Dr Lu Gang, founder and CEO of TechNode, speaks at ORIGIN by Technode, 18 Sept 2018

A personal blog that started as a passion to share thoughts on the Chinese Internet market gained so much attention outside of China that it evolved into a media business. The man behind the blog is technologist Dr Lu Gang, who started the Mobinode blog in 2006.

Convinced that there is a business telling the investment and startup community about the developments in China, he pivoted the blog into TechNode in 2009. TechNode has grown to become the leading online startup news site for the Internet industry in China. Available in Chinese and English, TechNode, which also runs TechCrunch China events, is the go-to site for news on the latest developments of China’s Internet movers and shakers.

Recognising that Singapore is the startup hub for ASEAN, Dr Lu opened his first overseas office here earlier this year. He is not new to the local scene having engaged several parties in the local startup scene here for several years. He sees TechNode as a bridge linking investors and entrepreneurs in ASEAN and China. His many connections to Chinese investors and Internet companies as well as entrepreneurs enable him to help the region’s startups enter his home market. He can do the same with Chinese Internet companies who want to tap the ASEAN market.

TechNode is one of two China-based organisations that will spotlight ASEAN-China tech collaboration at SWITCH, the Singapore Week of Innovation and TeCHnology, which will be held on Sept 17 to Sept 20 at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre. The other is CYZone, which promotes Chinese startups and enterprises as well as collaborate with government agencies there on the startup ecosystem. On the last day of SWITCH, there will also be offsite visits to companies that have contributed to the development of Singapore’s startup and entrepreneurship ecosystem. These companies include engineering consultancy Hope Technik and Esco Ventures which invests in life sciences tools and medical technology.

Co-organised by National Research Foundation and Enterprise Singapore, SWITCH will focus on ASEAN-China collaborations this year, which is timely because 2018 is the ASEAN-China Year of Innovation.

Mary Nan, CYZone’s founder and CEO, observed that Chinese startups are attracted to ASEAN because of its large 630 million population, fast and good Internet infrastructure, proximity to China and cultural advantages.

Mary Nan, founder and CEO of CYZone, speaking at the Opening of the Demo Asia Summit by CYZone at SWITCH 2018

“ASEAN is also an important part of China’s belt and road initiative. For many Chinese companies, Singapore is the landing pad for ASEAN. That’s why many Chinese companies chose to participate in our DEMO ASIA Summit at SWITCH,” she said.

China is also entrepreneur friendly and the market is open to all companies from anywhere in the world, she added.

Venture capitalist James Tan said Chinese entrepreneurs are beginning to look outside of their country for business expansion. It used to be that Chinese entrepreneurs were copycats cloning Internet companies popular in the US like Twitter and Facebook.

This phase has passed with entrepreneurs and investors exploring new areas like deep tech.

“They are now looking at ASEAN for these deals,” said Tan, managing partner of Quest Ventures. Tan co-founded e-commerce firm 55Tuan China in 2006, growing it into a nation-wide business with 5,000 employees in 200 cities. In 2015, 55Tuan was listed on NASDAQ in the US. Tan left the company, returning to Singapore to start Quest Ventures. His views on ASEAN-China startup ecosystem are refreshing as the startup investments and collaboration between the two regions intensify. Tan is also the Chairman of BANSEA, a leading angel investment network promoting the development of the angel investment community in South East Asia.

On lessons from China: “Some things are just different, can’t be replicated here. China has a much bigger market, startups are larger. So, valuations are much higher too. The Singapore market is smaller, so our valuations are lower here. However, as part of Asean, we’ve a large market too, with more than 600 million people.”

On startup ecosystem maturity: “ASEAN is about 5 to 10 years behind China and can learn from the challenges China faced, we know what they are and the solutions to resolve them. We are better prepared to resolve similar challenges if they pop up in ASEAN.”

To find out more about SWITCH and the events go to http://www.switchsg.org.

Written by Grace Chng, a veteran tech writer and author.