When faced with a problem, it’s often instinctive to look for the closest solution.

For Dr. Cédric Jeannot, CEO of cyber security startup I Think Security, reaching farther – a lot farther – paid off.

Before his company was accepted into Hong Kong’s FinTech Innovation Lab last year, Jeannot was focused on closer-to-home markets like New York City. But he’s spent most of the past five months more than 12,000 kilometres from home, with some funding help from the Canadian Digital Media Network’s Soft Landing program.

Program statistics show 43 per cent of the 146 foreign landings by Canadian companies (since 2013) have been in New York City or San Francisco. By contrast, a mere one per cent have gone to Hong Kong.

Jeannot acknowledges things are different in Asia, but not as much as we might think.

“You can compare Hong Kong to the London or New York City type of lifestyle; big city, large ex-pat population – people from everywhere in the world,” he says.

The differences are a little subtler.

“People are very much face-to-face; they would rather have a meeting in person than a phone call,” he says.

“It’s almost like in New York, you have to convince them for a yes, but in Hong Kong, [they want to say] yes,” he says, adding, “You just have to make sure you don’t talk yourself out of it.”

He felt that first hand when he went to pitch in front of a team from a global bank. He was just one slide into his presentation when the questions started. They kept coming for two hours.

“They weren’t interested in the presentation; they were interested in going to questions, because they already knew their stuff,” he says.

Large institutional banks are experiencing growth in the Asian market, and unlike the mature market in New York, there is more urgency to do business.

“Big banks need to innovate, but they have no structure to innovate,” he says.

He adds that they are eager to partner with smaller companies to learn from them, and to pursue joint ventures to make things faster, better and cheaper than they can be done in-house.

“The level of R&D sophistication is not like what we have here, so if you come from Waterloo and you have a strong technological innovation, then you’ll stand out,” he says.

Hong Kong’s strengths come into play in marketing and sales, and packaging products for mass adoption.

Its biggest market is financial services, which is why Jeannot urges other fintech companies to consider it.

“If you walk 20 minutes in Hong Kong, you can pretty much cover half the banks on the planet, so that’s a good indication of where things are happening and where you want to be,” he says.

He adds that it’s best to go for an extended amount of time.

“Don’t be there for a week. If you go, be there three weeks, because you will get results in week two or three and not in the first one,”Jeannot says.

He believes that his New York experience was a good foundation that set him up for greater success in Hong Kong.

“Part of [the success] is the infrastructure in Hong Kong, which is not like the ecosystem [In Waterloo], but there are a lot of people on the ground who are there to help you,” he says.

After 12 weeks at the FinTech Innovation Lab and the following four months, Jeannot wants to build on that foundation, and is now busy making plans for expansion in Hong Kong.

“At the end, it’s what you make of it; the more you put in, the more you get.”

For companies looking to explore opportunities in Hong Kong, Communitech is hosting a delegation, in partnership with the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, this June.

Photo: Hong Kong Gets Ready to Party! by Steve Webel is licensed under CC BY 2.0.