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Program opens up China to UK startups

By Angus McNeice in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-07-17 00:34

Chosen companies to receive crash course in how to enter business market

Crayfish.io is an online marketplace operating under a similar model to that of global freelancing platform Upwork launched in Cambridge in 2017. [Photo/crayfish.io]

A new business initiative in the United Kingdom will provide British tech startups with funding and training to help them break into China.

Starting from September, the newly established Crayfish China Accelerator will select five promising UK startups from a list of applicants and give them each an initial cash injection of up to 100,000 pounds ($124,000) in return for equity.

Cambridge-based business development platform Crayfish.io is coordinating the accelerator, and initial investment will come from the Birmingham-based UK-China Enterprise Fund, which is backed by the China Aviation Industrial Fund, a private equity fund from Shanghai.

The startups will then go through a crash course on getting ready for the lucrative yet complex Chinese enterprise environment. Training will include business plan preparation, Chinese market insights, Mandarin tutoring, and introductory sessions on Chinese business culture. Each startup will eventually pitch to an audience of Chinese investors for the chance of further funding.

"China can be a difficult market to crack and even more so for startups," said Crayfish.io Chief Executive Zhang Ting, "which is why the Crayfish China Accelerator program is significant — providing a crucial combination of money and hand-holding, a strategic Chinese investor to fund market entry, and all the necessary training, business expertise, and service delivery capabilities to facilitate it."

Crayfish.io will initially select startups from the medical technology, advanced manufacturing, and new materials sectors. Prospective businesses also need to have an interest in doing business with China in a medium term of 18 months.

The accelerator is also supported by the St John's Innovation Centre, an incubator for companies in what is known as the "Cambridge cluster", which is the area in and around the British university city, which has a high level of tech startups.

"Over the years, I have seen many startups fail in their attempts to crack China, and the Crayfish China Accelerator is just the sort of support they need to facilitate their business there," said David Gill, managing director of St John's Innovation Centre.

The funding and training cycles are expected to take six months in total, at which point the accelerator will begin again with five fresh startups. Crayfish.io believes this will be the first rolling initiative of its kind in the UK.

Zhang, who is from southwest China's Sichuan province, graduated from Cambridge University's Judge Business School in 2000 before holding various roles in Chinese trade and investment.

She launched Crayfish.io in Cambridge in 2017 as an online marketplace operating under a similar model to that of global freelancing platform Upwork. Users post projects on the site that require Chinese language skills, and bilingual freelancers with relevant qualifications respond with bids and proposals.

The company now offers a range of other services, including translation, interpreting, market research, public relations, recruitment, and business logistics.

Zhang said this latest initiative is designed to offer "a fast-track opportunity to China".

"It's never been a better time to be delivering on exports as well as on inward investment – and our China Accelerator Program is a concrete way of doing this better with China," Zhang said.

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