[环球时报] New incubator in S.Korean capital aims to help start-ups target China market

Signs of a slowdown in the Chinese economy have appeared in recent months with a raft of data pointing to softening growth momentum, but enthusiasm about investing in the market has not waned. The latest example to signify continuing bullish investor sentiment was Chinese business incubator operator Tribeluga’s launch of a business incubator center in Seoul that aims to help South Korean start-ups get into the Chinese market.

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Photo: CFP

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Tribeluga’s launch event in Seoul on Thursday Photo: Courtesy of Tribeluga

Alongside a bustling street neighboring Seoul’s upscale Gangnam area stands a finely decorated six-story building inside which plans to foster business ideas that lure chance seekers to the Chinese market have been incubating.

The building officially became the incubator center of Tribeluga, a newly launched start-up accelerator, on Thursday, when Luo Lili, president of the company, told a launch event in Seoul that the Chinese market is set to continue as the land of promise for global investors, particularly those hailing from South Korea, where a host of innovative start-ups are eager to search for new markets.

There are a lot of start-up incubators in South Korea such as the noted Seoul Space, located in the heart of Gangnam area, but not many of them are focused on investment in China.

Known as a world hub for innovation, South Korea is home to thousands of innovative firms, making it one of the most innovative countries measured by per capita innovative companies, Lee Min-hwa, chief of the Korea Digital Hospital Export Agency, said at the event.

Lee founded Medison Co, South Korea’s first venture company, in 1985, which has now grown into a medical equipment company with a global presence. Medison became a Samsung Electronics affiliate in 2011.

In a suggestion of how innovation has become an integral part of the economy of South Korea with a population of only about 50 million, the annual Global Innovation Index rankings revealed by Bloomberg Businessweek at the beginning of 2014 showed that South Korea, No.2 on 2013’s list, had unseated the US as the world’s top innovative country.

The US fell to third on the list, while Sweden, which was in fifth place in last year’s rankings, climbed up to be the runner-up this year.

The Chinese mainland, at No.29 last year, also inched up to 25th place on 2014’s list.

Making a speedy foray

South Korea’s adeptness at creating business opportunities through innovation prompted Luo to set up the incubator center in Seoul before building a future sibling center in Beijing.

“Tribeluga has already been consulting on three projects in the fields of environment, healthcare and education involving a few South Korean start-ups which are eyeing the Chinese market,” Luo told reporters on Thursday after the launch event, without elaborating.

Along with opening a center in Seoul to route local start-ups to the Chinese market, the company is preparing to establish a Beijing center in the near future, according to Luo, the 28-year-old who makes no secret of being the daughter of Luo Lin, chairwoman of the Jinlin Group, a property developer in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China’s Sichuan Province.

Preferring to be called chuang’erdai, literally meaning second-generation entrepreneur in Chinese, rather than fu’erdai or rich second generation, the young woman, who established a public relations agency in Chengdu in 2012, said she only embarked on the Tribeluga initiative in June 2013.

Over the past 16 months, Luo has gathered professionals from the US, South Korea, and China in an attempt to build a triangular route to funnel investment into the latter market. China is set to be more attractive for overseas start-ups with the current leadership’s focus on reform and innovation.

Her team also serves Chinese companies eyeing investment channels from outside the country, Luo told the Global Times on Thursday, without disclosing further details.

In his keynote speech delivered at the Summer Davos in Tianjin on September 10, Premier Li Keqiang stressed innovation is an inexhaustible engine for the country’s reform-bound economy.

The premier’s focus on driving innovation is of particular importance for foreign companies seeking opportunities in the Chinese market and domestic companies hoping to expand overseas as well, James Z. Li, chairman and CEO of E. J. McKay & Co, Inc, an independent investment banking firm in Shanghai, told the Global Times after the forum in September.

Entrepreneurship boom

While it remains to be seen whether Tribeluga, which is ambitiously envisioned by Luo to be among the top 10 incubator accelerators in Asia in five to seven years, can truly set itself apart from a number of incubating platforms, both home and aboard, industry watchers believe the likes of Tribeluga signify a rise of entrepreneurship in China, particularly in the wake of the success of Jack Ma Yun, the English teacher-turned-founder of the e-commerce giant Alibaba Group.

In China’s sizable market, there are already local heavyweights including CDH Investments and Hony Capital, in addition to a flurry of incubator programs focused on a variety of start-ups.

In recent years, the incubator industry has grown in China, with the emergence of some high-profile initiatives including Innovation Works, a Beijing-based incubator platform, which was founded in 2009 by Kai-fu Lee, Google’s former China chief, and has become one of the largest incubators in China.

There is certainly enormous untapped potential ­in China’s market for latecomers, Andrew Lee, strategy advisor at Tribeluga who previously worked for the Global Markets and Investment Banking Group of Merrill Lynch, told the Global Times on Thursday.

For instance, even in the crowded technology sector where there are already a bunch of companies competing to stand out, opportunities remain in certain niche segments, he said.

The viability of Tribeluga is yet to be seen in the future, but it suggests a rising wave of entrepreneurship in China, Bryan Wang, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Meanwhile incubation platforms have also grown elsewhere in Asia. Hong Kong’s Bigcolors, launched in December 2013 as a site connecting angel investors and start-ups, announced in August plans to acquire GetViable, a Melbourne-based business idea incubation company, for an undisclosed amount.

With the ongoing Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee running from Monday through Thursday, which for the first time sets the rule of law as the central theme of a Party plenum, the young female entrepreneur emphasized future improvements in the country’s legal environment will lay the groundwork for building a genuine innovative economy filled with a thriving entrepreneurial spirit.

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