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Expat graduates gravitate to Shanghai startups

By Zhou Wenting | China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-03 07:36

Expat graduates gravitate to Shanghai startups

The city has enacted forward-looking policies designed to help young foreigners open their own businesses in China's financial center, as Zhou Wenting reports.

In February, two months after registering a startup that helps Chinese mobile-game companies reach out to foreign markets, Joyce Tang, from Singapore, and her team of six expats launched their first promotion in France and Germany.

The product, Trojan Troops, a role-playing game, was more popular than they had expected.

"We define a game as successful if it attracts about 40 percent of people who played it the previous day. The game had a 'return rate' of 37 percent in both markets," said Tang, who founded Big Bread Gaming in Shanghai in December.

In June 2015, the municipal government unveiled polices to allow and encourage startups in the city as it looks to achieve its ambition of becoming a global technological innovation hub by 2030.

Foreign graduates of universities on the Chinese mainland can apply for a two-year residence permit by presenting a graduation certificate and a business plan, or proof of their startup. Tang, 35, was among the first batch of hopefuls to take advantage of the new situation.

Zhang Xiaosong, director of the city's Foreign Affairs Office, said the new policies are part of a wider plan: "Shanghai is becoming increasingly attractive to international students because it is striving to place itself in the world's top echelon of economic, financial, trade, shipping, and research centers. We have also announced an ambitious development plan through 2040, aiming to lift people's lives, work and education to new highs."

A growing trend

Yang Jianrong, director of the Council for the Promotion of International Trade Shanghai, believes a growing number of foreign talents, including young graduates, will start their careers or open businesses in the east coast port city.

"The trend will continue, especially as Shanghai continues to unveil measures to grant expats easier access and a faster application process when they apply for permanent residence permits. We want to attract talented people from across the globe to join in," he said.

There are no official statistics about the number of businesses started by foreigners in the city, but there are already 564 in Yangpu district, the municipality's demonstration zone for mass entrepreneurship and innovation.

The latest figures from the National Bureau of Statistics show that 215,000 expats from 167 countries and regions are now working in Shanghai, the largest foreign population in any Chinese city.

After graduating from Fudan University in 2011, Tang joined a local company that specializes in the development of mobile games. A short time later, she took a job with a South Korean mobile games company to introduce its products to the Chinese market.

Mobile games have developed rapidly in China in recent years, so when some small developers created suitable products, they were eager to reach foreign markets.

With her experience of releasing and marketing foreign games in the Chinese market, Tang came up with the idea of promoting local games overseas. She then set up a team of six expats - including people from Spain, Germany, Turkey, Russia and Italy - who were already working in the industry.

"Localization of the language is an important factor. Our team members are native speakers, so they can translate the expressions in the games into the most colloquial and up-to-date terms in their own languages," she said.

Their first step was to help game developers find products that catered to individual markets.

"For example, games with cutesy characters with large heads are usually unpopular with Westerners," Tang said, stressing that tastes vary from country to country. "Russians like fierce war games, while the British prefer strategy games in which they can ponder the next move quietly on their own."

Tang believes her agency is probably the only one currently promoting local mobile games in non-English-speaking countries, and she hopes the number of team members will have risen to 20 by the end of the year.

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