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City-sized incubator makes a leap in Hangzhou

Update: November, 25/2018 - 07:00
Dream Town is where some 700 startups are being nurtured. - VNS Photo Khoa Thư
Viet Nam News

By Khoa Thư

HANGZHOU, China – Tim Clancy doesn’t consider himself an expat living in east China’s Hangzhou City.

To him, an expat is a foreigner who moves to China while still working for a foreign company.

“They don’t need to worry much about their lives here,” Clancy said.

“To us, even getting our children into preschool is a challenge,” he added.

For the past eight years, Clancy and his Chinese wife, Samantha, who is from Zhejiang Province, have been building their startup in the provincial capital Hangzhou, all from scratch.

Tim Studio mainly focuses on film and TV production, and has been nurtured in the most dynamic city in China.

“Actually, in the beginning we did not have any intention of starting a company in Hangzhou, we just really like the city’s balance of an ancient royal capital and a modern town,” Samantha said.

“However, the startup culture here is gaining momentum quickly because Hangzhou has set a target of becoming an international city, which brings us a great many opportunities. That is the reason we chose Hangzhou,” she added.

China’s economic miracle started when people began flocking from their villages to industrial zones, commonly known as floating population by urban citizens, to make Nike shoes or assemble tiny components for iPhones.

The story China wants to tell today is totally different, and a scenario of smart cities with cashless payment, modern offices and high-quality labour forces has unfolded.

And an incubator called Dream Town is Hangzhou’s answer.

Launched in 2014 by Zhejiang Province and Hangzhou’s municipal governments, Dream Town is expected to become a new model for makerspaces, a milestone for the information economy to turn the city into the high ground for technological entrepreneurship in China.

Buildings, styled like Chinese traditional houses, cover a floor area of 213,000sq.m and are divided into Internet Village, Angel Village, Entrepreneurial Fair and Entrepreneurial Avenue. All the services that a common startup may need are there.

What makes Dream Town different from other incubators is that it’s driven by the government.

Companies enjoy a huge bunch of benefits including training, rental subsidies and cash handouts.

The success of the Hangzhou-based Alibaba, ranked second in the world’s top ecommerce companies in 2017, is one of the reasons many startups have made the city their home.

China’s venture fever arose from Hangzhou, which makes the city a common hub for ambitious entrepreneurs.

Booming exports in the 80s following China’s open door policy accelerated the city’s economic growth.

The Alibaba Hangzhou campus. The ecommerce giant has become a model for Chinese ventures. - VNS Photo Khoa Thư
Hangzhou City has set a clear vision to become the country’s leading innovative city. - VNS Photo Khoa Thư

Nikk Mitchell, a Canadian citizen who runs FXG, a company offering virtual reality solutions, is one of 700 entrepreneurs in Dream Town who has found a reason to stay.

“Hangzhou has a history in innovation and culture dating back thousands of years. There are two famous governors of Hangzhou who were artists and poets as well as bureaucrats. This unique appreciation of the arts is still alive today. It’s a city where beauty is just as important as innovation,” he told Việt Nam News.

“My vision for my company is a meeting of art and tech. We create innovative new technology with the goal to use it to create meaningful, interesting, and beautiful things. I hope to follow in the footsteps of the poet governors and be a poet CEO,” he added.

The target market his company focuses on at present is education.

“I found a huge opportunity here when lessons and lectures can be converted into VR so that learners can study anytime, anywhere they want,” he said.

Not only foreign talents like Clancy and Mitchell are attracted and inspired by the dynamic startup vibe as well as favourable conditions the local authorities offer. Up till the first half of 2018, more than 720 enterprises had been founded by overseas returnees which confirms Hangzhou’s status as a promising land for ventures, especially in technology and smart solutions.

Driven by innovation, Hangzhou’s digital economy has been on an upward trend. Over the past four years, the value added of the digital economy increased from more than 160 billion yuan (USS$23 billion) to about 320 billion yuan ($46 billion).

Five major software industries including cloud computing and big data, e-commerce, digital content, information software and mobile internet achieved average annual growth of 30 per cent, steering the rapid development of the digital economy, according to the city’s Information Office.

To Hangzhou, the ambition and vision seem quite clear. However, foreign talents choosing to start a business there may need something extra to ensure success.

“Hangzhou is an excellent place for startups and the market is very big. But one should cross check what industry is suitable to start. Furthermore, for non-Chinese that have limited understanding of language and culture, it can be very difficult,” Samantha recommended.

“It may be critical to enlist the support of a local partner with excellent resources, solid experience and deep understanding of the culture for navigating the business startup terrain in Hangzhou,” she added.

Jack Ma did not succeed with Alibaba at the first attempt, but entrepreneurs can always embrace their right to dream in Dream Town.  – VNS

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