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Milestone: VC legend backs HK biotech startup

Hong Kong has won acclaim over the years for its kung-fu movies, excellent dining, spectacular skyline and free economy. 

But never for its technology.

So today may eventually be regarded as a modest milestone in its path to becoming a technology hub. It's probably fair to say few Hong Kong citizens are aware that that is a path they are on. In fact, governments over the past 15 years have built science parks and incubators and tipped in growing amounts of R&D cash.

Today's news is that a local startup, Vitargent, has taken on Taiwan-American VC firm W.I. Harper as an investor for an undisclosed amount.

That may sound modest in the extreme, but Harper chairman Peter Liu has enormous cred in the tech investment community. In a career that goes back to 1983 in Taiwan and 1992 in China, his successes include Singapore's Creative Technologies, the inventor of the PC soundcard, and video software firm Divx. Currently, he is an early stage investor in apps search firm Quixey, which has attracted investment from Alibaba and Softbank that values it at $600m. 

Vitargent's back story isn't as long but it's impressive. An incubatee at the Hong  Kong Science Park, it uses fish embryo to test for toxins way more effectively than anyone else. Traditional tests can identify five to ten toxins; it can test for 1,000 (that's transgenic medaka, or Japanese rice fish, glowing fluorescent green, above).

The company has sold its product to international cosmetics and food companies, and according to Liu another major deal is in the pipeline. It has won a brace of awards: The Clinton Global Initiative, the Lee Kwan Yew Global Business Competition, the HSBC Young Entrepreneur Awards. the Hong Kong Awards for Industries.

Vitargent founder Eric Chen says since word leaked of the Harper investment he's had investors beating a path to his door. Although that sounds like startup hyperbole, VCs are herd animals and that's exactly how they behave. The biggest impact from this could be to put Hong Kong finally on the tech investment map.


Here comes 5G

The 5G genie has finally escaped from the bottle. After the first day of MWC  I wrote this piece about  the relatively restrained advocacy for 5G radio access technologies. For the record, among the big four vendors, only two actually have a candidate technology: Alcatel-Lucent's UF-OFDM and Huawei's SCMA/F-OFDM combo. Ericsson and Nokia are weighing their options.


Within hours a proliferation of groups emerged to stake out their 5G territory (no, I'm not suggesting a causal connection). Heavy Reading analyst Gabriel Brown points out the emergence of these different interests is no bad thing:


It's good if you're an operator or a vendor to have done work before you go into standardisation because then you come armed with something useful to contribute,” Brown says. “The standardisation progress will go better if there has been proprietary work.”


The 5G process will take up a lot of industry air time over the next five years. It's a tight timetable. NTT DoCoMo wants a commercial-ready network for the 2020 Olympics and the Koreans are keen to have at least a demo system for the 2018 Winter Games.


But Takehiro Nakamura, MD of the NTT DoCoMo 5G Lab, worries that countries outside northeast Asia don't have the same sense of urgency. They have “a very relaxed schedule – 2021, 2023 even as late as 2025.”


Plus he thinks the lack of a rival technology might itself be a hindrance. “Competitiveness is important to promote systems development and system enhancement,” he said, citing 3GPP vs. 3GPP2 and LTE vs. Wimax. “Thanks to that competition, we developed our new system very quickly. Everybody could focus on the same direction.”

That said, there is, following the stunning success of LTE, a widely-expressed sentiment that the industry get to agreement on 5G. 

But with aspirations to  support a thousand-fold increase in both throughput and the number of connections, and to accommodate low-latency, low-demand connecitivity IoT as well as high-speed millimetre wave while also integrating LTE and Wi-Fi, 5G is not short on ambition.



Huawei's Ren Zhengfei greets the world: 'I'm not mysterious'

In his first appearance in a public forum in the west, Huawei boss Ren Zhengfei denies he is mysterious, but also describes himself as knowing nothing about technology or finance. The 70-year-old CEO said his biggest challenge was coping with Huawei’s fast growth, and gave a graphic illustration of his demanding management style.

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ZTE: New branding, same prospects

Corporate rebranding is an easy target for snark, and ZTE isn’t helping by declaring ‘cool, green and open’ are its new corporate values. But with its nearest rivals said to be contemplating a merger, it's worth asking whether a minnow like ZTE has a future at all.

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Innovating the city

You could make a case for the elevator being responsible for the modern world. It has certainly enabled the modern city. But for Elisha Otis' 'safety elevator', we'd still be living in three-storey walkups and urban areas would be vastly smaller.

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