Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Six Months in: 2015 So Far in China for Startup Weekend, Techstars, Startup Next and Co.

Six Months In: 2015 so far in China

UP Global recently was acquired by Techstars. It’s an awesome opportunity for both organizations to combine forces to increase the pace of innovation for entrepreneurs around the world. For my part, I’m focused on China, and I wanted to share what we’ve been up recently.

2015 has been a pretty amazing period for our activites in Greater China. Unlike some other regions of the world, China’s growth for our programs has been pretty stale historically and we’ve had a number of “special issues” (more on that latter).

I’m happy to say this recent 6 month period has been our densest ever in China. It also brought on several new cities and communities as well as some pretty incredible stories. We’ve partnered up in many amazing ways to strengthen our ability to serve entrepreneurs better.

Six Months In: 2015 in Perspective

Startup Weekends in China: 275% More Events, New Cities and More Verticals

For the first six months of 2014, there were 4 Startup Weekends in 4 cities in all of Greater China, including one that I helped co-organize in Chengdu in June 2014. In the interm I was brought on as a kind of “uber launcher for UP Global in China.” In 2015, we ran 11 Startup Weekends in 8 cities and a Startup Next in Shanghai. This period also included over 15 bootcamps and small workshops related to Startup Weekend.

To put things in perspective during this same 6 month period (January through June) in 2011 we held 1 startup weekend event, in 2012: 6, in 2013: 5, 2014: 4. That’s a 275% increase year on year.

Like some other global trends, we also ran a number of vertical or edition events, like Education, University, Change Makers (for social innovation), Hardware Makers and even one for Startup Weekend Space. May 2015 was Edition Month, and, in China, we held a Startup Weekend Maker in parallel with Paris and Brussels.

Every industry needs to innovate. By focusing on particular areas or problem spaces, industry experts and the newly initated into these areas joined force to see how you solve real problems and iniative new solutions into the marketplace. In particular, it was inspring to see first time young, entrepreneurs thinking about hardware and even space related business ventures.

Startup Next Shangahi: Amazing Mentors and Amazing Teams Working Together

Beyond Startup Weekend, I decided early on in helping to develop our operations in China that we needed something “after” Startup Weekend. For us that means Startup Next and Accelerators. The main goal was to better position ourselves away from simply an events company and provide a higher value proposition from startup weekend to future opportunities.

In the Spring of 2015, we held our first Startup Next in Shanghai in cooperation with Chinaccelerator. We had an amazing group of mentors:

After vetting a pool of applicant teams, Startup Next: Shanghai started its weekly sessions in April and May 2015 with 5 teams:

All of the teams are still active. Some are already profitable. Some have already raised investment. Some are seeking investment and even preparing for their crowdfunding campaign. It’s going to be great to follow and help these teams going forward.

New Regional Sponsors and Partners

While this event and community growth also came with several missteps, some instances where we weren’t quite able to deliver on our promises and a lot of learning, I think our biggest, long-term and sustaianable acheivements were on the partnership side.

Early 2015 brought us our first regional sponsors in China with QingCloud, a cloud computing startup based in Beijing and ServCorp, an Australian company provided virtual and serviced offices around the world.

We were priveledged to be supported by the US Consulate across China. Their social media truly helped bring greater awareness to our social mission. Their participation as judges and mentors in Hangzhou at Zhejiang University and in Chengdu were an inspiration to our local and foreigner participants.

In various cities, we’ve been priveledged to deepen our local cooperation partnerships with places and companies like iBox in Chengdu, People Squared and Chinaccelerator in Shanghai, Haier’s M-Lab in Qingdao, and Wu Coffee in Ningbo. These groups are proving to be our most successful and sustainable approach for our startup communities in China.

We are also excited to be annoucing soon our latest batch of regional sponsors. Not only will they help us grow our regional impact but we think they will strengthen our brand and our ability to serve more people around China.

A Note About “Special Issues” in China

China is often labeled as the land of copycats with good reason. Startup Weekend has experienced this as well in China. We’ve seen a number of copycats in China using our model, our name (or a variation of it), our pictures and in some cases claiming to be the real or original startup weekend representatives for China.

It’s difficult for us to even calculate the number of copycats we’ve seen in China. There are various reasons why these groups decided to go from Startup Weekend Organizers to copy cats. But a full explanation is for another post. The simple answer is that culturally there isn’t much incentive to be a volunteer or organizer unless you get something out of it for yourself. Not sure something for your community, which is an equally weak concept in China.

Beyond the on-going challenge of copy cats, which is in someways increasing but in others decreasing (or being weeded out), we’ve also witnessed the harshness and confusion of the general China Startup Scene. First-time entrepreneurs enter a period of extreme startup “hype” in China. While there is a lot of capital and many opportunities, there are few true initatives supporting entrepreneuers and their startup projects.

Conclusion

So what to expect next? We are targeting more event and community growth. We are working hard on the biz-dev side and have several exciting sponsors and cooperations to announce later this summer.

Interested in what we are up to in Greater China and Asia, you can reach me at @markwkoester or check out our China Facebook page. Or contact me directly!

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