Let’s get it started
A firm focus on their USP and keen insight into the diverse genes of mainland cities is taking young entrepreneurs up the industrial ladder. Zhou Mo reports in Shenzhen.
Entrepreneurship is always about solving problems. It’s wise for entrepreneurs to leverage the natural competitive advantages and ecosystems of their home cities.”
entrepreneurship is especially vibrant in Shenzhen, where most residents are from elsewhere across the country who settled in the economic hub to realize their dreams.
“I see many lights still on in my office building even late at night,” said Huang. “This has greatly encouraged me, as I feel I am not fighting alone.”
The entrepreneurial ecosystem is somewhat different by comparison in Guangzhou, which has a big proportion of student entrepreneurs, thanks to its large number of universities, colleges and other educational institutions.
The Guangzhou government said around 24,000 individuals set up their own companies in the provincial capital from January to November last year, and roughly 3,000 of them were university students.
And that league of young adventurers includes Liu Zhenyu. The 22-yearold suspended university schooling to set up BEPOTATO with his partner in 2014, hoping to build a platform for their peers to realize their entrepreneurial dreams.
Liu has since opened five cafes in Guangzhou and one in Shanghai through crowdfunding, mostly from university students. The number of BEPOTATO shareholders has surpassed 1,000.
“Most of our investors are outstanding leaders and entrepreneurial pioneers at universities. They can get to know each other, exchange ideas and brainstorm in the café and become big potatoes in future,” Liu said, explaining the origin of the name of his chain.
The large student base in the city has laid solid ground for the success of his business, Liu said. Last year, about 700,000 took part in Guangzhou’s annual entrepreneurship contest for university students. Of the 376 winning projects since the launch of the contest, 235 are now registered companies, with the biggest of them generating annual revenue of 500 million yuan.
Wang Ruixu, one of the contest winners and also founder of Jianzhimao, an online platform for university students to find part-time jobs, was even invited to hold meetings with Premier Li in Beijing last year.
Executives and scholars say different cities have their distinctive genes, thus offering diverse opportunities for startups. It is important for entrepreneurs to find out the right direction and focus on their own unique selling proposition (USP), they point out.
“Entrepreneurship is always about solving problems,” said Elaine Ann, honorary project director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and founder and chief executive officer of Kaizor Innovation. “It’s wise for entrepreneurs to leverage the natural competitive advantages and ecosystems of their home cities.”
Ann cited as examples Uber and Airbnb, two popular online platforms for car-hailing and hotel-booking services.
“The reason why Uber and Airbnb came out is that they were solving problems unique to San Francisco. Hailing a cab is not that easy in the Bay Area and also hotel fees are much higher in the U.S. compared to China. Their model might or might not work for other countries like China.”
Cai Wensheng, president of Meitu, a popular photo-enhancing tool on the mainland, shares the same view.
“Entrepreneurs need have a clear idea of their capability, the resources and capital they own, what fields they could explore, and which cities their adventures are suitable for. Understanding those things can make their entrepreneurship bid more effective,” Cai said in a speech about his entrepreneurial experience in Xiamen in September 2015.
On this aspect, Chen Hui clearly has strong feelings. The former Sinopec Corp employee chose Maoming as the base to realize his entrepreneurial dreams after returning to the country with a PhD in Canada.
The city in southwestern Guangdong boasts a particular edge in the petrochemicals industry. Currently working as a distinguished professor at the Guangdong University of Petrochemical Technology, Chen takes advantage of the university’s scientific research resources to develop technologies that can turn solid waste into clean energy and puts them into use at a local power company.
“At Sinopec, of course, I can have a big platform. But it was hard for me to put my thoughts and ideas into practice there, because I was only a drop in the ocean,” Chen said.
“In Maoming, however, I am able to let my entrepreneurial dream come true and contribute to the environmental protection cause.”
While it is important for entrepreneurs to learn about the characteristics and resources of a city before striking out on their own, Ann emphasizes that they also need to be forward-looking.
“Entrepreneurs should start (their business) with the end in mind,” she advises. “For entrepreneurs across the border, the mainland market is their home turf and is big enough to scale up. They should first start out where they have best competitive advantages.”
Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org
Elaine Ann, Honorary project director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the Chinese University of Hong Kong Founder and chief executive officer of Kaizor Innovation.