This article was published on November 1, 2011

Chinese startups: Clones or innovators?

Chinese startups: Clones or innovators?
Tessa Sterkenburg
Story by

Tessa Sterkenburg

Tessa Sterkenburg has a background in scientific publishing and web technology and is the founder of The Next Speaker. Tessa Sterkenburg has a background in scientific publishing and web technology and is the founder of The Next Speaker.

The big success stories in China are about companies like Baidu and Youdao (search engines) and Tencent (social services), companies that have their equivalents in the West. Chinese tech companies are often referred to as copycats – and aren’t the Chinese known for copying just about everything?

For economic growth, innovation is important and analysts worry that the rules and regulations in China paralyze entrepreneurs and smother creativity, leaving China as a place where real innovation can not take place.

However, if I look at the startup competition here at TechCrunch Disrupt Beijing, and compare it to other startup competitions I have seen, I don’t see a huge difference. There is a buzz going on, and companies are just as innovative as those we see in similar events elsewhere.

Like always, there is a big focus on social:  social media monitoring (Alpha Outlook), exchanging business cards (Touchpal), and photosharing (Vida). Further, there are companies that help you to create, such as United Styles (clothes) or Moglue (children’s books) and companies that offer the more practical solutions, such as 8securities (online brokerage) and Anquanbao (helping to protect your websites from security violations).

If there is any difference with other startup rallies, it is in the many companies interfacing between China and the rest of the world, either helping overseas companies to do business here, or using the huge production capacity here in China. Companies like Alpha Outlook that help social media monitoring for the Chinese Internet, or OrderWithMe, that helps overseas companies with group orders in China, enabling even small companies to do business –  or UnitedStyles that lets you design your own clothes, produced in China.

If you look at the startups here, there are just as many clones and innovative companies as in any other place where you bring startups together. And in the end, the real innovation always comes from a place where you don’t expect. And that place might just be China.

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