I went to a weekend conference in China that is supposed to attract and keep talents from abroad (Chinese born and foreign) to bolster the economy for a future where high tech companies dominate the markets. I met people of all kinds, local and foreign, and learned a lot about China’s way of business which will help me navigate the Asian and global markets much, much easier in the future.
I presented the following business model throughout the conference (on a dedicated display and during networking) http://yin-guo.co
More details below:
In October, I got invited to an “Overseas Talent Exchange Conference” at HangZhou in ZheJiang province, China, from 8th to 12th of November. I had applied through some contacts I had established from a student exchange in 2016. The conference was part of bigger effort over several weeks to attract talent, both Chinese and foreigners, from abroad to start (or expand) their businesses in HangZhou. Efforts like these are being established or are common practice in other provinces such as ShenZhen, BeiJing or ShangHai to mention a few. These regions are in direct competition for talents.
Talents are one of the most raw, if not the most raw, resources to build innovation from. The future of any economy nowadays usually depends on its ability to innovate (“science and startups”) and with that to move its economic activity from lower tiers into the third tier of providing services, an indicator of a highly developed nation. For HangZhou, high-tech startups, especially companies in the digital economy are of interest as internet giants such as NetEase or Alibaba both already have HangZhou headquarters.
How to attract talent? A (Chinese) recipe
In the short term, it is very simple: money. All attendants, including me, were given 7000 yuan, about 950USD, to cover transport from Europe or the US. We were housed in five star hotels in rooms that start at 400USD a night. For many a paid holiday, as flights are usually less than 950USD, it’s hard to say no. Nevertheless, inviting and flying over talents is one story, keeping them is a completely different challenge which the government has clearly thought through a lot. Or learned about already from previous projects in other regions.
Their solution: Offer the best environment to these talents for living a good life. Practically, this means establishing amazing private schools. You try to attract talents, which know that “education pays the best interest”, with what’s most important to them: a good future for their children. Many if not all talents have studied abroad and gained significant experience there, also about how to life in different ways. They are highly talented, highly educated and they know their value and what they really want.
By chance I met someone at the airport who is heavily involved with providing the computer science curriculum to a leading private school chain. Apparently nowadays, high school competitions in coding, and if you win a price, are strong achievements one can have his child apply to a University with. Think of it as the equivalent to the spelling bee or violin competition of the last century. Funnily enough, these are mainly held in C#, a relict of an older computer generation, creating a literal parallel world to the West were most educational coding has moved on to Python or Java.
After providing good education to the children of talents, further priorities come into play: safe living conditions are provided by extensive policing and an extensive network of surveillance cameras. Given new advances in facial recognition, these data streams are funnelled together so that tracking of criminals, as determined by the judicial branch, is highly efficient. Furthermore, West Lake, an international attraction, has been highly renovated and genuinely is a nice place, also with its beautiful mountain ranges with well maintained and well lit hiking paths of very accessible difficulty. Air pollution is still a problem, but even that can be solved and the amount of electric cars on the roads, as indicated by green number plates instead of blue, seemingly super pass any western standard.
If I wanted to assure that my economy is competitive in the future, I would go about in a very similar way: attract talent, the most raw ingredient to economic growth, make sure that they stay via providing the best education to their children. Simple as that.
Why get involved with China?
So why should specifically a foreigner get involved with China? Compared to a couple decades ago, China is a strong economy today, the second strongest economy on this planet. Its digital economy has the least friction, data sets and collection are easy and abundant. In terms of relative digital business potential, Europe and USA have to ask themselves a few questions and start doing their homework again. Assuming that the future economic leaders of this world are digital platforms and conglomerates, China just cannot be ignored. Is it too early to get involved? It depends on your current stage of development. Also, whether to get involved with HangZhou is also an important question. ShangHai has been in the game for quite a bit longer, HangZhou might just be a bit late …
Caution: gold rush mentality
There still very much is a gold rush mentality. Whether this is due to these newly released government funding programs, or a general perception of the economy, was not clear to me. Nevertheless, sustainable business building does not seem to be a primary concern. Instead, rushing in as many people as possible is the primary goal, and quality is only somehow assured via offering significant prizes at the high end, which attracts some more serious entities, but doesn’t verify that the low end is also of acceptable quality.
I have also learned a lot about how “business” is “done” in China, which is easier to talk about than write down, feel free to contact me to hear about some anecdotes with crucial learnings before, during and after the conference.