By Quentin Gigon, Junior Project Manager - Innovation & Entrepreneurship
For the past few years, China has seen its economy grow at a fast-paced rhythm with a keen interest towards innovation, making it an ideal location for high-tech startups to stress-test ground-breaking technologies while seeking international expansion. Moreover, it goes without saying that China also opens doors to other Asian markets. Nevertheless, foreign companies doing business here are faced with a set of challenges both cultural and operational, tangible and intangible. These challenges are amplified if these foreign companies are small and have only limited financial resources and manpower.
In light of the above, the Venture Leaders China program was launched to offer a platform for a selection of 10 disruptive startups from Switzerland to connect with China over a 10-day roadshow across 5 cities: Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing, and Tianjin. The trip included business workshops, investor meetings and public events. A few weeks ago, the 5th consecutive edition of Venture Leaders China 2018 ended after 10 days full of learning, memorable experiences, and, most importantly, valuable contacts from various industry professionals of the local startup ecosystem and multi-million and -billion-dollar investors.
All in all, as we look back at this 5th edition of Venture Leaders China, we can be more confident than ever that this program is an ongoing success story. All the startups showed high levels of satisfaction regarding the trip, with some of them already having secured investments, signed agreements and booked flights to come back in the next few weeks for follow-up meetings with potential investors and clients that were met during the trip. Moreover, the feedback from the audience of the various pitching events was nearly unanimous: the quality of the startups was one of the highest they have ever seen, and the pitching events were among the best they have attended. The valuable agreements signed here as well as these laudatory words provide evermore justification for the program and remind us of the high potential of Swiss startups, but also of the importance to support them. Today’s big firms were yesterday’s disruptive startups and the Venture Leaders platform provides the perfect gateway for startups to accelerate their growth, which eventually will lead to positive spillovers back in Switzerland, in terms of both employment and an increase of the quality of the already excellent Swiss innovation ecosystem.
More information below including testimonials and details of the individual events.
This year, the delegation was composed of Jordi Montserrat and Beat Schillig of Venturelab, Mathias Paquier of Canton de Vaud, Michael Friedrich of DistalMotion, Reto Naef of Topadur Pharma, Aurélien Rizk of InterAx Biotech, Marco Salerno of Foldaway Haptics, Raj Lehal of Cellestia Biotech, Noris Gallandat of GRZ Technologies, Zhenzhong Su and Lukas Meier of Fixposition, Carlos Ciller of RetinAI, Matthew G. Hall of SimplicityBio, and Nilson Kufus of Nomoko.
The program started in Hong Kong with a morning at Invest HK, the local investment promotion bureau, with insights from Charles Ng and Jayne Chan into the attractivity of Hong Kong as a place to do business, as well as Karena Belin of WHub discussing the local startup ecosystem, while Peggy Cheung of Jones Day offered a presentation about IP and Licensing.
The afternoon session consisted of more business insights at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park with a first presentation by Julia Fung introducing the HKSTP and how they promote innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship in Hong Kong. The afternoon continued with insights from Luciano Tattoni of Compagnie d'Investissements et de Gestion Privée into the services his company provides for startups in Hong Kong. Finally, a panel discussion took place discussing "Business Development in China and the rest of Asia from Hong Kong" and "Fundraising in Hong Kong and China", organized by Helen Lo of the IMD Business School Alumni Club Hong Kong.
The program was off to a great start. After all the valuable inputs of the morning and afternoon sessions, the Venture Leaders took the stage for the first time during this trip as they pitched at the Hong Kong Trade Development Council in the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center. After a welcome speech by Andreas Rufer of the Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong, Regina Lai of Hong Kong Trade Development Council, and Jordi Montserrat of Venturelab, the startups launched the show, with a high-quality audience of over 100 people.
“Hong Kong was really great, we had some very interactive sessions with potential investors and managed to make many good contacts, which I’m looking forward to building upon to bring Cellestia to China.” -Raj Lehal, Cellestia Biotech
“Hong Kong was great as it provided us with an opportunity to interact with 100-150 people, in an incredible city. This was a great discovery and an eye-opener in terms of what we can do in Asia in general.” -Matthew Hall, SimplicityBio
After a busy first day in Hong Kong, the Venture Leaders headed to a neighboring city famous for its culture of innovation and often referred to as the Silicon Valley of Hardware: Shenzhen. The day began with a company visit at VisionerTech, an AR/VR company specializing in hardware and software. The visit provided a first time look for many of the participants into the daily operations of a Chinese company.
In the afternoon, the Venture Leaders headed to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange for their first pitch in mainland China. After some introductory words by Shenzhen Stock Exchange representatives, Felix Moesner of swissnex China, the Consul General of Switzerland in Guangzhou, KPMG China, as well as Lutz Berners of Berners Consulting, the Venture Leaders took the stage and began their presentations. The audience consisted of many eager investors who never missed an opportunity to ask questions at the end of each pitch, a true testament to the quality of Shenzhen as a business and innovation hub in China.
