Hong Kong Startup Association Launch @ Barcamp Hong Kong 2008 (Guest Post)

09.16.08 | Category: Breaking News, Power Zen

ValleyZen covers Barcamp Hong Kong“What has happened by chance is often difficult to repeat when it is sought deliberately. Chance is a genius.”
-Katsuki Sekida, Zen Training

This past Saturday, September 6th, marked the second edition of Barcamp Hong Kong. Barcamp began as an un-conference in Palo Alto in 2005. Some bright, enthusiastic, cosmopolitan people have brought the concept to Hong Kong. Yet, I wouldn’t even know of the event, let alone be a participant were it not for Chance.

Chance & Change
I was working on a novel about surveillance, privacy and security set in Hong Kong and Chance led me to get into contact with Shava Nerad, former Executive Director of the Tor Project, through a social networking site (we knew some people in common through my time as a legal intern at EFF). Her kindness led to an introduction to Rebecca MacKinnon, blogger, former CNN Bureau Chief in Beijing and Tokyo, Public Project Lead for the localization of Creative Commons in Hong Kong and Assistant Professor at HKU’s Journalism and Media Studies Centre. I was fortunate enough to study under Professor Lessig while at Stanford Law School and given his connection to Creative Commons and Rebecca’s work, it was not difficult to find enough common ground to arrange an interview.

I met with Rebecca to get information for my book. Instead, through her kindness and her wealth of knowledge, I walked away with a bag of opportunities that would change the course of my life.

Web Wednesday
One of the things Rebecca recommended was an event called Web Wednesday, an event organized in Hong Kong by Napoleon Biggs. Taking place on the first Wednesday of the month, many English-speaking members in Hong Kong’s Internet scene get together to network, listen to a featured speaker and drink too much alcohol. I went with no expectations; my goal was to observe. By the end of the evening though, I met a former employee of the speaker and we began discussing an idea I had for an Internet site. Chance. My newfound partner introduced me to some IT developers who bought into the concept and joined the team two days later. Chance. Shortly thereafter, I met a friend (a lawyer turned entrepreneur) from my former law firm while passing through San Francisco and asked for his feedback about the project. His feedback was that he wanted to join the project. Chance. Just one month after meeting Rebecca to interview her for my novel, I had the core of the team I needed to execute my idea.

Barcamp Hong Kong 2008 and the Hong Kong Startup Association
Barcamps are the epitome of Chance. The content of the conference depends on the skill-sets and interests of those who show up. The first Barcamp in Hong Kong was held in December 2007 at Yahoo HK’s offices. Then, I was simply a participant looking to learn more about the Internet scene here in HK. This year, the event was held in Turner’s offices in Hong Kong and I was not only a participant, but through my company, a sponsor of the event and a presenter.

Since I formed my company, Socialutions, and its Hong Kong subsidiary, I was constantly struck by the sense that a lot of talented Internet entrepreneurs in Hong Kong are re-inventing the wheel in a vacuum instead of sharing their knowledge with other entrepreneurs facing the same challenges. My business partners and I thought that this was a very inefficient and dysfunctional state of affairs and we wanted to create a grassroots organization in Hong Kong that would become a forum for Internet entrepreneurs to share knowledge with each other, learn from experts in various fields and create an infrastructure that would strengthen the ties of Internet entrepreneurs around the world by cooperating with organizations and groups of Internet entrepreneurs in other regions.

With that goal in mind, we founded the Hong Kong Startup Association (HKSUA) and held a panel at this year’s Barcamp to present the community with our idea to see what feedback they might have and what the community wanted the HKSUA to be. Thankfully, the reception was overwhelmingly positive. Many people came up to us afterwards to say that they had been wishing for something like the HKSUA for a long time. Around 200 people attended Barcamp HK 2008 and in the week since the event, HKSUA’s Facebook Group already has 75 members.

The day also featured a variety of other interesting panels, such as discussions about Augmented Reality, Twitter Visualizing Conversations, Convergence of Desktop & Web Applications, Digital Media Television, Mobile Gaming and other fascinating topics. These photos give a good sense of the spirit and nature of the event.

