A wave of tech innovation is sweeping across Hong Kong. To start a successful business in the sector, one needs to develop a keen market sense and a solid foundation of technological knowledge. On top of that, one also needs the courage to let go of others’ expectations and embrace uncertainty when facing a dilemma. This is the observation drawn from the experience of VTC alumnus Ron Tam Hoi-kit. After graduating with a higher diploma in Computer Systems Administration from IVE, he furthered his studies in a university. However, a year later, between continuing his studies and dropping out to start his own business, Ron resolutely chose the latter. He then co-founded Applied Technology Group Limited with his classmates from IVE. Over the past seven years, they led a team to develop and run Hong Kong’s first digital healthcare management platform known as ClinicOne, which serves the local private healthcare sector such as large-scale healthcare groups, hospitals and clinics, providing users with one-stop online services ranging from appointments and video consultations to insurance claims. Ron was grateful that he seized the opportunity to be his own boss. To those novice players in the innovation and technology industry who are ready to take up the challenges of entrepreneurship, he encouraged them to stand firm in their beliefs, go with the flow and work towards their goals.
Affinity for tech: laying the foundation
Ron found great interest in technologies early in life. As a secondary school student, he learnt to write codes and make web pages. After smartphone hit the market for the first time in 2007, smartphone apps also became popular. Ron was obsessed with them and wanted to play a part in app development. He took the first HKDSE exam in 2012, but he was not accepted by any university. That being said, he found a gateway to his dream at IVE where he enrolled in the Higher Diploma in Computer Systems Administration. The programme covers a lot of ground in the computer world, ranging from programming and cloud technology, to big data and network security. “The myriad of courses laid a solid foundation upon which my career took off. Such exposure also helped me make informed decision as of which specialisation I wanted to focus on.”
Making a name for himself: internships and competitions
During his IVE years, Ron was very eager to learn and equally keen on signing up for internships and competitions. In the process, he managed to build his personal network and broaden his horizons which turned out to pave the way for his entrepreneurial journey. In the first year at IVE, he was assigned to be an intern at a start-up in Hong Kong Science Park for two months, in charge of online orders of customised postcards. Till this day, he still remembers vividly the moment he set foot in the Park for the first time – it felt very unreal for him to have met all these tech people whom he admired. Right then, he was determined to build a team for the research and development of innovative, applicable technologies and products that benefit the society.
With the encouragement of his teacher, Ron partook in numerous tech contests in his last year at IVE. Even his grad project was entered for a competition. His team took on a difficult challenge to create a number of useful smartphone apps by gathering public data from the government. One of such apps was based on restaurant information from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. It listed every restaurant in town and specified whether it had acquired the required licenses, such as certificates of compliance with fire safety requirements and liquor licenses, for the public to look up easily. The app won the Best Student Invention Gold Award (College and Undergraduates) at the Hong Kong ICT Awards 2014.
To Ron, participating in a competition is a form of training. His team learnt a lot in the process as they prepared for a competition – from conception and writing codes, to showing and presenting their work to the judges. They got to apply the knowledge they acquired in IVE, learnt to cooperate as a team, and also made connections with fellow tech workers. “The tech community isn’t very big in Hong Kong. By signing up for competitions, we had chances to meet with other experienced workers in the sector. By sharing and exchanging ideas, we can keep on making progress.”
No regrets: dropping out to start a venture
Ron graduated from IVE with flying colours and numerous accolades under his belt. He was accepted by the University of Hong Kong into the second year of the Bachelor’s programme in Computer Science. However, a year later, he chose to drop out and start his own business. “It was because programmers were highly sought after in the market. After I was admitted to the university, I spent most time freelancing and writing codes for various clients. I considered myself getting a foot in the door as a practising programmer already.” Meanwhile, he learned that a healthcare group was interested to digitalise their services as he also got invited to be a partner in a start-up. That’s how he became a co-founder of the company. He seized the opportunity to develop a cloud-based healthcare and medical management platform.
To Ron, that was a golden opportunity that was hard to come by. But he also faced the dilemma between education and career – in order to launch his business, he had to give up his studies and devote himself wholeheartedly to his start-up. He honestly admitted that the most difficult bit of it all was to explain his decision to his family who had high hopes for his university education. After two months of consideration, he finally decided to quit school. “I thought to myself, I’m going to start my own business anyway no matter I have a degree or not. What I have in front of me is a chance of a lifetime. I may never come across something as good if I miss it. But the university will always be there and I always have chances to go back to school again in future. If I insisted on finishing my university education first, I’d have to start my business from ground zero after graduation. That would be a whole lot more difficult.” Looking back, Ron never regretted his decision of dropping out of university. But he hasn’t given up education altogether – he was conferred an internationally recognised Top-up Bachelor’s Degree in VTC SHAPE last year, keeping pace with the times with self-enhancement.
Stable growth: keeping abreast of the healthcare market
In 2016, Applied Technology Group Limited was officially founded and was based in Hong Kong Science Park. Though Ron was mostly in charge of technology development, he also had to meet with clients and present their products. That’s when his extensive experience of partaking in tech competitions came in handy. Their ClinicOne app was picked up by a healthcare chain right after its launch and their start-up got off to a good start, boosting the confidence of Ron and his partners.
Ron said he had come across many difficulties trying to expand their client base in the past. It’s because most physicians in private practice were already busy enough so that they didn’t feel the need to set up an online system. But the outbreak of COVID-19 happened to be a turning point. Face-to-face delivery of services in public and private contexts became impossible and switched to remote or online formats. Even some medical consultations had to be done via video conferencing. Since then, Ron has noted that more and more medical doctors and clinics had got in touch with him to inquire about online services and discuss about the possibility of cooperation. His company’s turnover has almost tripled since the pandemic, gaining a steadfast foothold in Hong Kong’s private healthcare market.
For younger VTC students who want to put their talents to good use by starting their own business, Ron reminded them not to follow the hype blindly and start a business aimlessly just for the sake of it. Otherwise, they are likely to be outcompeted by others in the market and end up failing. He believed that there is no hard-and-fast rule to achieve success. As long as entrepreneurs remain faithful to their beliefs, insist on solving problems with innovative new products and solutions, and contribute to the society, they can eventually establish themselves in the market.