Tech talent, investment in two-way global flow | Shanghai Daily

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May 31, 2017

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Tech talent, investment in two-way global flow

CHINA is keen to create a digital 21st century Silk Road, with hefty investment flowing into California’s Silicon Valley and moves afoot in cities like Shanghai to attract technology talent and investment to these shores.

Among the Chinese tech giants beating a path to the Silicon Valley, the global heartland of innovation, are Alibaba, which has opened two cloud-computing data centers there, and Baidu, which has formed an artificial intelligence lab.

Shibei High-Technology Park in Jing’an is the latest newcomer in the Silicon Valley, with the launch of its American Innovation Center at Stanford University. The facility is designed to create a green channel for cross-border incubation, program cooperation, technology transfer and talent exchange.

“We opened a window to the world,” said Lin Xiaoyu, director of the Jing’an Science and Technology Commission. “We want to make ourselves known around the world, and we also want to send the message that we welcome foreigner entrepreneurs here.”

Liu Qinyu, deputy manager of Shibei park, said a program of sharing professionals is high on the agenda of cooperation.

“We will provide domestic firms greater access to cutting-edge technologies,” she said. “The combination of innovative resources in China and the US will help develop a generation of promising entrepreneurs.”

Windows back home

International ties are creating exciting new prospects for Jing’an startups.

One example is the co-work space partnership People Squared, or P2 — the first and only Google-partnered tech hub on the Chinese mainland. Under the partnership, P2 members have access to the Google for Entrepreneurs global network and resource — an important step if they want to reach out to overseas markets.

Google offers alternatives to young entrepreneurs. They can join in the one-week exchange program with another Google’s partner in another city, or they can fly to the Silicon Valley to compete with other brilliant idea-makers.

“Participants find it useful to be immersed in an energetic startup culture, where they can forge business relations, tap expert advice, and explore investment prospects,” said Sarah Qin.

Since April last year, 12 teams based in P2 have joined the program. Among them, CastBox, an audio platform app, won the “Judges Favorite Award” at 2016 Google Demo Day, she said.

Another Jing’an-based startup community XNode is providing a Chinese site for the Australian government’s Landing Pad program, which aims to help Australian entrepreneurs expand their businesses abroad.

That program also has arms in San Francisco, Berlin, Singapore and Tel Aviv.

“XNode is very international and very professional,” said Lin Xiaoyu, “Australian startups can use the facility as a means to understand China and internationalize their scope.”

Startups accepted into the program receive up to 90 days of workspace and access to a full range of services, including coaching, financing and tailored networking events.

Wang Bo, business development manager of XNode, said the first group of five teams is nearing completion of the program.

Participants are involved in fields such as language teaching, virtual reality technology and the Internet of Things.

“All of them are going well,” Wang said. “Two have been able to explore and expand in the Chinese market all by themselves.”

Foreigners compete for recognition

The “Startup in Shanghai — International Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition” has set up a special session for foreigners in the city.

This month, 136 foreigner entrepreneurs competed in the Puxi division for prizes worth 200,000 yuan (US$29,038). They come from 26 countries.

WeCare WC, now in XNode, is no doubt a strong competitor for final honors. Its aim is to create clean, modern public restrooms.

The idea originally came from a mother of two, a Dutch-born Chinese who has lived in Shanghai for 15 years and is now chief executive of the company.

“She found it difficult to find a clean restroom or a place to breastfeed her baby,” said Ranya Hozaifeh, a member of the WeCare WC team. “With all the modernization in Shanghai, it seems nobody cared much about toilets.”

The team has 10 members, almost half of them Chinese. It has already installed two of its restroom facilities in the retail mall K11 and in Hongqiao International Airport.

The highlight of its facility in K11 is the inclusion of room designed for family use.

There are different-sized toilets and sinks. While a mother is changing a diaper or breastfeeding a baby, the father can rest on the sofa. Colorful cartoons are posted on the walls. Modern appliances made by brands like Blue Air and Dyson help keep a clean environment.

“Cleaners are trained to use a machine to clean the toilets,” Hozaifeh said. “It’s faster and avoids cross-contamination of cleaning cloths.”

Chozun, an online life guide for business travelers, is another contest candidate.

It was started in Melbourne by Teresa Trude and Zia Word, who then took their idea to Shanghai under the Australia Landing Pad program. The project team now numbers six, with a 30 percent increase in users every month, Word said.

Unlike other traveling apps, Chozun is more like a “travel companion.”

“When travelers arrive in a new city, they want to know the best restaurants to take clients, or where to get a relaxing massage, or what unique experiences to do when they have an hour or two of spare time,” Trude said.

Every recommendation given to clients is tailored to their personal tastes. The technology behind it is machine-generated. It can also cut off fake reviews from advertising, a common problem on many travel sites.

“Only those paying for the service are entitled to provide reviews,” she said.

Coach T is another startup utilizing machine learning. It is an artificial intelligence assistant for tennis players of all levels.

Tennis beginners, for example, can install a device on the throat of their rackets, with their “coach” plugged into Bluetooth-connected headphones. The device records every stroke movement and gives feedback from the “coach.”

After a lesson, the assistant helps beginners correct their movements by delivering instructions based on the movements of their swings, just as if a human coach is alongside.

How competition helps

The “Startup in Shanghai — International Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition” is generating much excitement among contestants. Most foreign entrepreneurs say they are hoping for media exposure that will help their fledgling businesses.

“Our concept is new to the market,” said WeCare WC’s Hozaifeh. “We want our name out there and we are looking for investors — strategic partners who can bring expertise and experience to the company.”

She added, “Of course, we want to win. Exposure is important.”

For Chozun, whose customer base is now 60 percent English-speaking, the contest is viewed as a way of penetrating the domestic market.

“We want Chinese customers to understand that they can trust us and that we are more reliable than some of the current other solutions available,” Chozun’s Word said.

For Coach T, the aim is to attract more investment and possibly expand the scope of the company beyond tennis, to boxing and golf, said Yanni Peng, crowdfunding product designer of the team.

The company has launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. As of May 22, it raised US$3,388 from 25 backers — nearly one-fourth of its goal.

Advice to newcomers from successful entrepreneurs based in Jing’an

Zhao Jinglei

CEO of ReadSense Technology Co, which focuses on artificial intelligence

Unlike big data giants who still focus on cloud computing, we train our eye on real-time interaction between people and robots. We develop chips capable of machine learning for any robot. Yes, we have found a niche market. It is very important for startups to find their niche market. It’s also important for them to recruit young, local talent.

Kevin Chen

US-born Chinese and co-founder of italki, an online language teacher marketplace

As a foreigner, you know less than your Chinese competitors. You have to ask yourself, ‘How can I make a product for China that is better than my Chinese competitors, who understand the country better than I do?’ But I think there’s room for many players. We just have to find smart ways to reach people.

Oscar Ramos

Spaniard who is program director of Chinaccelerator, which is backed by venture capital fund SOSV

It takes a lot of effort to convince people to join the team. You have to learn the way of Chinese thinking and doing. And you need to have ideas from all over the world. The very first thing for foreigner startups is to bring something of value. You have to own something that makes you better and can create a difference.

Yang Liu

Founder of picture processing app FotoPlace which has a “movie mode” and photo montage clip-editing function popular with Chinese young people

It’s very important to identify your DNA, your advantages and your resources, and then make full use of them. Internet users are young. That implies they are willing by nature to be pioneers, but it’s hard to retain their interest. FotoPlace has created an online community to keep them connected.




 

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