Global Biz

Chinese entrepreneurship blooms in Europe

By By Zhang Chunyan and Zhang Haizhou (
Updated: 2011-07-04 22:05
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Post 1980s generation run the extra mile to carve their business niche

LONDON – China’s post-1980s generation, a group numbering more than 200 million, have often been labeled as spoiled, money worshippers or apathetic. But the under 30s generation have also been the trailblazers of Chinese entrepreneurship across the seas.

Most of the success stories are often tales of braving the odds and of hard work and a keen eye for business. But they are also the stories of those who have tested the murky waters and managed to carve a niche for themselves.

“You can survive no matter where you go as long as you thrive for your work and are determined to succeed,” says Bai Fan, chief executive of the London-based media company C Cubed Media.

 Chinese entrepreneurship blooms in Europe

Bai Fan, 27, chief executive of the London-based media company C Cubed Media,is optimistic about the future. (Yui-tak Wan/ For China Daily)

The 27-year-old Bai is an example of a successful young Chinese entrepreneur who is now making waves in the UK.

With over 20 employees, Bai’s company provides full-service communications for high-profile Chinese clients in areas like corporate branding and also produces content for media organizations like the Chinese language service of the BBC.

Describing himself as a “half-creative, half-technical” person, Bai says he graduated in 2007 from Goldsmiths, University of London, and worked for media organizations like the BBC Four prior to starting his own venture.

In November 2007, Bai started his media company with nearly 20,000 yuan in a small office with two other friends.

“I chose to start a business in the most competitive and most saturated industry,” he says. “Many people believed that young people cannot be trusted with important tasks like running a company.”

Starting off by providing professional video products, Bai soon signed a contract with a Chinese media organization’s London bureau two months after he set up his company.

Using the news outsourcing model as his blueprint, Bai made the big move when his company signed a deal with the Chinese language service of the BBC to provide content.

Since then there has been no looking back for Bai. His popularity skyrocketed when his company’s microblog drew half-a-million-page views overnight, during the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s in April this year.

“We made and published more than 20 videos about the royal wedding. Our fans or followers soared to 60,000 from 800. Now we have more than 610,000 fans,” Bai says.

Like Bai, there have been several other post-80s Chinese entrepreneurs who set up their own business in Europe after completing their studies.

China’s strong economic growth and the European footprint expansion of Chinese companies to some extent was the trigger for most young entrepreneurs.

Bai says he found his niche in the UK. Several big brands that were planning expansion in UK suddenly found themselves in a market where customers had no prior knowledge about China or its companies. There was an urgent need for some one who could provide information services, he says.

“It’s not an underserved market ... but no Chinese company had ever attempted to provide the services till then,” Bai says.

“Unlike Chinese companies, we have to work in the British mainstream market but with a Chinese framework,” he says.

Bai plans to expand the service offerings of C Cubed Media and expects the 2012 Olympic Games in London to provide more business expansion opportunities.

He has also teamed up with the Chinese embassy in the UK to make a video film on subjects like consular protection, assistance and other relevant information for Chinese companies and personnel traveling to the UK.

Li Qiang, 29, from East China’s Shandong province is another successful entrepreneur who has carved a niche for himself in the information business.

Graduating from the University of Warwick, Li registered his company Sea Moon Media in October 2007.

After thorough market research and phone sales, Li and his eight employees published the UK Chinese Pages, which focuses on providing information about Chinese companies in the UK. His company also launched a new magazine called London Living Artist, which provides all kinds of information and coupons for Chinese living or studying in the UK.

Earning good advertising revenue, Li’s company turned profitable just few months after inception.

Apart from money and valuable overseas experience, the opportunity to showcase China’s image to the world is also an important draw for most of the post-80s entrepreneurs.

Kong Xiangxi, 23, a fresh graduate from the University of the Arts in London set up a not-for-profit film festival called China Image three years back to promote contemporary Chinese films in the UK.

 Chinese entrepreneurship blooms in Europe

Kong Xiangxi, 23, a fresh graduate who set up China Image Film Festival three years back to promote contemporary Chinese films in the UK.(Yui-tak Wan/ For China Daily)

The China Image Film Festival features various genres and titles, with a wide focus on commercials, art and documentaries.

“We want to help advocate a positive image of China that goes beyond the hard diplomatic perception of Chinese power and to deliver an updated concept of our people through the soft power of films,” Kong says.

“We want to present a modern Chinese culture that consists of something other than kungfu,” he says.

Kong also repudiates the negative view about the post-80s generation and says that many young Chinese are now aware of their responsibilities to the society.

“Many people thought that young professionals who go overseas are unreliable dandies, but I see many of them as responsible people who are enthusiastic about their jobs,” Kong says, adding that his team of volunteers mostly comprises youngsters.

Certainly, for most of the post-80s entrepreneurs, support from parents — emotional and financial — have been vital to success.

“My parents encouraged me a lot. What’s more, my initial capital, 500,000 yuan ($77,000), came from my parents and the money I earned by working,” Li says.

Unlike most of their peers elsewhere, the post-80s Chinese entrepreneurs are often devoted to their businesses and too busy even take a break. Many of them often work at least six days a week.

Li says that he runs the company with his life. With such a busy schedule he does not even time to do workouts, something that he often enjoyed during his college days.

But others like Bai find the time to indulge in their favorite passions, in this case Hunan cooking. “It is such a great joy to cook at home - if I don’t have to work overtime,” Bai says.

Aside of the independent success stories, there have been organizations that have also played a vital role.

In 2008, the London-based 48 Group Club, an independent business network, committed to promoting positive links with China, launched its “Young Icebreaker” program.

The Young Icebreakers is a unit of the 48 Group Club which works to advance the club’s aim of promoting positive trade and other relations between the UK and China.

It is now also a network for better communication between young people from both nations.

Difficulties and setbacks

In fact, many young Chinese people who wanted to launch their own business in Europe failed and had to go back to China eventually.

“Launching your own business is very tough, needless to say from abroad. No relatives and friends can help you in a place far way from your motherland,” Bai said.

Li also noted post-80s entrepreneurs face difficulties because of their relative lack of industry experience, client resources, funding and management skills.

They have to create their own businesses through market opportunities. But not all projects are suitable. As a result, they face greater challenges securing entrepreneurial success, Li said.

Man power is also a bottleneck for the post-80s entrepreneurs. In the UK, most of their employees are Chinese graduates who use the Post Study Work (PSW) visa, which allows international students to stay and work in the UK for up to two years following graduation.

The Chinese students must leave the UK if they can’t get a work visa after their PSW visa expires.

There are also many hidden scams for young entrepreneurs including fraud.

Last year, Li was cheated by his friend after gaining a project worth half of a million yuan.

“I shared much experience with him and contributed much to the project when we prepared it together, but he kicked me out after its success,” Li said, unwillingly describing the details of the unhappy story. “For me, it’s a heavy blow.”

But Li added with a smile, “Learning lessons and moving forward, I expect to encounter more difficulties, some predictable, some not, but I am ready to take up the challenges and to seize future opportunities.”

Yui-Tak Wan contributed to this story.