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China's Tech Startup Boom Sparks New Opportunities For MBA Entrepreneurs

CEIBS’ E-lab provides a space for MBA students to develop their early-stage ventures

Thu Nov 10 2016

Entrepreneurship in China is kicking off and MBA students want a piece of it.

The Chinese government, with a massive $336 billion state venture fund, is spurring tech innovation and entrepreneurship nationwide.

Today, there are almost 2,000 tech startup incubators and over 80,000 incubated ventures across China, where home-grown entrepreneurs, like Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Baidu’s Robin Li, are household names.

China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) is a breeding ground for new generations of tech-savvy entrepreneurs, determined to profit from China’s startup boom.

Launched in 2015, the school’s cutting-edge ‘E-Lab’ provides a space for MBA students to develop their early-stage business ventures as well as access to a network of fellow entrepreneurs, coaches, mentors and venture capital (VC) investors.

“CEIBS has long had a soft spot for anyone brave enough to launch a startup,” says the E-Lab’s director, Vincent Chang.

“While in the E-Lab, students will be given a lot of support to make sure they’re on track. Those that last until the end will be introduced to an incubator that will facilitate everything, from meetings with potential investors to roadshows.”

Already, one E-Lab venture has been valued at $40 million and another has received an initial $5 million investment from US-based VC group, Softbank Capital.

CEIBS MBA student Urs Casagrande is hoping for more of the same. He co-founded an Internet of Things (IoT) startup in the CEIBS E-Lab. His aim: to create a fully-automated ‘smart gym.’ He hopes to get his business up and running before the end of the year.

“The idea is to automatize personal trainers,” Urs explains. “If we find investors, it will be a super attractive opportunity. The scalability of the business is very good and the market is growing rapidly.

“The E-Lab is all about meeting people who can provide input and connect you to investors,” he continues. “Especially as a foreigner, it’s difficult to get into entrepreneurship in China unless you have an entry point like this.”

American MBA student Jesse Miller agrees. Through the E-Lab, he networked with some of China’s hottest young entrepreneurs.

“It’s really about the interaction with alumni and other students,” he says. “It’s about talking to people who have succeeded as entrepreneurs and talking with VC investors.”

Jesse trialed a clothing services startup at the E-Lab, based on a successful US model, Trunk Club. He’s still undecided on his post-MBA future, but entrepreneurship is definitely part of his long-term plans.

“The experience that I had at the E-Lab - just thinking about projects and talking them over with other students and mentors - definitely helped me to develop a deeper understanding of entrepreneurship,” he says.

Prior to his MBA, Jesse led the expansion of his family’s jewelry business into China and was blown away by the ease of doing business and the low operating costs.

“I feel very positive about the entrepreneurship environment in China,” he continues. “When I came here I was amazed by the number of new incubation spaces. If you have a strong idea, there’s a lot of support for it.”

Urs relocated from Switzerland to experience China’s flourishing startup scene, firsthand. “What’s crazy is the scalability,” he says. “If you have a product or a concept that works, then you have an immense market that you can conquer very quickly.”