One advantage of China to stay as an economically strong country is the capital it accumulated through the last 30 years of rapid development. But thinking in the long term, the government understands that the traditional manufacturing industry is going downhill and if they don’t seize the chance to advance in new technologies and industries, they will be kicked out from the game soon. So it’s not surprising to see that incubators and startups are flourishing throughout the country.
In Dongguan, the renowned world factory in the south of China, almost every official incubator gets a certain government subsidy, policy preferences and fund. We visited some of them and here is our favorite.
Inno17 – The Breeding Ground of Startups
Located in Songshan Lake—Dongguan’s proudest national hi-tech development zone—Inno17 Space is one of the 64 incubators in Dongguan which solely dedicates to Taiwanese startups. We sat down with Director Rickey Lin to talk about this business.
As soon as we stepped into the place, a relaxing common area welcomes us with coffee aroma and colorful, cozy sofa and tables. This is the birth place of good ideas and bold thoughts. We can imagine youthful mindsets exchange ideas and debate different opinions right inside this room. Rickey greeted and led us to a table in front of their presentation area.
As one of the most Taiwanese-populated cities in the country, it makes sense to launch the project here.
Talking about how the incubator was started, Rickey mentioned that this is one of the dozens of state-funded projects that exclusively help Taiwanese entrepreneurs to set up companies in Mainland China. As one of the most Taiwanese-populated cities in the country, it makes sense to launch the project here. The local government sought cooperation from the Taiwan Businessmen Association (TBA) and they found Rickey and his two partners.
The formal Chinese name for this incubator is Dongguan Young Taiwanese Entrepreneur Alliance Management Service (DG Young T.E.A.M.S.), while Rickey prefers to use an easy name called Inno17 Space. In Chinese, 17 (yī qī) sounds like together (一起 yī qǐ). So, the name means innovate together. Having such a creative and meaningful name already differentiates it from other incubators.
Relying on the government fund, Inno17 provides seed money to selective startups, as well as offering working space, dormitory, legal, financial, technological and marketing resources and consulting. Currently, 54 startups are hatching under Inno17 and over 20 standing in the line. Events such as roadshows and startup weekends are held frequently to attract investors; Educational programs like workshops, seminars, salons and training are arranged to prepare the amateur entrepreneurs with necessary knowledge and information.
Speaking of the biggest difficulty in running the space, Rickey confessed that it’s not from any daily operation, or struggle to decide which startup they should include, but from the government. In order to maintain a consistent fund for a startup, he needs to communicate with both the government and the startups to ensure them understand each other’s situation. A new project, especially a pioneer one, requires time and energy to do considerable marketing research which could last for half a year to a year without any solid results. As an investor, the government puts tax and value return at the first and somehow lacks consideration to the new players. Acting as a bridge between the two, Rickey could easily get stressed out.
The former one lines up with closed, separated offices because they are afraid to share information, the latter creates a friendly environment where the fear does not exist.
There are two universal ways of doing businesses. One is to sell a product and earn the price difference, buy low and sell high. The other way is to create added values to a product. You establish a company because you want to make money or you want to create something new? This theory can also apply to building an incubator. One kind of incubators, like the ones we saw previously, occupy several six-floor buildings and hire abundant staff dressed up in suits and jackets. The other kind is like Rickey’s, where a casual coffee shop and a humble shared office are the place to generate and exchange new ideas. The former one lines up with closed, separated offices because they are afraid to share information, the latter creates a friendly environment where the fear does not exist.
Thinking of influential tech giants like Facebook, Google and Apple, none of them started with the idea to make big money. Their philosophy always emphasizes in creating a revolutionary product and a new way of life. To some incubators, their goal is to maximize their profit, pick the most profitable idea, hatch them, grow them and sell them at a high price. Other incubators, like Inno17, their mission is to try their best to realize entrepreneurs’ dreams. They grow up together with the startups, like a family.
During the talk, Rickey and one of the Point Linkers Carlo created a special connection, because they shared the similar experience and dilemma in their lives. About 10 years ago, Rickey was tired of the shoe industry which his father has been succeeded in and wished him to carry on with. He wanted something new, fresh and excited. He wanted challenges and to see what he could do without father. Carlo found himself in the similar situation like Rickey now, walking out from his family’s industry and seeking something that can enthuse him.
The talk had been energetic and inspirational. Rickey is friendly and helpful. If you also want to talk to him about China’s incubator and startup scene, or any new ideas, we would love to be the Point Linkers.