Perhaps Beijing’s air sickens you, and you want to monitor and purify your home。 Origins, tucked in Beixinqiao Toutiao, has you covered。 Forecast that pollution? There’s AirVisual。 Want a wearable device to motivate your workout? There’s Moov。 Covet your neighbor’s books? Bookshare brings the sharing economy to your library。 Or market your skills to locals who want to learn from you: Pingo just launched an app to get you connected。
Seven Every Minute
These are a tiny fraction of the new enterprises bursting out of entrepreneurial Beijing。 Every day new startups take leaps of faith armed only with their passion, skill, and angel investment。 What’s going on in the heads of these men (and some women) as they launch these enterprises?
Most foreign businesses eyeing the Middle Kingdom may feel “China is dangerous,” according to Jerome Scola, co-founder of coworking space Day Day Up. “I don’t know how to do it and I don’t want to be copied,” is a common sentiment. Even if one feels comfortable with the language, the steps between idea and success may be daunting. “If someone was like ‘Here’s how to register a company,’ or explained how to do it for a fair price, that would have been helpful,” says Thomas Talhelm, who founded Smart Air in 2013 to market affordable DIY air filters. He found free legal advice from a fellow Fulbright Scholar, but didn’t benefit much on the operational side. “If I had done my homework better, I would have found people.”
That’s become a lot easier lately, thanks to a startup community that’s investing in the success of their peers。 “It’s really useful to have people who can answer your questions because they’ve done it, tell you what is nonsense and can be ignored, and the things that you really need to pay attention to,” Origins co-founder Liam Bates tells us。 In launching Startup Mondays at the Breathing Space Courtyard, Bates and his team are part of a wider movement of events and coworking spaces building the entrepreneurial community。
Beijing’s startup scene is massive. If government figures are accurate, March 2014 to May 2015 saw almost 5 million new companies in China, according to China.org.cn. That works out to seven new startups every minute. Because so much is concentrated in the capital—from tech to entertainment, finance to politics— nearly half of new companies start right here in Beijing, according to Tech in Asia. Over 1,000 Chinese institutional investors have over RMB350 billion to spend, Bloomberg reports, with BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) already buying up the next industry leaders.
But the numbers hide the human connections that make it possible.
For Ludovic Bodin, whose Cmune produces mobile free-to-play games enjoyed by over 25 million, the first billionaire investor came on board during the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) after a chance connection (the investor’s little brother reportedly killed more people in Cmune’s first-person shooter than there are in Menlo Park). Organized by the Great Wall Club, GMIC was Cmune’s first big opportunity. “It’s important for Chinese and foreign companies: A lot of people are interested in investing in the industry and the growth. They need a platform to connect the startup and the capital.” That platform, cultivated by GWC (and Day Day Up) co-founder Bo Yiqun, may feature the dramatic flair of an Apple product launch, but in the end it comes down to community.
“This is where we’re coming from: mobile internet,” Scola tells us. “We understand their needs. We can organize an event around that topic.” At their Sanlitun office and the 10 coworking spaces they’ll open in the U.S., Day Day Up plans to hold 100 annual events, diving deep into topics and introducing young startups to the investors who need them. “There are a lot of huge companies still looking for innovation. This is why they invest in smaller companies. This is why spaces like Day Day Up having events here is very interesting to them. They can see the value of it.”