Following an impressive tour of PCH’s facilities in Shenzhen, Niamh Given and I sat down with other members of the senior management team, all Irish. I asked them, what has changed in the last 10 years of doing business here? John Garvey, CTO, thought for a second and said: “It just keeps getting faster and faster, and we’re pushing out the boundaries of what’s possible here every day”. This theme of speed and innovation was repeated over and over again during my inaugural visit to Hong Kong and Shanghai last week.
Through a series of events and one-on-one meetings, culminating in the APIBF annual conference in Shanghai on Friday, I learned that Ireland competes well in education and financial services, food, and of course, custom design manufacturing. I also learned that a lot of foreign developed tech won’t work in China. To enter the market you might need to completely change your business model, and success will depend on great data, local partners and that culture of innovating at lightning speed.
One of the speakers on the ecommerce track of the APIBF was emphatic - In China we only use things made in China. That might explain why, apart from its size, the Chinese market is such a daunting prospect for western and even Hong Kong based companies. It might also explain the “Chinglish” translations I saw all over cosmopolitan Shanghai, like the government’s innovation slogan “Think Out of Box”.
But, the opportunities for Irish tech in China are immense and the welcome mat has recently been rolled out by government and private industry. KPMG told me that SaaS companies have a particularly strong opportunity to fill a gap in the Chinese skill and knowledge set, and VCs are actively investing in them. China is hungry for innovation like everyone else and its startup ecosystem, while early stage, is maturing - you’ve guessed it - very, very fast. For once, I didn’t even chuckle when I read about a city called Zhongguancun near Beijing that’s been dubbed “the next Silicon Valley”.
During my speech at the APIBF I talked about Ireland’s “Innovation Imperative” and how innovation is all about people. It’s a team sport, and needs to be played on a global scale. We have strong business networks in Hong Kong and Shanghai through the Irish chambers, our embassies and consulates, and our GAA clubs. We need to leverage these organizations to keep the global Irish community up to date, to keep them connected and to involve them, in real ways, in driving innovation out of Ireland.
We’re putting together a simple Google sheet of Irish tech professionals abroad who want to learn about and help our tech companies here at home. And, inspired by Darragh Hudson at PCH, we’re planning a riff on the classic Startups + Friends monthly Brekkie in December. On December 23rd at 5pm, we’re holding a Startups + Global Friends get together in Dublin. So, whether you’ve booked flights home or you’re already here building your startup, add Global Friends to your calendar now and we’ll follow-up with a venue shortly. Darragh and I (and probably a couple hundred more) look forward to seeing you there!