Shenzhen opens door to ideas boom

James Riley
Editorial Director

China’s southern city of Shenzhen has turned its lonely eyes to Australia, scouring the country for ideas and innovations and perhaps the chance to lure some of our entrepreneurial talent to its ‘miracle’ economy.

The Shenzhen Economic and Trade Office (SETO) has named Sydney as one of five global cities that will host innovation contests as part of a worldwide talent search that will result in Chinese venture capital agencies investing in winning projects with finds of up to $100 million.

The ‘Innovation Competition on International Talents’ will conduct regional contests in Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv, Munich, Tokyo and Sydney – with the winners in five separate categories in city being flown to Shenzhen for a Grant Final event to be held in Shenzhen in April.

Shenzhen calling: Aussie entrepreneurs targeted as top talent

This is exciting and disturbing in roughly equal measures. At the very least, the hand-wringers and cultural-cringers of the local innovation ecosystem will want to blow the froth off a celebratory beer. Sydney being recognised (targeted perhaps?) among such esteemed global innovation centres is validation indeed. High fives all ‘round.

But the Australian and state governments who are trying to build an environment in which our innovative entrepreneurs can build large Australia-based, export-facing tech companies will be given pause for thought.

As if it weren’t bad enough that the Californians, Singaporeans, Londoners and all the rest are trying to lure away our best and brightest talent … Well, holy crap, here come the Chinese. And they know how to think BIG.

This is an excellent initiative. Exposure to scale is mind-expanding for young entrepreneurs who are already thinking global but have not yet come to grips with the dimensions of genuine scale, as it is measured outside of tiny Australia. Shenzhen is a great place to get a schooling.

These kinds of programs are exciting for those with an interest in the China-Australia relationship, and the prospect of a diversified trade that includes the greater export of Australian high-tech products and professional services.

The more exposure to the China market, the better the understanding. China, of course, is not one market. And as a city of 14 million people Shenzhen is hardly bite-sized (and if you include the rest of the Pearl River delta region, it’s more like 60+ million.)

It is frankly intimidating. And of course, there are the many, many imponderables about doing business in China. But engagement is everything. Participation is its own upside for such competitions.

“Finalists and winners will receive prize money of between US$2000 and US$80,000 each. Venture capital agencies will invest in the winning projects with funds of up to US$100million.”

The Shenzhen government is seeking contestants with high-tech skills and new ideas to meet the city’s call for ‘mass entrepreneurship and innovation’, the event’s literature says.

“The competition is an opportunity to turn ideas into real products in a city that embraces innovation.”

Australian individuals or groups must register for the Sydney competition by February 29. There is no entry fee. The five categories are:

• Internet and Mobile Internet (Information technology)
• Electronic Technology
• Biology and Life Sciences
• Advanced Manufacturing
• Materials and Energy (including energy conservation and environmental protection)

The regional winners in each of these categories travel to Shenzhen for the final, where the doors to government and industry groups are thrown open. Winners are not compelled to take investment. But they do get a unique opportunity to look around.

It is interesting that the next Andrew Robb trade mission to China – which includes Shenzhen among its whistle-stop destination – overlaps with the competition’s grand finale.

This might mean something, and it might mean nothing. But it’s definitely interesting.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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