Business / Economy

Phoenix Plan rises again in Beijing with foreign startup grants

By Emma Gonzalez (China Daily) Updated: 2016-07-15 07:52

Summertime might usually be associated with holidays, but for many foreign startups based in Beijing, this is a busy period to secure funding and free legal support for their projects under an innovative grant program.

Five years ago, the Chaoyang district government in Beijing launched the Phoenix Plan, a grant program designed to help highly qualified overseas professionals and foreign startups settle in the Chinese capital.

The plan is one of the most popular grant programs for foreigners in China, having already helped more than 8,000 entrepreneurs from 19 countries in the past five years, according to Zhang Wanlin, an official from the Beijing Chaoyang Overseas Talent Center.

This year, foreign entrepreneurs and Chinese returnees will have until July 31 to apply for one of the grants in the 30-million-yuan ($4.5 million) program.

The Phoenix plan is divided into six categories, including financial aid of 100,000 yuan for those startups under one year old and a larger subsidy of 500,000 yuan for established startups of between one and five years old.

"The chances of getting a 100,000 yuan startup grant are usually 80 percent. That's a very high rate," said Wang Qiushi, director of the Talent Development Department at the COTC.

"However, the high-level grants are more competitive and only about 30 percent of the applications will succeed," Wang added.

Among the local government's grant qualifying requirements is that a company be registered in Chaoyang district, with an investment capital of more than 500,000 yuan.

Booyah Education, a startup specialized in consulting services for Chinese studying abroad, explained that getting a Phoenix grant could be crucial for their expansion plans.

"We initially plan to apply for the startup grant because that's what we can qualify for at the moment, but we would love to apply for more of their other grants in the future," said Zhao Liyuan, at Booyah Education.

"This could be a huge help for us because the budget that startups have is quite limited," Zhao added.

Other subsidies provided by the Phoenix Plan include a 30 percent reimbursement of the investment used to hire foreign talent.

Although obtaining funding can be crucial for aspiring entrepreneurs, foreigners still complain that they face tedious and difficult legal procedures when trying to register a company in the country.

"Some things in China's business environment are great, such as the grant. Some are less so, like the 10 months it took us to complete our company registration," said Swiss-born Liam Bates, founder of clean-air technology company Origins and winner of a 100,000 yuan grant last year.

For this reason the Beijing Chaoyang Overseas Talent Center offers other important services to foreigners, such as assistance with visas and company registration procedures and subsidies for co-working office spaces so young foreign entrepreneurs can cut down on costs.

Tax and legal consulting firm ECOVIS Beijing is launching its own contest this summer for foreign startups in China to win a company registration package and two years of free accounting services.

"Many foreign entrepreneurs, who are trying to launch their business in China, all too often have a brilliant idea, but are facing language barriers and are puzzled by Chinese regulations," said Torsten Weller, a project manager at Ecovis Beijing.

"Given that the startup scene is booming in China, we decided to organize a contest."

The contest requires that entrants have registered their companies less than two years ago and it has at least one foreign shareholder with 50 percent of ownership rights.

The deadline for applications is August 16. 

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