Thoughts on the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution:’ From the 2016 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions, Tianjin, China
The “Fourth Industrial Revolution” was the theme of the 2016 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions. I was fortunate to attend the event, hosted in Tianjin, China, which gathers government officials, business leaders, emerging entrepreneurs and experts in science and technology.
For many countries, the “Forth Industrial Revolution” represents the transition from a traditional economy into an innovation and consumer-driven economy. This blog post looks at this change from the perspective of a university student entrepreneur, incubating my own venture at Syracuse University’s Blackstone LaunchPad, and through my own perspective on the Chinese market. What does this transition mean for student entrepreneurs? What opportunities does it bring? What are its long-term and short-term benefits?
It is often difficult for student entrepreneurs to proceed with their startup idea due to a lack of experience, funding, and networking. However, although difficult, these are issues solvable by enrolling in an incubator or finding the right mentor. A more challenging issue to solve is perhaps changing the culture of how an entrepreneur and entrepreneurship is perceived by Chinese society. Equally challenging is assessing the willingness to adopt new technologies introduced by startups, since consumer tastes and demands decide the eventual success of startup ventures.
China is a classic example of a society where receiving a good education and securing a stable job are priorities. Therefore, it can be difficult for Chinese students to engage in a non-traditional path of entrepreneurship, particularly when there is a lack of support from family and peers. That is now changing.
During the opening plenary of the World Economic Forum, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang emphasized China’s focus on developing an entrepreneurship and innovation-focused development agenda. “We will continue to build China into an innovation-driven country by using innovative concepts, growing the new economy and fostering new growth,” he said. This new direction that China is taking in support of entrepreneurship is key to changing culture.
In China, incentives are introduced to encourage more entrepreneurship and startups. A recent poll shows that current graduating students in major universities in Beijing are more willing than ever to join a startup company after graduating, instead of the previous desire to join a major corporation for a steady job. More heads of companies are also beginning to transfer into smaller startups. Here we can see the beginning of a change in culture where entrepreneurship will become a trend and startups will become a norm, instead of being perceived as a pursuit for “crazy people.” Lei Jun, CEO of Xiaomi Technology, also confirms that the startup landscape in China is changing fast, and becoming friendlier for entrepreneurs.
China’s opportunities are not for Chinese entrepreneurs alone. For foreign entrepreneurs, China’s focus on innovations is bringing new friendly policies to attract foreign talent. These include an accelerated VISA process and subsidies for foreign startups in selected areas in China.
At the conference, CEO Feike Sijbesma of Royal DSM expressed his observation that young people nowadays are more open to sharing their ideas and collaborating. Such change in ideology is key for the incubating more successful startups. Personally, I see a future where collaboration will happen on a global level, more international startups will emerge, and partnerships will be formed between people of all cultural backgrounds.
Travis Kalanick, CEO and Cofounder of Uber, pointed out that Uber has experienced great success when entering the Chinese market, noting that the Chinese public is very open to trying new technologies and products. This shows that in China there is an increase in startups, and also an increase in people who are willing to adopt and contribute to the eventual success of these startups. Once the market is ready for acceptance, the landscape for entrepreneurs will become a lot smoother.
In the short-term we will see more government incentives in multiple countries where entrepreneurial activities and startups are aided. I envision more university students pursuing the path of an entrepreneur, as a result of the combined effect of monetary and policy support, as well as a change in culture.
Overlooking at the long-term benefits, it is possible to envision a future entrepreneur-driven economy where decentralization of large corporations occurs and smaller startups and independent entrepreneurs will in turn replace traditional corporate monopolies. The sharing economy that is on the rise today illustrates the potential of more sectors of society becoming disrupted by this economic trend. Innovation will be encouraged and thus flourish, and perhaps create even greater competition where innovative products are being created at an accelerated pace, benefiting consumers and other areas of society.
Of course, these are merely ideas of what the future might look like, but the priority now is for student entrepreneurs to identify incentives and opportunities in front of them provided by multiple parties, and utilize today’s great entrepreneurial environment to achieve their startup dream.
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