Erik Ackner (Chengdu): supporting start-up culture for China’s innovation

Erik Ackner is an experienced entrepreneur and event organizer. But above all Erik is a start-up community builder. Based in Chengdu, the German-born Program Director of Startupbootcamp China supports the country's start-up community to thrive and connect with the rest of the world. Innovation and entrepreneurship have really developed momentum in China. The latest ‘Slush’ start-up event in Shanghai – that I helped organise – attracted 12,000 participants!” 

Erik Ackner is not new to the idea of business. He is a serial entrepreneur himself, who has started several own businesses, such as UrTurn (event agency), Startup Generation, an entrepreneurship thinktank. Erik also organises global start-up events and communities such as Startup Grind, Startup Weekend, Slush and Fuckup Nights in China. One of his most important activities is running start-up acceleration programs at Startupbootcamp. First question from Club China: is China a country for start-up communities? 

“China is a low-trust society, thus being active and supporting communities is not a common approach in China. Values like ‘give first, make friends, help others’ need to be promoted. Also, Chinese don’t value a community very high. I often get asked why I volunteer to organize community events like Startup Grind and Startup Weekend without actually getting paid for it. Money is still key, and many entrepreneurs just want to make money without pursuing other long-term goals. On the other hand it is actually very easy to get connected in China, WeChat is a power tool to stay connected and reach out to people. If introduced by friends, your community can grow.” 

What are the challenges? 

“How to establish trust. How to convince Chinese that the power of a strong start-up community can actually raise the level of the whole ecosystem and city. It’s a long-term game, but Chinese often only see the short-term outcomes. This is also pushed by investors.” 

Is there a start-up culture in China? 

“Innovation, tech and start-ups are widely accepted topics for Chinese. Many students consider starting their own venture or working for start-ups. The Chinese government is probably the world’s largest early stage investor and also has built thousands of incubators to further foster and speed up the growth of the start-up ecosystem. Chinese are born business people and love to make money and find new opportunities. Many Chinese have one or two side jobs to increase their income and just try some project on their own on side. Technology adoption and integration in China is insanely fast, even 80-year-old grandmas and grandpas are using their phone to pay for a bottle of water in a kiosk. People believe that technology can bring China back on to the global map and be respected by the whole world. So everyone is fighting to keep moving forward. Many start-ups therefore have a 9am to 9pm 6 days a week work culture to move faster than everyone else.” 

What is your business model? 

“All over the world Startupbootcamp is working with corporates to help facilitating innovation external innovation between the corporates and their portfolio start-ups. Corporates sponsor the acceleration programs to get in touch with the right start-ups and work together with them in pilots or POCs. After the program they often either invest, acquire, license or just buy the products of the start-ups. In China specifically we also get support from the local government.” 

What are your latest successes? 

“I have been in involved in organizing China’s largest international start-up event called Slush Shanghai. Slush is originally from Helsinki but has now expanded to Singapore, Tokyo and Shanghai. This year we had more than 12,000 participants joining the event with hundreds of start-ups, investors, media and amazing speakers. I’m also organizing Startup Grind in Chengdu on a monthly base, featuring inspiring speakers to bring together the community and help to bride resources and help stakeholders in the ecosystem.  

What’s next?  

“With Startupbootcamp we are currently preparing to launch a new Scale program in Shanghai. It will open early November 2018. 

How do you find doing business in China? 

It’s very challenging but also rewarding. In my opinion anyone who is successful in business in China, can make it anywhere in the world. It’s super competitive and fast-paced. You have to constantly be ready to innovate and out-compete others. Relationships are key and can make a difference between bankruptcy and success.”

ATTENTION, contact info: Ackner Erik

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