Mabel Lu MIAO : Returnees catalyze China’s startups and VC firms

April 17 , 2017
Miao Lu is the secretary general for the Center for China and Globalization (CCG), a Beijing-based think tank.

Experience gained overseas creates bridges that are helping reshape country’s business landscape and economy


With the implementation of the Made in China 2025 and Internet Plus action plans, China is looking forward to a golden era of popular entrepreneurship and innovation. The recent surge in well-educated Chinese returning from overseas employment or study is a key part of the startup boom.


Until 2008, foreign venture capital firms were the dominant players in the market. But renminbi funds have soared and are now two-thirds of the market. Many founders of Chinese venture capital companies are returnees. Their skills and knowledge are a kind of catalyst for both startups and VCs.


Experience abroad also allows some returnees to adapt overseas service-business models to the Chinese market. Baidu’s founder Robin Li, Soufang’s founder Vincent Ma and Ctrip’s co-founder James Liang all had overseas work experience that greatly enhanced their business ventures in China.


Many returnees not only were important as founders in the first wave of Chinese internet companies, but also have become venture investors. For example, Neil Shen, managing partner of leading venture capital firm Sequoia Capital China, was a co-founder of Ctrip. He has built a reputation as one of China’s most successful entrepreneurs and investors, and has been ranked in the top 10 of the Forbes Midas list for years.


Zhang Lei worked at the Yale University Endowment, and returned to start Hillhouse Capital Management Group, where he is now chairman and CEO. The company manages over $14 billion (13.1 billion euros; 11.3 billion) for leading endowments, foundations, sovereign funds and family offices.


Deng Feng, another returnee, was a founder of Northern Light, a VC company that focuses on early-stage, technology-enabled business opportunities.


Xu Xiaoping, who was a co-founder of New Oriental Group, returned to China as a founder of ZhenFund, a major angel and VC investor.


These returnee venture investors can leverage their knowledge, resources, experience, credibility and network in both domestic and global markets to find and help build more new enterprises in China. They connect disruptive global innovation with the enormous China market and powerful Chinese capital. They have been active in fostering startups and small companies, helping them to get access to global capital markets and to list on overseas stock exchanges, particularly in the United States.


Venture capital investment allows more financial resources to be channeled into the real economy and will help transform China from a manufacturer of quantity to one of quality. By taking advantage of the growing two-way flows between the financial sector and manufacturing, VCs and private equity investors will focus the latest innovation and startups on the real economy – Internet Plus, smart hardware, IoT, bio-technology, clean energy and more.


China’s great size offers opportunities for startups to scale up, but competition is fierce. Well-educated Chinese returnees have served as a bridges between China and the rest of the world and have played a pivotal role in reshaping of China’s business landscape and economy.

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