Closing the Circle
I was an undergraduate in my last semester in 1998 when I happened to pick up the school paper and see an ad for the Judicial Administration Fellowship. I decided to apply on a whim because I didn’t know what else to do. I made it past the initial screening and got the last interview slot. Later, I was told that the committee had already made up their mind about the five people they would select for the Fellowship but somehow, I got them to change their mind during my interview, received the Fellowship and was assigned to the AOC’s Technology Policy and Planning Division. It was through that Fellowship that I met Bill Fenwick who was serving on the Judicial Council’s Court Technology Committee.


10 years later and I met Bill again when I was in Silicon Valley pitching for legal representation and he graciously agreed to meet with my business partners and me. Nine months later, in August, I was in San Francisco for a month for meetings and I had lunch with Bill to talk about the state of my company and met Drue for the first time.


Now I’m guest posting for ValleyZen.

Chance comes through once again.

Post by Henry Oh, co-founder of Socialutions, Inc., WikiEnterprise and the Hong Kong Startup Association. Henry holds a J.D. from Stanford Law School, a M.Sc. in Media and Communications Regulation and Policy from the London School of Economics, a B.A. from UCLA and was the recipient of a Fulbright grant. Henry has studied the Internet since 1993, with a focus on privacy, free speech and open source technologies.

15 Comments so far

  1. Drue Kataoka

    @ Henry – Thank you for reporting on BarCamp Hong Kong 2008 LIVE! from Hong Kong for ValleyZen. Congratulations on founding the Hong Kong Startup Association.

    The quote you chose as the theme of your post is apt. Chance can’t be pinned down or controlled. But with the right conditions and timing, the Chance unfolds!

  2. » ValleyZen guest post about HKSUA launch

    [...] wrote a post as a guest blogger on ValleyZen about the launch of the HKSUA. [...]

  3. » Next steps for HKSUA

    [...] to see the HKSUA act as a bridge between HK and Silicon Valley and other regions, please go to the ValleyZen post about the HKSUA and post your thoughts on what it is like being a startup entrepreneur in HK, your frustrations, [...]

  4. Jared Pettinato

    Henry, fantastic. Congratulations on your success with the Hong Kong Startup Association (HKSUA). That’s just brilliant from a social standpoint, a market standpoint, and a society standpoint–and in Hong Kong, too. May chance keep taking you along.

  5. Bill Fenwick

    “What you call “chance” I think of as coincidence, meaning unplanned and un-plan-able simultaneous occurrences that have life changing consequences for those who can approach and observe them with Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.”

    The opportunity of introducing you to Lauren Barley and Professor Noam Wassermanis the result of a chain of coincidences.

    1. Lauren Barley and her husband renting the house next door to me in Palo Alto. Lauren is a bright independent contractor, researcher and writer.

    and is currently doing a research project for Noam. Noam is teaching a course at the Harvard Business School about founders of startups in the Valley and else where and blogs about that and related subjects.

    2. Lauren becoming a good friend is a coincidence of being a neighbor and her son attending the same school as my grandson.

    3. Being interviewed by Lauren was a coincidence of her relationship with Noam and my being in the Valley as part of a law firm that has been involved in high tech startups for many years.

    4. My introduction of you to Lauren and Noam was a coincidence of Drue and I knowing of your being a founder of a number or startups and your effort to create a network potential Hong Kong entrepreneurs and investors to be more entrepreneurial by reducing the cultural and legal barriers through Hong Kong Startup Association HKSUA.

    5. My belief that Noam would be interested in Hong Kong entrepreneurial activity in his case studies of Valley and other start-ups for his seminars and classes at Harvard. Also, Noam is interested in start-ups as the pathway to innovation in the United States and the world as illustrated by his writings, presentations and other information dissemination (see list of publications).

    6. The coincidence of you, Drue and I knowing each other, you have described in your post.

    7. Your having a “Zen Mind” and being an inspiration to all who believe one person can generate enough energy to ignite the hidden potential of a community.

    Especially of interest to Drue and I will be what happens in the future as a result of these many “chances” or “coincidences” and your interests in preparing a post for ValleyZen.com in forming ValleyZen about them.

