The Hong Kong government will replace the Innovation and Technology Fund's Small Entrepreneur Research Assistance Program (SERAP) with the new Enterprise Support Scheme (ESS) created to help firms of all sizes in R&D.

Under ESS, the funding ceiling for each project will be HK$10 million, $4 million more than that of the existing SERAP, according to the SAR's Financial Secretary John Tsang who delivered his Budget speech on Wednesday at Legco.

An ESS-funded firm must bear at least half of the cost, but will retain all the intellectual property rights of the project, Tsang said.

In addition, the government will expand the scope of funding to development work and system integration, industrial design, compliance testing and clinical trials, aiming to provide stronger support to downstream R&D and commercialization activities, he noted.

"These two new measures are intended to further boost R&D investments and commercialization activities among private companies at home and attract those from abroad to bring their R&D departments to our city, hence creating a more diversified ecology for innovation and technology," Tsang said.

HK$24 million of R&D fund to startups working with universities

The ITF will also provide an annual funding of up to HK$24 million to six designated universities as seed money for R&D projects that they recommend. According to Tsang, those R&D projects will come from tech startups that collaborate with the designated universities.

While Invest Hong Kong created the StartmeupHK portal last year as the SAR's startup information and exchange platform, Tsang--without providing a timeframe--said the government will soon launch an interactive portal to promote their inventions and innovations to attract funding.

HK$50 million for retailers' IT adoption

According to the financial secretary, the government will earmark HK$50 million to help retailers adopt IT and improve productivity. The government will also promote cloud computing applications among SMBs and provide training to help them deploy related systems.

Identifying IT whizzes in secondary school

On the tech education front, the government will incorporate enrichment programs in secondary schools that are outstanding in IT education, Tsang said.

"By so doing, we hope to cultivate young IT professionals and even entrepreneurs to meet the development needs of a digital society," he noted.

Other efforts Tsang mentioned in the Budget include aligning IT education with industry needs by working closer with both tertiary institutions and the industry as well as enhancing IT professionals' image by publicizing the contribution of IT to the local society and economy.

Mok: Budget should look into attracting large IT firms from overseas

While there are more IT measures to be introduced compared to previous budgets, lawmaker (IT Constituency) Charles Mok said many of these measures are experimental in nature.

"The government is on the right track though the measures aren't of large scale," he noted. "I think the government should add at least one more thing: strategies to draw large tech companies to Hong Kong to create high-quality jobs."

Though welcoming the new tech-related measures, Witman Hung, president of industry association iProA said the government needs to come up with an implementation schedule for those measures.

"Instead of showing off [future] R&D results as a great report card, the government must make sure that [projects supported] benefit the industry and people by creating new jobs, driving economic growth, and promoting innovation," he said.