“The pitch at the Shenzhen Stock Exchange allowed us to engage with many investors from the Shenzhen region, which is booming at the moment. I believe there will be many potential collaboration opportunities very soon.” -Carlos Ciller, RetinAI Medical
“I was very impressed by Shenzhen. After the pitching, I met so many people, experts, and investors from the field, but mainly also people from pharma, who are potential partners for us to develop our drug in China.” -Reto Naef, Topadur Pharma
Shanghai day 1
After an exciting day in Shenzhen, the Venture Leaders headed to Shanghai for an evening pitch on the Bund, at the SOHO co-working space. After some introductory words by Felix Moesner of swissnex China, as well as Cun Jie Li, CEO of Money Weekly Culture Development, the startups started their usual business, but this time with a twist: live software generated translations, courtesy of iFlytek, a world leader in AI language solutions. Moreover, the evening had a competitive component, as a very Swiss voting round took place at the end, where the attendees had the chance to vote for their favorite startup of the night. With 35 votes, Michael Friedrich of DistalMotion walked away with the win. All this was followed by networking and more interactions between the startups and the attendees. The audience was very interactive and proved once again that Shanghai is very business-minded.
“The pitch in Shanghai allowed us to have a close proximity and contact with the participants which led to many questions and interesting discussions afterwards.” -Aurélien Rizk, Interax Biotech
“When we pitched the technology in Shanghai, we had people from both the startup side and the industry side give us precious contacts and advice about applying this technology in products in the Chinese market.” -Marco Salerno, Foldaway Haptics
Shanghai day 2
The 2nd day in Shanghai was a day full of learning, with an insightful coaching session in the high-rise conference room of Rouse. The morning consisted of lectures about “IP & Trademark in China” (Melvin Mei and Yvette Feng of Lusheng Law Firm), “Business Deals & Transactions in China” (Chris Bailey of Rouse), “Fundraising in China” (Zhebo Ding of Richland Capital), and “JV Implementation in China” (Ginger Yang of Financeren and Frances Yao of Brainforce China)
With 6/10 of the Venture Leaders being healthcare startups, a special session dedicated to this field was held in the afternoon. Ronghui Gao of G-Med Consulting gave an “Overview of the Life Science Industry in China”, Haohao Zhang of Cenova discussed “Cross-Border Investment in Healthcare”, and finally Xia Meng of Cellular Biomedicine Group presented a “Successful Sino-French Equity Joint Venture Story” in Biopharma.
The coaching session provided the Venture Leaders with a unique chance to sit down with all of these industry experts and to have 1-on-1 discussions about issues specific to their business.
Following the two busy days in Shanghai, the Venture Leaders were in the Chinese Capital of Beijing to spend the day at the Zhongguancun Dong Sheng Science Park (DSSP). The morning saw the Venture Leaders pitching as part of the European Division Semi-Final of the 6th "Dongsheng Cup", an international entrepreneurship competition. After some opening words by Hbous Hassan of the DSSP, the inauguration of a cooperation agreement between Venturelab and the DSSP, and the 10 pitches, Reto Naef of Topadur won the "competition", giving him the opportunity to come back for the final in December. The pitching session was followed by a visit of the park for one part of the group, and afternoon 1-on-1 sessions with investors for the other part. This session at the DSSP was an excellent illustration of a fruitful win-win cooperation between Venturelab and the DSSP, providing both parties with tangible added value for their stakeholders.
Later, the Venture Leaders concluded a busy day with a final pitch in the evening at the Embassy of Switzerland, after some introductory words by Nektarios Palaskas and Swiss Ambassador Jean-Jacques de Dardel.
“The evening at the Embassy in Beijing allowed us to develop a very high-level network. In fact, I was personally able to meet people from Switzerland here in Beijing who I have been trying to target for a meeting in Switzerland unsuccessfully for over a year, which was great!”-Noris Gallandat, GRZ Technologies
“The event at the Embassy was very helpful for us all. The ambassador understands the Chinese market as well as Swiss innovation, giving him the perfect credibility as a speaker to convince both Swiss entrepreneurs to come to China and Chinese investors to invest. I met both potential buyers as well as investors who focus specifically on our business.” -Zhenzhong Su, Fixposition
For the last three days of the program, the Venture Leaders headed to Tianjin, where the Summer WEF was taking place, with distinguished attendees such as Li Keqiang and Jack Ma. This provided the entrepreneurs with the rare chance to rub shoulders with world leaders and business decision makers and expand their network, as well as take part in various workshops and presentations. The final night of the WEF was marked by the Swiss Incubator event, a platform dedicated to Swiss high-tech startups which was initiated by the Embassy of Switzerland in China. The startups pitched for the last time of the program, and Noris Gallandat walked away with the prize of best pitch.
“The Swiss Incubator event in Tianjin was very fruitful for me as I was able to talk to potential investors that are Chinese, but also to Swiss people who have already made inroads into the Chinese market and are in turn willing and open to helping us penetrate China.” -Michael Friedrich, Distalmotion
“The WEF brings a very diverse and well-educated group of people together in a very open setting which makes networking extremely easy. I made a lot of great connexions here.” -Nilson Kufus, Nomoko
Many thanks to all the program partners and local partners for supporting us in the organization of this program:
· ETH Zurich
· Gebert Ruef Stiftung
· Canton of Zurich
· Dongsheng Science Park
· Embassy of Switzerland in the People's Republic of China
· Consulate General of Switzerland in Hong Kong
· Consulate General of Switzerland in Guangzhou
· Swiss Centers China
· Shenzhen Stock Exchange
· Shenzhen Securities Information Co
· Rouse Consulting
· Money Weekly Culture Development
· Invest HK
· Jones Day Law Firm
· Hong Kong Science and Technology Park
· Compagnie d'Investissements et de Gestion Privée
· IMD Alumni Club Hong Kong
· Hong Kong Trade Development Council
· Berners Consulting
· Invest Shenzhen
· KPMG China
· Lusheng Law Firm
· Richland Capital
· Brainforce China
· G-Med Consulting
· Cellular Biomedicine Group