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Kate Kwan

Published on

May 8, 2019


bay to bay, greater bay area, innovation, Shenzhen

In the week of April, TEAM LEWIS held its third Bay to Bay in the city of Shenzhen, with its sustainability masterplan and proximity to Hong Kong, the city was a perfect backdrop in this discussion of Shenzhen as a home for innovation.

It’s almost been a full year since we announced our APAC 2020 大湾区plan for growth in the region. It is no coincidence that the title for this plan includes the 大湾区 (da wan qu) or ‘China Greater Bay Area’ because we see this cluster of cities as a central part of our success in the region. That’s why Shenzhen, along with Melbourne, was the first set of offices opened as part of our master plan.

So it was with great excitement that we recently held our third session of the Bay to Bay series in the city at the heart of the Greater Bay Area initiative – Shenzhen. Following two fruitful sessions in Hong Kong and San Francisco in 2018, this third forum, themed “Making Shenzhen A Home For Innovation”, explored the business implications of the “Chinese Silicon Valley” Shenzhen, for domestic and global companies alike.

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It was fascinating to gather experts and scholars from accelerators, start-ups, technology companies and academia under the same roof to bounce off ideas and discuss what Shenzhen means to them. Here are some of the interesting perspectives from the event:

Panel Discussion 1: Shenzhen – The Future Goldmine of the Greater Bay Area (GBA)

The opening panel featured speakers whose experiences ranged from accelerator programmes,  international digital currency and smart mobility with backgrounds spanning the GBA and Silicon Valley. The discussion started off with the vast potential of the GBA presented to businesses from investment, innovation and policy perspectives:

  • Where software and hardware meet: The manufacturing legacy of Southern China makes the GBA a perfect testing ground for hardware/software prototyping and innovative ideas while simultaneously speeding up time-to-market within the region.
  • Policy matters in China: The policy support being initiated within GBA is enabling many cutting-edge technologies while piloting other new forms of business, such as Tencent’s recent self-driving testing license in Zhao Qing, one of the cities in the GBA.
  • The GBA is not new: Speaking about the media hype surrounding the GBA, some panelists pointed out that the concept of GBA as an economic hub has always existed even before the term made its way to media. The GBA we now know, has undergone a natural economic evolution from trading to automobile, and now to innovation and online businesses.

Moving onto discussions around the development of Shenzhen and other cities in the GBA, the panellists unanimously agreed that Shenzhen has undoubtedly emerged as the home of innovation and technology. However, they also had some thoughts about what the city is actually like to live in:

  • Same same but not the same: With its proximity to Hong Kong, a long-standing international financial centre, Shenzhen is able to greatly benefit from international financial best practices and a robust capital market which provides a strong footing for the start-up community.
  • Start-up mindset: Sitting in the heart of the GBA, Shenzhen possesses a start-up culture that leads entrepreneurs to see it as a place to turn their ideas into reality. They agreed that the spirit of entrepreneurialism pretty much forms the backbone of the city and its development.
  • Shenzhen yearns for talent: Another key aspect about Shenzhen is that it has a big appetite for talent, especially those with a technology background. Many local businesses are hiring from global top-tier academic institutions such as MIT, Stanford University, Tsinghua and Peking University. Panelists called for better long-term planning to nurture native talent to fuel the growth of the GBA.
  • Living while working: A top quality living environment is also key to attracting talent. The green zones and cleaner air in Shenzhen make it attractive to foreign talent. Locals on the other hand, are more concerned about reasonable living spaces.

Panel Discussion 2: From Domestic to Globalisation

The second session featured experts from the blockchain and supply chain industries discussing where the  GBA sits on the global scene. The discussion started off with panellists pointing out that the GDP of the Greater Bay Area has outrun that of San Francisco Bay while falling short of Tokyo and New York Bays. However the GDP per capita of the GBA still falls behind these areas indicating Shenzhen’s massive growth potential.

Global Bay Area GDPs

(Image Source: South China Morning Post)

Of course when we talk about Shenzhen, innovation is an inevitable topic. In terms of the innovation seen in the city, the room was filled with discussion and questions that prompted us to rethink the true meaning of innovation:

  • Innovation? Or not?: Before getting swept up in the hype about innovation, the panel felt that we needed to revisit the definition of the word. The discussion brought up the fact that companies are not innovating much from a computing / network / software engineering perspective, but instead what we are see is a quantitative leap rather than qualitative advancements. The key will then be a push for continuous reinventing of new and more creative experiences for users.

Looking at what the GBA can learn from other Bay Areas, the discussion moved towards the unique cultural and social environment that the area encompasses:

  • Bay Area Growing Pains: It is no surprise that technology and consumer experiences are developing faster than regulations in the GBA as with many other Bay Areas. However, these regulations serve an important purpose to protect, caution and mitigate risk for consumers and businesses alike. With the GBA initiative and aligned policy support, the panel agreed that much more opportunities will come up for sure.
  • The Unique 9+2: The 11 cities in GBA present a much larger potential for businesses to go global as the industries present in these locations range from tourism, finance, innovation, property, and mobility, to name a few. This creates a much more diversified portfolio than other Bay Areas in the world. Panellists also expect to see more possibilities surface when the synergy of the three pillar cities – Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Guangzhou – further consolidate via investments and the availability of talent.

Wrapping up the sessions, one of the key learnings is that the GBA is more than a concept, a policy, or a geographical region; it is a global shift in power which cannot be ignored by international and domestic businesses.  To those of us in Asia or China, it could also mean changes in daily lives in the tides of this digital era.

If you’ve missed the discussion do not worry, you can read more from our Bay to Bay series of conversations. Stay tuned on our next event in late 2019.

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