Sebastian Ko is a multi-award winning attorney turned technology business leader. He is co-founder of DHB Global, specialising in biotech commercialisation and regtech.
Trained as a scientist and practised as an attorney, he holds various leadership roles in the lawtech community in Greater China. Ko is passionate about access to justice, how new technologies will impact working life and individual rights in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the evolution of the legal system and governance.
Ko founded the first Asia access to justice tech hackathon series and is founding chairman of the InnoTech Law Hub at the Law Society of Hong Kong.
Ko is also active in championing youths involved in advancing public interest issues. He sits on several civil society boards and committees advising on policy and legal matters. He regularly speaks and writes about technology and law, data protection and privacy, and equality law. In 2017-18, Ko was elected Curator of the Hong Kong Hub, Global Shapers Community, an initiative of the World Economic Forum.
He also received the Bachelor of Civil Law (Oxford) and the Law Society Distinguished Service Award, and was recognized as an Inter-Pacific Bar Scholar. He is legally qualified in New York and Hong Kong.
We spoke to Sebastian about his journey.
With a background in law, what drew you into the biotech/ healthcare industry?
After I obtained a double degree in science and law from Monash University, I practised law in Hong Kong, the UK and the US for a few years. I represented global clients in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors on regulatory, compliance, intellectual property, and financing matters. That was how I first became familiar with these sectors. Years later, I met my co-founders at the World Economic Forum. They are very international and have been scientists and professionals experienced in the life science sector. When we began to talk about the funding gaps for early-stage biotech, it dawned on me that there are exciting entrepreneurial opportunities in the life science industry.
DHB Global connects healthcare innovators with potential investors to tackle emerging public health challenges around the world. How did the idea come about?
DHB Global is a healthcare industry focused venture builder based in China. We help promising biotechnologies develop internationally, getting them adopted where they are needed. We work with innovators and investors to address current dilemmas relating to cross-border technology transfers and international trade barriers. Startups provide significant sources of translational research, and big pharmas heavily rely on them for innovation. Many of them are developing incredible, cutting-edge diagnostics and therapeutics to deadly diseases. Scientists and entrepreneurs worldwide, however, recognize that global cooperation is necessary where human lives are at stake. Humanitarian and scientific priorities should trump politics and local interests. These issues have been driving our strategic direction since DHB Global’s inception.
What were the biggest challenges DHB Global encountered during its start?
When starting up, everything seems challenging. You are trying to keep your baby alive, and your baby has many needs! Helping biotech startups launch is very complex but highly rewarding. It requires expert navigation of scientific, financial, and regulatory challenges. On top of these challenges, the timeframes for biotech development tend to be protracted. We must also deal with cross-border issues. Nevertheless, we never lost sight of our priorities to find trustworthy partners who believe in us and projects that fit our competencies. These are crucial factors to allow us to deliver value, establish client relationships, and therefore build a trustworthy business.
How do you see the life sciences and healthcare industry in China, and what do you predict for its future?
At DHB Global, we are seeing substantial growth in research and investment in precision medicine and synthetic biology over the last two years in China. There is a right mix of domestic driven endeavours as well as collaborations with overseas partners. You can see this from new patents filed worldwide by Chinese innovators. There are also exciting developments in the pharma regulations of China, particularly in fast-tracking approvals of drugs for critical healthcare areas and enhancing the market for generic drugs.
Biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your entrepreneurial journey?
Do sweat the small stuff. Having hard talks in the beginning about communication and work styles and team culture are important at the beginning. Don’t wait until you’re under pressure or when things go south. This helps you find the right teammates who will be there for each other when times get rough. Similarly, don’t look for money when you need it most. You may be in a weak bargaining position. Financial planning is certainly critical to a business, and often when “it rains, it pours.” Not having enough money, could lead to a negative spiral with team members departing and customers left with shoddy service.
What was the impetus for you to study in Australia? How was the experience?Having spent my formative years in Australia, its values and ideals anchored in fairness and mateship have shaped me as a human being. My family’s Aussie roots stem from my great grand uncle. He came to Bendigo near the end of the gold rush, and eventually settled down as a grocer. Ever since then, my extended family has been fascinated with Down Under. My father backpacked around the east coast in his youth. My maternal relatives have settled in Victoria for many decades.
I have so far studied in four countries. My studies in Australia inculcated in me a passion for cross-disciplinary problem-solving, particularly in emerging domains where science and law overlap. After all, double degrees are something of an Australian tertiary education institution. This experience has provided unique insights and prepared me well for advance research at the University of Oxford and working in innovative industries in the past five years.
Your recommendations for great (Australian) coffee/ best flat white in Hong Kong?
I acquired my coffee discernment when I grew up in Melbourne. While the cafes on Flinders Lane and Collins Street are hard to beat, I have enjoyed the single-origin brews down at 18 Grams. Brew Bros is pretty good too. The guys there have famously claimed that their coffees are a fusion of Australian and Japanese influences.