Fair wind blow­ing strong for star­tups in China

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By MAN­RAN­JITH

It’s the ques­tion I face most of­ten frommy peers: “What’s re­ally driv­ing the Chi­nese econ­omy?”

In the past, my an­swer would have been sim­ple: “Ex­ports and a solid back­bone of State-owned en­ter­prises.”

But of late, I have changedmy view, against the back­drop of a new wave of en­trepreneurs and pri­vate busi­nesses, which have firmly placed the na­tion on the path of global in­no­va­tion which is now fu­el­ing a newera of high-tech dreams.

Not sur­pris­ingly most ofmy Chi­nese col­leagues tell me that SOEs are no longer the prime movers of the job sweep­stakes.

In­stead, ev­ery­one wants to work for a startup, par­tic­u­larly in sec­tors like ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence or on ap­pli­ca­tions that can gen­uinely make a dif­fer­ence to ev­ery­day life.

Clearly the glit­ter­ing suc­cesses of JackMa and PonyMa have rubbed off on China’s in­creas­ingly af­flu­ent mil­len­ni­als.

What also seems to be egging on most of these young minds is the fa­mous Sil­i­con Val­ley adage, that even if you fail, you will even­tu­ally find your feet and suc­ceed.

In­deed, history is re­plete with the likes of An­droid, Face­book, Uber or Drop­box that were once dis­missed by Sil­i­con Val­ley big­wigs as star­tups with lit­tle or no chance of suc­cess.

Time has proved the pun­dits wrong and the even­tual suc­cess of these firms has seen the start-up cul­ture spread­ing fast across China.

Lit­tle won­der, China is now at the fore­front of entrepreneurship in Asia, with more young grad­u­ates than ever giv­ing up lu­cra­tive cor­po­rate ca­reers to start out on their own.

Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Shen­zhen, and Hangzhou are teem­ing with sev­eral firms work­ing on a whole host of self-gen­er­ated ideas, and they are fast over­tak­ing their peers in Sin­ga­pore, Ben­galuru or Kuala Lumpur in in­no­va­tion.

AndyMok, the founder of Bei­jing-based Red Pagoda Re­sources, which in­vests in and pro­vides pro­fes­sional ser­vices to star­tups in China, tells me that this startup ma­nia is ac­tu­ally un­leash­ing more young brain-power.

He him­self gave up a suc­cess­ful ca­reer with the United States-based Rand Corp, and de­scribes him­self as a man wear­ing many hats. Not only is he a for­mer Whar­ton alum­nus, but also an an­gel in­vestor, a guide, coun­selor and ad­viser for sev­eral star­tups in Bei­jing.

“It is fas­ci­nat­ing to work with so many young minds and watch them take their own baby steps to suc­cess,” he told me over a glass of beer at his newof­fice in east Bei­jing, which can seat around 200 star­tups at a time.

Ac­cord­ing toMok, more and more newin­ven­tors are turn­ing up at the weekly match-mak­ing ses­sions his com­pany or­ga­nizes.

“We have in­ven­tors with mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tions, so­cial net­work­ing apps and even de­vel­op­ers of med­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tions at these meet­ings, min­gling with some of the big­gest names from Sil­i­con Val­ley and prospec­tive in­vestors.

“We also have lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials at­tend­ing to an­swer ques­tions and of­fer help with any is­sues the in­ven­tors may have,” he said, adding that Bei­jing is al­ready dish­ing up just the right mix of ser­vices to cre­ate a strong startup com­mu­nity in the cap­i­tal.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent State Coun­cil state­ment, “In­no­va­tion and entrepreneurship are of great im­por­tance in ac­cel­er­at­ing China’s eco­nomic restruc­tur­ing and the cre­ation of a new­growth en­gine.

“These are the new­sources of China’s eco­nomic growth and will help to build a rich, fair and strong na­tion.”

One of the pro­grams that has al­ready made waves in Bei­jing’s startup cir­cles is the Over­seas Tal­ent Entrepreneurship Con­fer­ence, a plat­form launched by for­eign and re­turnee Chi­nese en­trepreneurs.

Ac­cord­ing toMok, the OTEC’s aim is to cre­ate a flour­ish­ing startup ecosys­tem that can act as a key re­source for prospec­tive en­trepreneurs.

Chua Kee Lock, group pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Ver­tex Ven­tureHold­ings Ltd, a sub­sidiary of Sin­ga­pore-based Te­masekHold­ings Pte Ltd, re­vealed re­cently that the re­pub­lic’s sov­er­eign wealth fund has also been scal­ing up its in­vest­ments in China, as it sees the coun­try at the fore­front of in­no­va­tion.

“Chi­nese com­pa­nies can cre­ate in­ter­est­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties by them­selves; and in that sense, they are a lot stronger than oth­ers,” he said.

“China is fast clos­ing the in­no­va­tion gap be­cause of its large mar­ket size and these com­pa­nies are now able to cre­ate their own unique busi­ness mod­els and ca­pa­bil­i­ties.” Con­tact the writer at man­ran­jith@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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