cities.“People in countries like mine – I am from Hungary – would love to have opportunities like this,” said Mr Verb. “Hong Kong is my home. I am deeply in love with this city. I obviously don’t maintain the same core attitudes as people born here, but I look at the world and the region through the lens of Hong Kong. I think I am also pragmatic.”
Mr Verb said he hopes Hong Kong people will realise “how insanely lucky they are in this historical process and make the most of it”.“If they do so, they can use it to maintain in the future the special characteristics of Hong Kong,” he stated.
Mr Verb said the “beauty” of the “Hong Kong-China symbiosis” under China’s policy of ‘one country, two systems’ was that Hong Kong had been the “interface for things that were not possible in China”.“Unfortunately in some cases the progressive services and solutions and applications that are in place in China, such as WeChat Pay or mobile payment across the border; the cashless economy, E-commerce, or car hailing and sharing services, are not proliferating in Hong Kong,” he added.