Cloudy with a Chance of Jellyfish

Almost 15 years ago, I interviewed for a management consultant role.  When it became apparent that I wasn’t going to get the job, I asked the interviewer what skills and experience I needed to develop.  ‘The ability to handle ambiguity’ was the answer.  It has stuck with me ever since.  I’m reminded on a daily basis working with entrepreneurs that this is a key trait that is needed to be a great disruptor, innovator or venture capitalist.

Last week was spent in cloudy China.  The average daily temperature was 34 degrees, however we didn’t see the sun once during the week.  Even on internal flights there was no blue sky to be seen only white ‘fog’.  It feels unnatural to travel at 500+ miles and not see where you are going.  Maybe this is a good metaphor for the start-up scene.  However it is hard not to get excited by the energy and scale of activities here.  China is exhilarating and draws you in.

We are hosting SmartCamp Beijing in August and SmartCamp Asia also in Beijing in September.  Jonathan Liu is the IBM Global Entrepreneur leader in the Greater China Group and he and the team have been very active in the build-up.  They have run a series of industry focused events for ecommerce and healthcare.  Each event highlighted 10 companies (twice the number at a regular SmartCamp event).  Earlier in the year they co-hosted the National University Entrepreneur Contest which attracted 190 teams from 180 universities.  Social media is also interesting in terms of scale.  We are working closely with Chuangyetv who launched their site last Tuesday.  The team has a great web site and Weibo account.   According to iResearch’s report from March 2011, the top 100 users had over 485 million followers.   Indeed Kaife Lee who was previously president of Google China has over 14 million followers!

Earlier in the year I wrote about Castrol 2020.  This week I got to attend their 2nd event in Shanghai.  In addition to 5 very interesting teams including (judges winner) and Aventones from Mexico there was a great group of VCs and Corporates including 3M, Dow Chemical, and Northern.  I heard some of the mentors say they believe the companies were as strong if not stronger than the companies in London.  The public event was held in a super cool Mint and involved a virtual game of football in the middle of the pitches.  Another surprise!

The final reason to travel was to visit China Accelerator in Dalian and see how the accelerator model works in this amazing country.  I was told that Dalian was a small city by Chinese standards.  It seems that a population of 5.5M is small in China.

Over the last 3 years we have been working closely with many of the top accelerator programs around the world.  This model, while it continues to evolve, is an important part of creating great companies.  It includes a balance of local and international mentors in a space that more resembles a nightclub than an office. 

After the main events, we also took the opportunity to host our first Shanghai Alumni dinner and review with the finalists and mentors what has worked and what needs to improve.  It is great to see Palmap continuing to grow with investment from Gobi ventures.  They have mapped 10,000 shopping malls!  The reference to Jellyfish in the title was one of a lot of surprises during dinner (and a reminder that China is exciting and different).   

Here’s a big thank you to Jonathan and the team for arranging a great trip and congratulations to Castrol and Startup bootcamp on another high quality event. 

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