The Startup Accelerator Helping Foreign Businesses Take On China
Sitting in a windowed corner of a Shanghai office, Russian national Evgenii Kozunov searches for the proper analogy to capture his experience developing his business in China. “It’s like, like expanding on the Mars for Western company,” he says in English, a grin spreading across his face. “Because everything, just everything different.”
Kozunov, chief business development officer at a Moscow-based enterprise that provides online tutoring for English-language learners, says his company decided to open a branch in Shanghai last year to tap into the country’s rapidly growing education market. But when that startup, named Skyeng, garnered only a handful of new customers from its early promotional campaigns, Kozunov realized that the advertising and entrepreneurial skills he had picked up overseas may not apply to the Chinese context.
“All your promotional channels, all your expertise, doesn’t work for this market,” says Kozunov. “You should build it from scratch.”
Many foreign companies find themselves in a similar predicament, according to Zhou Wei. An entrepreneur in his own right, Zhou founded the startup accelerator XNode to help bewildered enterprises from around the world gain footing in China.
“China’s language, culture, law, tax system, environment, and policies are all different from those in their home countries,” says Zhou, swiveling his head back and forth as he rattles off the numerous disparities that overseas entrepreneurs need to grapple with.
Now well aware of such stumbling blocks, Kozunov says he chose to take advantage of XNode’s services to grow his customer base in the country. At present, Skyeng has just 250 students in China, but Kozunov is counting on insights from the Shanghai startup accelerator to raise that figure to 1,000 by January 2020.
For Zhou, success for clients like Skyeng means success for XNode as well, so he sets his sights high for their achievements. “I think our dream is to find a future ‘unicorn,’” he says, using the neologism for a private startup worth over $1 billion. And in the meantime, XNode’s more modest goals will help fuel the startup accelerator’s own expansion.
“We also hope to help more startups develop,” Zhou says. “We can grow alongside them.”
Editor: Layne Flower.
(Header image: Zhou Wei, CEO of XNode, speaks with his foreign co-workers in Shanghai, May 10, 2019. Sixth Tone)