Song Wenming pushed his way through 120,000 applicants to win 10 million yuan (US$1.23 million) on the finale stage of "Win in China" last week. The 33-year-old convinced the judges and the audience both decide the final winner that he was the best entrepreneur than the other four finalists. "Win in China" is one of the nation's hottest reality television show and is based on the US show "The Apprentice." It also follows in the wake of "Super Girl," the most popular singing contest in China.
"Win in China" started in March and more than 120,000 people applied for the contest. The top 3,000 scored interviews and then only 108 were invited to compete in Beijing. These people were posted on the Internet and introduced to fans of the show. The judges picked 32 to appear on TV, and the public chose four from the website.
The 36 contestants had to work in groups performing different real business tasks, such as selling insurance, design advertisement for a brand new cellphone, raise fund for charity, and distributing free dairy products to schools in poor areas, to demonstrate their own entrepreneurship.
The runner-up won 7 million yuan (US$863,000) and the other three finalists received 5 million yuan (US$616,500) each.
The award comes from venture capital firms, whose bosses also sit in the judge panel.
The finalists received a 20-per-cent equity share in their new companies. Half the equity will go to the venture capital firms. The rest goes to CCTV and lucky TV viewers randomly selected.
Wang Lifen, presenter and producer of "Win in China," was inspired by "The Apprentice" two years ago when she was studying the US television industry at Yale University and Brookings Institution.
Wang has been a successful reporter, editor and TV producer and holds a doctorate degree at the Chinese Department of Peking University. Before "Win in China," Chinese audiences were familiar with her talk show "Dialogue."
"I knew copying the programme ("The Apprentice") to China would surely fail. The value advocated in it is 'money is every thing.' This would not be accepted by traditional Chinese cultural values," she said.
Wang endowed her programme with new values. "Innovation and entrepreneurship can not be trained but originate from people's will to change their fate. I hope my programme could mobilize that hidden enthusiasm and desire," she said.
Wang believes Chinese entrepreneurs are respectable people in modern China because they create many job opportunities and pay large taxes while at the same time, making fortunes for themselves.
"Ten years can be flat period for ordinary people, but would-be entrepreneurs can spend that time totally changing their fate through their hard-fought efforts. I want to spread this spirit to the audience in my programme," Wang said.
Song impressed judges and the audience by always staying calm and constantly revealed his strategic thinking. He was already the general manager of a well-known private enterprise in East China's Anhui Province, had an MBA and earned 500,000 yuan (US$62,000) a year. However, he was willing to quit his job and try his luck with the other 35 contestants in the programme.
Song sees huge potential in the surplus labour in central and western China. "I want to train these people with the necessary skills and then arrange jobs in economically developed eastern areas," he said. "Not only can I earn money from the service I provide, but also it will help alleviate the unemployment."
Profit-making and social responsibilities are two criteria he defined for a successful enterprise. Song shared the "Win in China" stage with 35-year-old Zhou Yu from Shandong Province, whose passion, loud voice, unrefined manner, casual postures made him very conspicuous and very popular with viewers. A fresh graduate from a technical school, Zhou called himself an "indigenous wolf."
He represents a large number of entrepreneurs in China with a low educational background. They are generally diligent, smart and courageous. They rely on their passion and personal charm to succeed in business.
Every advance Zhou made in "Win in China" was tortuous. He was not selected by the judges to appear on television, however received his chance thanks to Internet fans. He rewarded his fans by wining the runner-up prize.
Internet users viewed him a grass-roots hero. When he was still a technical school student, Zhou sold fish and fast food and also opened a bingo hall.
His friends were baffled by his entry into the contest. He had already started a women's products distribution company, and although it was small in scale, it earned him a comfortable living.
"But I never feel content with what I have and I need a wider platform to tap my potentials. Innovation is a promise I make to myself and my company," he said.
Pu Bin, 28, was the youngest of the finalists, and was viewed as a new-generation would-be entrepreneur. Although he did not make the final five, he received the highest number of SMS messages from the TV audience and won venture capital of 3 million yuan (US$370,000) .
Compared with other contestants, Pu was a rookie and experienced failure. Since 1999, he had tried operating different types of websites, but none of them was successful because of lack of funds. He planned to use the venture capital to build the largest friend-making platform in China.
"My success will give young people more entrepreneurial confidence," he said.
Respect and revere of the entrepreneurial spirit in modern China has no doubt fuelled the success of "Win in China." "Entrepreneurship, in my understanding, is someone making the impossible possible through his or her innovation. Everyone can do it," said Zhang Ruimin, CEO of Haier Group Company and one of the chief judges of "Win in China."
"China needs entrepreneurship to constantly upgrade its international competitiveness. Individuals also need entrepreneurship to win others' respect and social recognition."
On the official forum of "Win in China" at Yahoo.com.cn, the praise of entrepreneurial endeavours dominated the pages.
"From the contestants I felt the happiness of entrepreneurship. Though it is a road full of hardships, I still want to have a try," an Internet user named Tianxia said in his/her Blog.
Another Internet user named Sue said she gained entrepreneurial impetus from the programme. As a middle-aged woman, she already has a happy family and admiring job.
"It seems that I should be content with what I have. But I wish I could make my daughter and parents live a better life and I could help more people in need," she said.
As a second season of "Win in China" started, these ambitious would-be entrepreneurs would soon have their own stage and entrepreneurial chances.
(China Daily 12/14/2006 page1)