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UK tech firms compete to join China's startup boom

by August 15, 2016 General

A visitor tries the Jianguan AR glasses at the launch of the product in Shanghai, July 9, 2016. [China Daily]

British startups gathered at the Google Campus in London on Thursday and competed head to head for a chance to fly to Shanghai and join China’s growing innovation industry.

At the Shanghai International Innovation Competition-UK, eight young companies pitched to a panel of tech experts who quizzed them on their products and their viability for entry into the Chinese market. The competition plays into China’s plans to transform Shanghai into a startup hub to rival those in Europe and the United States.

“Shanghai wants to become a leading innovation center – like Silicon Valley – in China. London plays that role in Europe, so we are connecting the two cities,” said John Zai, CEO of Cocoon Networks, a company that bridges the Chinese and European startup communities that hosted the contest.

“The people who joined this competition see the future – they see which market will be the biggest, the market that gives them the most potential to expand, and that’s China.”

EVA Diagnostics, presenting their AnemiPoint device that performs at-home blood tests, took first prize. They will now fly to Shanghai Bay Valley in September and take part in the competition’s global finals against local startups as well as fledgling tech companies from Singapore and South Korea. The overall winner will receive a cash prize, investment resources and three months free working space at a tech incubator in China.

“We’re delighted and honored to have the opportunity to go out to China and start building partnerships and engage in the investment community out there,” said Toby Basey-Fisher, CEO of EVA Diagnostics. “We see China as a very big growth opportunity for us.”

The Chinese government identified entrepreneurship and innovation as key drivers for economic diversification in a 2015 development report.

“Mass entrepreneurship and innovation in itself is a major reform endeavor,” Premier Li Keqiang said in March.

The government has established more than 1,600 incubators for startups across the country, and is armed with the world’s biggest war chest of venture funds. Through State and enterprise funding, about $231 billion was raised in 2015 alone, and by April 2016 almost $340 billion was available for tech investment, according to consultancy Zero2IPO Group.

Jeffrey Tijssen, co-chair of the China working group at Tech London Advocates and one of the judges on the panel, said that companies like Cocoon act as important conduits for startups in Europe wishing to exploit the Chinese market.

“A lot of startups look at China as the next big frontier,” said Tijssen.

Along with EVA Diagnostics, the startups that made the competition’s shortlist include: Combat Medical that makes cancer-fighting thermotherapy devices and Cupris, whose clinical imaging smartphone software allows patients to remotely share diagnostic information with healthcare professionals.