A platform for entrepreneurial innovation

Hangzhou is fast becoming a platform for young entrepreneurs to develop and nurture their ideas.

Hangzhou is fast becoming a platform for young entrepreneurs to develop and nurture their ideas.

At the 2017 Youth Conference, held on November 10 in Hangzhou, Andrew Shirman was one such innovator of ideas. Shirman came to China seven years ago after graduating from Boston College in the US. He joined a program called “Teach for China” in Yunnan Province in the far southwest. There he developed an idea to start a social enterprise to help nearsighted children in Yunnan to get free glasses. He now has a company in Beijing.

At the conference he met Audrey Cheng and Muhammed Fazeel, who are both young entrepreneurs and professionals under the age of 30, like him, coming from different parts of the world. They weren’t the only three. Over 500 such young change-makers from more than 60 countries were invited to share their stories and experiences and connect with each other at the conference.

Global Shapers Community and Elite Eagle Hangzhou Entrepreneurship Development Association enabled the event. They are two of the most active startup communities for young people in Hangzhou and worldwide.

An initiative born out of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Global Shapers Community is a network of inspiring young people, under the age of 30, to work together to address local, regional and global challenges. A board of directors governs it with people such as Klaus Schwab, the founder of WEF and Jack Ma, founder of the Alibaba Group.

Launched in 2011, the community presently has more than 6,900 members, or what they call “shapers,” and they have set up 377 hubs in 450 cities worldwide.

In each city, teams of “shapers” create projects that address the needs of their community, from responding to disasters and combating poverty, to fighting climate change and building inclusive communities.

More than 500 young change-makers from over 60 countries share their stories and experiences at the 2017 Youth Conference.

“Our Zurich hub, for example, worked with the Volkswagen Group’s Switzerland branch, to introduce green energy to local taxis,” said Shimer Diao, community leader at Asia region of World Economic Forum.

Hangzhou joined the network in 2015. Its present 18 members of the Hangzhou hub come from different industries with a variety of work and life experiences.

One member, Li Chao, is the founder of an online English language learning company targeting students and young professionals.

“I think the hub is a great place to meet people as it gathers all the top young leaders in each industry. I learnt a lot from them for operating my business,” said Li.

The Hangzhou hub organizes meet-up events at least once a week. For the past two years, they have invited many multinational executives and entrepreneurs to act as mentors for young people with big ideas. During the G20 Summit in 2016, they launched a campaign called “Hangzhou on the T-shirts.”

“We keep enrolment at around 15 people each year. The applicant needs to submit a Curriculum Vitae and a brief introduction on his/her project,” said Zheng Fei, curator of the Hangzhou hub, who added that to maintain the diversity of the group, they only accept one applicant from the same company.

The conference also saw the inking of an agreement between Global Shapers Community Hangzhou hub and Xinhe United Industrial Park, a community-based workspace designed to attract local entrepreneurs, especially those with international backgrounds.

The 5,000-square-meter space including office rooms, exhibition halls, and roadshow venues will be open to the Hangzhou hub members for free. It also welcomes other startup-minded groups with overseas experience.

An agreement on establishing a standard international community in Jianggan District hasb been signed at the conference.

Tong Wenkai, another woman CEO attending the conference, is also working in the English language learning. She went back to China after graduating from Ohio University, in the US, in 2013. She finally settled and based her company in Hangzhou.

“My impression of Hangzhou is always very up-and-coming, full of entrepreneurial vibes,” said Tong. “We also get some financial support from the government.”

A recent report released by Forbes China revealed that 82.23 percent of the Chinese students studying abroad choose to go back home for employment, quite a contrast to what was common in the 1990s and early 2000s.

In Hangzhou, there are presently 25,000 top-level returning overseas professionals, and they have been recognized as an important impetus for the city’s thriving entrepreneurial development.

In July, earlier this year, three industrial parks were launched in three different districts as a pilot area for introducing top global experts and foreign entrepreneurial professionals.

Yang Shouchuang, marketing director of a locally based venture capital investment company, told Shanghai Daily that the number of startup companies moving from other cities to Hangzhou is increasing.

“Compared to first-tiered cities like Beijing, Hangzhou has a better living environment, and comparatively lower house prices,” said Yang.

One of the "shapers," Xue Yuan shared her entrepreneurial story at the conference.

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