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Chinese techies seek riches via startups

Michael Kan | April 19, 2011
Now Beijing is seeing a "huge increase" in startups, said Kai-Fu Lee, a former executive with Microsoft and Google.

Attitudes are starting to change, however. In the past there was more pressure to take care of one's family, said James Li, a 34-year-old programmer in Beijing. But now more young professionals want to test out their ideas in a market that has a potential for big returns, he added.

"There are a lot of young people now that are not that traditional. They think it's a good time to try," said Li, who is also working to build his own startup. "With startups, people don't have to work for another company, they can do what they want."

The rise of mobile apps and social networking in China has also made it easier for entrepreneurs to enter the Chinese market, said Stephen Wang, a cofounder of movie critic site Rottentomatoes.com, who is now working in Beijing's Internet industry. "People can quickly build an app and release it. With these apps, it's almost like a second generation of startup entrepreneurs is emerging," he said.

Beijing's startup environment also faces challenges, some unique to China. Due to weak intellectual property rights in China, one major concern is that a startup's idea or business model will be blatantly stolen and "cloned" by larger rival companies. Internet trends also quickly catch on in the country, making competition stiff. One example is how China currently has more than 4,000 group buying sites, all appearing in about a year's time.

"If there's no one copying you, then there's something wrong," said David Liu, the founder of Jiepang.com, a location-based social networking service.

Industry experts also point to the need for more mentors willing to give input to Beijing's young but inexperienced entrepreneurs. iWeekend, a non-profit devoted to supporting startups, is helping to provide such a platform. Last Friday, a roomful of young professional gathered to offer and discuss their startup ideas at an iWeekend sponsored event.

Tyr Chen, who left his job in March to begin his startup, attended and presented his idea. The site he proposed allows users to easily organize their travel plans. Chen came away from the three-day event recruiting other professionals to his startup, while also getting advice from experienced technology entrepreneurs.

"I like to travel and I have had this idea since 2005," Chen said, noting that his startup has already begun to attract attention from interested investors. "I really want to make this idea real."

 

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