A bright future for Chinese graduate entrepreneurs in the UK

By Jianan Li, Dongying Zhang

Translated by Mi Zhang

Since the British government cancelled the two year post-working visa (PSW) for non-European graduates, there has been an increasing number of Chinese students with a strong educational background deciding to become entrepreneurs. Whether it is for the purpose of surviving or for greater future prospects, setting up their own businesses is a considerable alternative choice for these students.

According to a recent survey, 63% of Chinese university students are planning to become entrepreneurs. This does not come as a surprise considering the UK’s reputation for innovation and technology. A key question you may ask is – “how do they start?” At the beginning of this year, The Chinese Weekly will give you a deep insight into the joys and hardship of these students’ road to success and their future plans. Hopefully it can be a useful reference for coming students.

Entrepreneurship competition has opened a door for me   

Li Tong Yun is a post-PhD student currently doing postdoctoral research in the Cambridge University Engineering Department. He started his project about the coverage of wireless signals one year ago. When he talked about the original purpose of his project, he said that at the end of the third year of his PhD he noticed some students’ school work was incorporated into a business plan. Under their inspiration, he decided to develop his research further and participate in the Entrepreneurship Competition organized by the British Entrepreneurs Association in the coming year. He won £5,000 prize money from this competition, which he used as funding for his enterprise.

The success of the Entrepreneurship Competition opened a door for Mr Li. After the competition, he and his team received £122,000 sponsorship from the Engineering and Science Foundation of Britain, which is especially for the early stages of new businesses. Their business has been on the right track ever since.

The Entrepreneurship Competition was like a magic key and, after that door was opened, many people with similar ideas came together. Mr Li’s schoolmate Zhang Can, a third year postdoc at Cambridge University, also started a business.  With Zhang Can, his team now had five members. Their project “Cambettery” won a prize of £5,000 provided by Cambridge University and further won £6,000 in the CSSA UK High-level Entrepreneurship Competition. These competitions also provided them with valuable cooperation opportunities with the China Science Technology Park and large-scale technology companies.

Yang Yang, a PhD student at Aston University, told our correspondent that he also began his business through the Entrepreneurship Competition.  He said his project on the usage and development of Biomass energy just came out naturally, after his more than three years research and study in this specific area.

Focusing on market + fund +teamwork =the success of an entrepreneur

Participating in the Entrepreneurship Competition is just a start. If you want your business to run for a long time, a lot of factors need to be considered. There are a lot of difficulties.  Although Li Tong Yun used only one year to develop his simple ideas into detailed plans, as well as send out a patent application letter and produce a chain of business, he realized that setting up a business is not that easy. 

“In the early stage, the first and the most important areas that need to be considered are how an idea can turn into a business module which generates money and how to find the gap in the market.”

During the early stages of his business, Mr Li used the resources around him and discussed his ideas with the entrepreneurs near Cambridge frequently. With their help, he was able to analyse the project and gain valuable experience. At the same time, he did a lot of research in this area and acquired a full understanding of the market in order to turn his idea into a successful business model.

Once a target is set, another problem is fund-raising.  Mr Li did not only seek help from the 3Fs (Family, Friend, Fool), he also applied for sponsorship from the Engineering and Science Foundation of Britain. His strong background and the maturity of his project led him to get the funding quickly, from which point, money was no longer a problem.

Zhang Can told The Chinese Weekly: “Scientific research is endless; the project of Cambattery has significant potential to be used across several fields in the future. For this reason, he hopes he can use his technological expertise in the area of product development, which he believes could bring a lot of benefits for his clients.”

Yang Yang said: “We have advanced skills and have explored an un-covered market, hence we see the potential.”

However, it is not enough to simply understand how the operation works; problems emerge when these ideas are turned into actions. Money is always a tough issue, but not the only one. If you want to run a successful business, teamwork plays a significant role as well. “If team members cannot agree on a shared goal and approach, then the project cannot progress, hence management and cooperation is a key area which needs to be carefully considered by entrepreneurs,” he said.

Entrepreneurs should focus on their advantages

Direction and self-estimation are the key elements that need to be considered before joining a group of entrepreneurs. In the interview with The Chinese Weekly, Yang Yang used his valuable experience to give some helpful advice: “First, you need to identify your purposes and resources. In addition, you need a reliable partner.”

Teamwork is very important; investors care more about the team than the project. He also emphasises that entrepreneurs must find their unique advantages and develop in the area which they are familiar with.

Finally Yang Yang said: “For the entrepreneurs, the current economic and political environment is suitable for the people who are able to adapt. You must be strong otherwise you will be kicked out. The UK is a country with a high concentration of technology where the government encourages the development of the information industry. High-technology companies are especially suitable for a country’s long-term development and a smart way to attract talent