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Is China ready for the next Mark Zuckerberg?

11-02-2011 08:55 BJT

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The death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs last month triggered immense soul-searching in China, about why the country lacks tech entrepreneurs as successful or visionary as Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, who have created products that have changed the world.

For China’s wannabe Jobs and Zuckerbergs, a major tech conference in the nation’s capital is giving them a platform, and a chance to reach for the skies.

For China’s budding tech entrepreneurs, the computer is the basis for all their wildest aspirations.

The phenomenal success of Harvard undergrad-turned-Facebook-billionaire Mark Zuckberberg, and late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, whose legacy began in a garage, are the stuff of dreams for these would-be IT entrepreneurs.

China has the largest number of web users in the world, but that population is mostly concentrated in the country’s major cities. The potential of China’s tech market, especially in second and third-tier cities, is staggering.

Enter "TechCrunch: Disrupt", the biggest tech conference in Silicon Valley, is holding its first international event in Beijing.

For Chinese tech geeks and entrepreneurs alike, it’s an invaluable chance to share insights and exchange ideas with their overseas counterparts.

Onstage, some of the world’s top tech CEOs are sharing their success stories. Offstage, ambitious Chinese start-ups are taking the opportunity to pitch business ideas - ranging from men’s interest to mobile apps - to a plethora of potential investors.

Mike Yang, the co-founder with Neonan.com, said: "Right now the biggest challenge for us is to manage own team wisely. We have only 40 local hired people in our firm in Shanghai....."

Karl Zhang, chief architect with Cootek Co., Ltd, said: "I think the major challenge we have is that we, as a Chinese company, do have our own innovations. We want foreign consumers know that we’re really innovates, instead of copying others. Many foreign companies have some stereotyped perceptions on us."

Falling prey to stereotype is one of the most frequently-cited causes blamed by Chinese start-ups, for why they haven’t yet achieved the kind of monumental global success seen by the likes of Jobs and Zuckerberg.

China already has around 500 million internet users, and that amount is growing every year. The country’s online population has overtaken that of the European Union. But analysts say, what the country boasts in sheer numbers, it lacks in ingenuity and originality.

Baidu, China's largest search engine by revenue, is based on Google. Renren, a hugely popular social network, was modelled on Facebook. And the country is estimated to have as many as 5,000 clones of U.S. group sales website, Groupon. Even the now instantly-recognisable ’Angry Birds’ mobile phone game isn"t immune. Rivio Entertainment, the app’s maker, says "Angry Birds" is the most-copied brand in China - a problem so big, the company is opening it’s first Chinese retail stores this year.

Meanwhile, the former head of Google China, Kaifu-Lee, says the realizing-and-copying process itself will revitalize Chinese entrepreneurs, and force the country’s businesses to innovate.

Lee Kaifu, chairman and CEO with Innovation Works, said: "I think that will happen naturally. The US is well-ahead of China in the sector, so it’s very natural for the Chinese entrepreneur...But I think as China rapidly catches up, what will happen naturally is that, Chinese entrepreneurs are not sufficient to copy. It will force Chinese entrepreneurs to be more and more innovative."

But perhaps the solution is not quite so straight-forward. Many overseas companies and investors alike say they still find the Chinese tech sector intimidating, and riskier than those in developed markets. Foreign venture capitalists and investors are by far largest source of funding for Chinese tech start-ups. For example, the proliferation of thousands of Chinese

Groupon clones was fuelled by a wave of venture capital money from the U.S. But by and large, these overseas investors tend to back companies run by people they know, or ’friends of friends'. They also favor career entrepreneurs, because the chances of success increase over time.

At China’s first TechCrunch conference, Chinese start-up entrepreneurs are doing their best to shrug off the copy-cat reputation of their predecessors, by pitching innovative ideas to foreign investors.

Whatever the reservations, the bottom line is clear - China remains the fastest-growing market for many of the world’s tech companies. And for the country’s future visionaries, they’re hard at work creating technology and innovations, to one day reach a standard that Steve Jobs might call "insanely beautiful."

 

Editor:Zhang Rui |Source: CNTV.CN

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