Sydney-based startup community work space Fishburners has built a credible pathway for local innovators to establish a beachhead in China, establishing its first international co-working space in Shanghai.
Fishburners chief executive Murray Hurps said the company would take space in the Caohejing Tech Park – one of Shanghai’s two giant technology parks – to provide co-working accommodation and community support for tech startups and scale-ups.
The Fishburners Shanghai operation will be run by Peter Davison – one of the original Fishburners founders and a primary funder of the community in its establishment phase – and Daniel Shi, a Shanghai-born Australian who runs a successful tech incubator in the city.
It really is a stunning announcement and says as much about Fishburners community management as it does about China’s own incredibly well-resourced drive to internationalise its own innovation sector.
Mr Hurps says the discussions with the Caohejing Tech Park have been ongoing for some months (the project origins pre-date Austrade’s plans to establish its own ‘Landing Pad’ in Shanghai – but more on this later.)
If support for Australian tech companies looking to China has been a feast or famine affair over the years, then Fishburners has just rung the dinner bell on a feast.
Mr Hurps said they had initially settled on 50 seats, but have already made a decision to take more space. He says the opening of the first Fishburners international site in no way changes the not-for-profit’s central role to help create more Australian startups.
This is not about “sending Australian companies overseas,” but rather about helping Australian companies enter another market.
“[The] Shanghai office is intended to provide a space for Australian startups hoping to bring the best things from Australia to the Chinese market, and for Chinese entrepreneurs and interested parties to better engage with Australia’s largest startup community,” Mr Hurps said.
Peter Davison says the Caohejing Tech Park had reached out to him through Daniel Shi because of his role in setting up Fishburners in Sydney. Armed with supporting funding from the central government as part of its growing innovation agenda, Mr Davison said the park was targeting well-known international startup coworking and incubator brands to internationalise China’s own efforts.
The Fishburners Shanghai space is housed in a building with a number of international startup communities (including Silicon Valley’s Founder Space, as well as others from Korea, Germany and elsewhere.)
“China is going through a phase process of trying to reach out to the rest of the world and to internationalise their innovation efforts,” he said. “This [technology] park has a lot of space. It is impossible to describe the scale of what is happening in China right now.”
Caohejing Tech Park is effectively Fishburners first sponsor. The space was offered free to set up. And the arrangement means that Fishburners members in Sydney are offered the space free should they look to establish a China operation (well, free for an as yet undetermined period.)
The Shanghai workspace will also house a paying Chinese membership, and operate under similar community-based ethos.
It is not clear how the Fishburners Shanghai space will work with Austrade’s ‘Landing Pad’. The Landing Pads were announced for five cities – San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Singapore and Shanghai – by former Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy.
Though funded by the Industry department, the Landing Pads are managed through Austrade. The location of the 10-seat Shanghai Landing Pad has not been announced.
Mr Davison said the organisation had hoped Austrade would run its Landing Pad program out of the new Fishburners co-work space – and discussions had taken place between the organisations – but that Austrade had decided to keep themselves separate.
“We invited them to be a part of what we are doing, but I think they wanted to have their own independence,” he said.
“I get the impression that they wanted to be arm’s length, but hopefully there are things that we will be able to do together.”
A spokesman for Austrade said the Landing Pads program was a very different set up. Selected companies go through a tailored 90-day program before moving on. It was possible that ‘graduates’ from the Landing Pad would move on to join whatever beachhead of Australian startups has settled at Fishburners.
One company that could be an early entrant into Fishburners’ Shanghai location is fashion tech startup Stashd. The company was a finalist in the China-based reality TV show The Next Unicorn (a Shark Tank-like affair of which Peter Davison was a judge) and has built strong China connections as a result.
Stashd founder Jessica Wilson said the company had developed a Chinese language version of its apps as a result of the show, and was currently finalising a round of funding that includes Chinese investors.
“China is a market that we are taking very seriously right now,” Ms Wilson said. The company is expected to make China expansion announcements in the next two weeks.
Fishburners establishing itself in Shanghai is a tiny development in the grand scheme of China’s innovation sector. But for the Australia tech industry, this is a hugely important, hugely significant moment in time.
Australian technology exports to China barely rate as a rounding error on the total trade relationship between the two countries. But this may be the start of something beautiful.