Young Entrepreneurs Should Consider the Chinese Market

As the inaugural recipients of the Minister for Youth’s 2016 International Leadership Award, we’ve returned home from a week in China with a definitive message for New Zealand: be sure to consider the breadth of opportunity in the .cn (vs .com or .nz) market.

International Leadership Award Recipients at Huawei

International Leadership Award recipients, NZ Embassy staff members, and Robyn Scott – Director MYD at Huawei’s Research and Development Centre in Beijing

Our group of ten joined 40 other young entrepreneurs, students and changemakers from the New Zealand China Youth Federation last week for the 2nd New Zealand China Young Leaders Forum in Beijing. The forum aimed to facilitate dialogue, connection and partnership between young people interested in the environment, technology and innovation, and entrepreneurship.

It was a privilege to experience China and grow the New Zealand-China relationship beyond traditional trade and commerce to emerging tech businesses and social entreprenurship. It’s no surprise our friendship with China is strong at both a grassroots and a diplomatic level. From expat Kiwi Rewi Alley’s work in the 20th century through to our recent diplomatic and economic ties; it’s a great relationship that continues to grow.

First things first, China really likes New Zealand. It’s more than just being about business; young people in China want to learn from young people in New Zealand. We can learn from their work ethic, focus and knowledge around dealing with scale. They can learn from our practical skills, work-life balance and how to convince parents that non-traditional careers and extracurricular activities are helping prepare us for our futures. The scale of opportunity in China and ASEAN is gigantic. Before this trip, many of us underestimated how well positioned we are to get involved and add/receive value.

Second, it’s very possible to do business in China. Chinese people have immense purchasing power and while they research their products more than any other major economy, New Zealand is uniquely placed to influence shopping habits with our brand and values. There are over 230 entrepreneurial incubators in the city of Shanghai alone. Many of these have a distinctly international focus and appeal directly to English speakers. We met with many young Chinese entrepreneurs – brilliant men and women who dispelled the notion that China can only imitate and not innovate. With the sheer amount of capital and innovation flowing within China, Kiwi businesses should definitely consider it as rewarding (and challenging) as expanding into established markets like the United States. You have to move fast though; we learned that it’s challenging to keep up with the entrepreneurial trends, even while living in China, let alone New Zealand. From craft beer to makeup to organic food to a company that repairs chips in hotel crockery; if you can think it, someone is doing it and many are making millions along the way.

Third, there’s space for more institutional support for small-to-medium sized New Zealand businesses to enter the Chinese market. A number of expats and entrepreneurs commented that the priority appears to be helping large, established New Zealand companies to gain a foothold in the Chinese market, especially in the food and beverage industries. We hope to work alongside our new friends in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to demonstrate that it’s not just large Kiwi businesses who can punch well above their weight. There’s ample opportunity in China for New Zealand start-ups and small businesses. Australians are already seizing those leads and we should too.

Fourth, as the New York Times said recently, Chinese social media is a guide to the future of the internet. Remembering, of course, that neither Google, Gmail, Facebook nor Twitter can’t operate easily in China! We found Chinese apps to be far ahead in the services they provide and it’s all accessible in one app. From e-commerce to transportation to communications, everything is readily available on the app ‘WeChat.’ Chinese people spend 7-8 hours on WeChat every day. It's your shopping mall, supermarket, credit card, service provider, transport service and social media - all in one. Forget separate websites and apps; a single app is leading the way for what we might see in the Western World in years to come.

Finally, while China has come a long way in the last few decades, it still grapples with massive problems. Its’ housing prices and environmental crises echo the challenges we face in New Zealand but on a much grander scale. Business and legal relationships still rely as much on personal relationships, as they do on the strict rule of law. It’s important not to be blinded by the potential rewards of doing business in China and to approach it with care – choosing a business partner or investor in China can be a life-or-death decision for your business and not one to be made lightly.

The door is open for more young New Zealanders to consider entrepreneurship in China and there are plenty of people prepared to help you navigate the barriers of working in the world's most connected and competitive market. Organisations like the New Zealand Chinese Youth Federation, New Zealand Dragonz, Asia New Zealand Foundation, and New Zealand Chinese Young Leaders are full of enthusiastic members who are eager to help you explore Chinese culture, language and/or business opportunities.

We were given the opportunity to dig deep into China, even if only for a short time. What we have found is a wellspring of opportunity. We have no doubt that New Zealand and China share a “meeting of critical points” and we’ll work hard to ensure that other young New Zealanders are equipped to meet these opportunities – and challenges – head on.

Sam Johnson, Director of WeMobilise and recipient of 2016 International Leadership Award