I get many questions about the role of China in the venture business, and I respond to a description of activities deployed by the Chinese government to boost innovation, received from a Chinese engineer (his comments listed near the bottom) residing in the U.S. who manufactures his product in China.
While our implementation of venture capital in the U.S. is fraught with failure (to which the engineer responded to), China’s political system may be the most significant deterrent to a profitable venture ecosystem that aims to produce tangible socio-economic value to the world.
The United States, while imperfect and if it corrects its self-induced economic stupidity soon, remains best positioned to lead the world in groundbreaking technology innovation. But it is our leadership position to lose if we do not wake up to the bleak reality of innovation’s mediocre arbitrage.
My response to the Chinese engineer (his comment below):
Thanks for your insight into China, truly appreciated.
Dictatorship (of the healthy kind) would help venture recover in the US as well (by forcing the deployment of prime risk), and as a result, reinvigorate the support for groundbreaking innovation. Unfortunately, our leaders have a better understanding of politics than economics. All of our financial systems in the U.S. are in blatant violation of free-market principles (by not defining and implementing what freedom means) and thus are economically non-renewable, and they will all inevitably turn subprime. Venture, as an asset class, has failed for the same economic reasons as real estate.
- China is currently copying the bad habits from Silicon Valley that have proven not to work. That approach will ensure China’s initial foray in venture will not succeed.
- Producing outlier venture performance that drives life-changing socioeconomic value is quite a different beast than the production of downstream innovation. Upstream innovation can only be built by entrepreneurs with the freedom to think of this world anew (supported by the economic principles of a free-market), something China’s political system would be reluctant to embrace.
- The government, as the arbiter, cannot judge disruptive innovation. Outlier innovation is detected by outlier investors in the private sector, not by any kind of socialism innate to a political system.
- I believe the more prosperous the middle class becomes in China, the more unrest they will create and leave China if it does not relinquish some of its rigid control. Smart people don’t let themselves be suppressed. So, China’s growing intellectual capacity to innovate will be a blessing and a curse in one package.
So, I think, short-term China can tap into phenomenal resources to produce innovation that will bring the quality of life of the majority of its population up to par with other countries. Frankly, China currently benefits from deploying modern-day slavery to the manufacturing of groundbreaking ideas from elsewhere, something that is simply unsustainable but will help it accelerate its ascent on the economic leaderboard.
And so the real question will be if China will ever be able to operate competitively in a global market that aspires to the free-market principles of a self-regulating economy. Because only that mechanism can produce innovation worthy of venture style returns.
So, I predict the role of venture in China to be minimal because of the unique freedoms such innovations require, despite that, I see a massive opportunity for many downstream innovations in China for years to come.
But I’d be happy to have China’s leaders convince me otherwise.
The U.S. will recover, but not too soon. As in the words of Winston Churchill: “The US will always get its act together only after it has exhausted all options to do the opposite.” That is, as long as its people (like me) keep pushing for a better world we deserve.
The above is a reply to a chinese engineer who commented on our recent article titled: “Why 99.4% of venture capital firms fail”:
It is very true. Most local VCs are investing into “who knows who!” and not based on the innovation qualities. We have some very innovative patented products and I just like running to a wall when approaching local VCs.
Late last year we received the patent from China and things change dramatically. With the Chinese patent granted, we started to tap into the funding support from China. China has government guideline for supporting new start up and government sponsored venture funding on innovation products. There are 4 basic requirements for applying these supports:
1- Things China needs
2- Things China does not have
3- Own the IP
4- World status technology
These guidelines are issued to all the leading city governments, national grade and province grade industrial parks. Most people cannot visualize what these mean. Here is one of the sample:
Late April I visited the innovative project open house in Nanjing City, China. It was carried out in a huge convention center with 10 of thousands attendees. The city government divided the industrial sectors into about 17 industrial zone/parks. These parks set up their booths in the convention halls and very eager to bring in new business/ technology into their parks. In other words, these parks run by the city government are competing to get good projects.
Any projects that get the city evaluation team approval will receive grant, VC funding and government loan guarantee. The government also provides privilege status to those innovative technology such as lower tax rate and tax relief for the first 5 years; free rent to founder employees and free office/space up to 500 square meters for 3 years.
These are just things most American never heard off.
However, if you understand their strategy you will not be surprised. If your company’s products can sell, there is a 17% value added tax for selling in China for all businesses. The regular business income tax rate is 25% (15% for innovative status). The business brings jobs to the park and workers will pay income tax. Each industrial park will have a portion to all these tax your company generated. As results, all these parks are so eager to get new innovative businesses and the government is sponsoring these grants, venture funds and loans to support.
Here is another example how large some of the national graded industrial parks are: Suzhou Science & Technology Town- owns(issued by the government) 300 square kilometers of land with over 20,000 businesses established within currently. They have set plans for growth for next 30 years. Brand new buildings everywhere within the parks and looks better than Silicon Valley.
Most importantly, they have plans and will mentor new businesses from start up to success and eventually be publicly traded.