    Thank you for sharing the excitement of “chance” and Hong Kong.”

  6. Drue Kataoka

    @ Jared – Thanks for your comment on Chance.

    @ Bill – Enjoy your glimpse into the inner workings of the Zen of Chance.

  7. Jonathan Buford

    I was at the BarCamp event, but was unable to attend this presentation. I am involved in a current start-up here in HK, developing a project organization system which we will be rolling out over the next few months into Beta. We are bootstrapping the whole process, but have looked around at the resources available for start-ups and not really found very much available. There are good grants and other government subsidies available for businesses here, but we decided that the strings attached outweighed the benefits in our case. Regarding the legal resources, generally, they are not really familiar with this sort of situation, and would, in that same way, not really be appropriate. Our plan is to get the service up and running in a self-sustaining way, but at the same time would be interested in making contacts with investors that would help to foster the potential that we are developing.

  8. Jill Ho

    Henry, congratulations on everything! And really, you should give yourself a little more credit. I’ve never met anyone who managed to “stumble into” as many cool projects as you always seem have on your plate. Of course, chance has a lot to do with it, but many people wouldn’t have taken the chances you have if opportunity had knocked on their proverbial doors. Hope you continue to keep your door wide open!

  9. Shava Nerad

    Thanks, Henry — I am glad being a catalyst worked out so well! I wonder how the concept of “attention” attributes to good matchmaking in networking, lol!

    I am only volunteering for Tor now, btw, and starting my own company.

    I can’t talk about it much yet, while we are filing the patent, but it’s another polymath project — intersecting entertainment, medical, and marketing sectors.

    I’ll tell you more as soon as I can, but please do keep in touch and say hi to Rebecca for me!


  10. Simon Newstead

    Good to meet at the startup gathering. This is a good initiative and should help startups like myself with the networking and support to help us succeed. Whichever way I can help let me know! Simon

  11. Ken Law

    I attended the HK BarCamp and I was pleasantly surprised by the passion and energy of the participants. They reminded me the days back in Silicon Valley.

    However, BarCamp is hosted only once a year. We need an entity that can consistently direct all these energies to create something useful, and I think that is where the HK Startup Association comes in.

  12. Elma Haskovic

    Congratulations on your startup Henry ! Chance may have something to do with it, but works only if one can connect all the dots and you, my friend, seem to be an expert. Wish you continuing success with the HKSUA !

  13. Henry Oh

    @ Jared – Thanks for always being a friend.

    @ Jill – the Oh-Ho Foundation is on its way.

    @ Bill – your comment is a fascinating backstory. Thank you so much for your friendship during all these years. I’m honored by your words on pt.7.

    @ Shava – thanks for being a catalyst and an inspiration.

    @ Elma – thanks for enlightening me about the lock-picking powers of Balkans.

    @ Drue – much gratitude for being a gentle guide into ValleyZen and for your generosity of spirit.

    I would like to provide a quick update on the progress the Hong Kong Startup Association has made since its launch:

    We have been in touch with Professor Noam Wasserman about possible collaboration opportunities.

    We have nailed down the venue and first official co-sponsor for HKSUA’s first meeting.

    The event will be co-sponsored by the Department of Computer Science, City University of Hong Kong.

    HKSUA’s first meeting will take place at City University of Hong Kong from 1:30 to 3:20pm on Saturday, October 18th!

    And our community and list of potential sponsors continues to grow… :-)

  14. Ameed Taylor

    The HKSUA is a great idea and congratulations to you Henry for starting the group.

    I have been fortunate to have built up a few key relationships and contacts in Hong Kong and would be happy to point the group towards more interested parties and potential sponsors as well.

    Good Luck

  15. Bill Fenwick

    What a pleasure to read the interest and enthusasm the Hong Kong community has in innovation and the power of networks. One observation I will offer is that there is still venture money for great idea and teams. All you need is an expression of interest by one investor to overcome 20 turndowns. Don’t give up. There will be a good market for helpful innovations regardless of whether the “bailout” is approved or not. View the current economic climate as an opportunity not an obstacle.

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