NO PLACE LIKE HOME
Many Chinese citizens who have worked or studied abroad have been returning in droves to fulfill their entrepreneurial ambitions
Though they were once eager to leave China in search of greener pastures, many Chinese now see their home country as a land of opportunities following the central government’s push toward innovation and entrepreneurship.
Ni Hualiang, who was born in Shanghai and immigrated to Canada in 2008, is one of these returnees. The 40-year-old returned to his home city in 2015 to start his own company OYMotion Technologies after quitting his well-paying job as a technician in the semiconductor industry in Toronto.
Ni said that he had been eager to explore opportunities of setting up his own company for several years. In 2011, he quit his job as a technician in another company and opened a medical electronics company with friends in Silicon Valley. However, the business shuttered after just a year due to financial problems.
“I have to admit that my first try at running a business was a failure as my business partners and I just didn’t think through and anticipate all the problems we could have faced,” said Ni.
But Ni was hardly discouraged by the failure. Instead, he continued seeking out opportunities and had in 2013 made a considerable investment into the research and design of a gesture recognition product so that he could test the waters of the market in Shanghai.
After two years of constant shuttling between Canada and China to evaluate the market demand and conditions, Ni eventually quit his job to set up his own company.
“I don’t think emigrating to Canada influenced me to be an entrepreneur. I believe I would have stepped into the business world even earlier and be more successful if I didn’t go abroad,” said Ni.
OYMotion Technologies, which focuses on the research and design of technologies related to humancomputer interaction, such as the application of gesture recognition and virtual reality, has showed promise since its inception. It received a firstround investment of 5 million yuan ($720,000) in September 2015. Ni said that he is currently preparing for the company’s second funding round.
“China is a huge market for innovative technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality and smart home systems. These technologies are currently being developed at a fast pace in the country,” explained Ni of his decision to set up a company in Shanghai.
“Although we’ve faced problems like increasing material expenses and labor costs, the government has offered resource and policy support that have helped us grow and expand.”
In a bid to promote entrepreneurship and innovation as a key component of the nation’s economic transition process, the government has made market entry easier for businesses, reduced red tape and rolled out tax breaks for startups.
As a result, overseas returnees, as well as college students and migrant workers, are emerging as major forces in entrepreneurship. According to data from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the number of returnees to China in 2015 was 12.1 percent more than in 2014.
“The government has continuously improved measures to persuade overseas Chinese to return home, including providing better public services for global experts to launch their companies in a good business environment,” said Qi Xiaozhai, director of the Shanghai Commercial Economic Research Center.
China currently has 321 industrial parks that offer conducive environments for overseas returnees to start their own businesses. According to official statistics, returnees participated in 19,000 research and development projects in 2015.
Apart from Ni, another overseas returnee that has leveraged the strong support from the Chinese government is Zhang Wen, who majored in IT and used to be a private equity lawyer in the United States. Upon his return to China in 2011, the 43-year-old set up Summit Capital Equity Investment Fund Management (Shanghai) Co., Ltd.
His company currently manages eight to nine projects, with Cybespoke — a company that uses 3D scanning technology to create bespoke clothing and shoes for customers — being one of those that he founded.
“This company and its technology represents a breakthrough for the high-cost customized industry. At Cybespoke, we offer customers tailormade clothing that come with reasonable prices and exceptional services,” said Zhang.
Zhang added that the idea to start such a business began after he noticed that his fellow lawyers had to spend thousands of dollars every year buying tailor-made suits in Hong Kong. Zhang later chanced upon 3D scanning technology which he was determined to incorporate into his plan. He soon imported the scanning hardware and had his team modify the machines