By Annie Wei
Aaron Du has had a rough week, and now he’s taking it out on the treadmill.Sleep has been rare as his new startup prepares for the launch of 24quan.com, a website that offers daily discounts on restaurants and spas like the US site groupon.com
He is one of hundreds, born in the 1980s, returning to the country try his hand at business. Du, 26, has been passionate about starting his own company ever since his days at Harvard Business School.
But times have changed since these new entrepreneurs left Chinese high schools to pursue degrees and English skills abroad.
Unlike 10 years ago, returning from abroad no longer guarantees a head start in the race for entrepreneurial success.
Dreams of start-ups
Back in Beijing, Du founded a small office in Zhongguancun, Haidian District, which offers the best tax breaks to IT companies.
But he quickly learned he wasn’t the only one with this idea: two or three local companies were already doing the same thing.
Building 24quan.com was an uphill battle. Returning students not only had no advantage, but the ones who never left had better local resources and connections.
Since 1998, Tsinghua University has held an annual student entrepreneurship competition.
Five years later, as enrollment swelled at schools around the country, the government announced a new plan to encourage 2 million undergraduates to explore entrepreneurship.
Last year, the Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) China, an annual competition to help connect enterprising students with capital, held its first session in Beijing.
“We received 100 business proposals,” said Zhang RenheGSVC China executive chair from Peking University. Most of those proposals came from current students, but past graduates also returned to participate.
“Entrepreneurship has been a popular topic the last few years, espcially since 2007,” Zhang said.
The reason may be linked to media coverage of the economic crash, which encouraged many people to start their own businesses as an alternate path to success.
With jobs evaporating overseas and the boom in global finance over, China is still a land of opportunity – even if its economy is slowing.
Among the 100 proposals Zhang reviewed, she found that those submitted by people who were returning from overseas were always inferior.
“The problem is they don’t understand the local market since they have been out of it for so long,” Zhang said.
The phenomenon is not limited to proposals; most of the successful enterprises have all been homegrown, Zhang said.
One example is guolairen.com, which offers recruitment training to college students and campus recruiting services.
The company, founded two years ago, claimed to turn a profit in the second half of 2009. It is now ranked as one of the top five job sites.