Eric Muellejans has a simple piece of advice for entrepreneurs: if you want to be successful, you must build solid relationships in China.
The founder of Kumovate, a Futurpreneur-supported company that manufactures an adjustable and portable leg elevation system for people with acute or chronic lower-limb injuries, recently visited China as part of the C2Can program run by business accelerator VentureLab. C2Can helps Canadian startups explore opportunities in the Chinese market.
“You can’t do business without being involved with China in some way,” says Muellejans, a Ryerson university student, who has worked out of the university’s Design Fabrication Zone.
First stop on the itinerary: Hong Kong, a city that Muellejans calls a “litmus test” for the rest of the Asian market. He says whatever tech trends Hong Kong is picking up on, it’s only a matter of time that other countries do to.
With C2Can, Eric met with several venture capital (VC) and investment funds in Hong Kong. The delegation visited a sprawling campus of tech start-ups and scale-ups at various stages of development in the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park before heading to the Silicon Valley of China: Shenzhen.
The southern Chinese city, that links Hong Kong to mainland China, is home to some of China’s biggest global companies. It was here that Muellejans pitched in front of some of the largest VC funds in the country. And while he admits these funds are looking to invest large sums in later-stage scale-ups (Muellejans is only look for seed funding at this point) he says meeting with these investors is important in the long term.
“Even if your company is not ready for $1 million, $2 million rounds of funding, it’s really important to make these connections early on with these VCs,” he says.
“Because when you’re ramping up you’ll have these connections, you have that trust and understanding to get that dollar investment down the line.”
Muellejans understands that some entrepreneurs have apprehensions about showing off their product in China, specifically because of the risk of Intellectual Property infringement and theft. But he says that can simply happen anywhere, and there are ways to mitigate risk.
First, Eric suggests being careful about not giving away too many details of how your product is made.
Second, he says find strong partners on the ground in China who can help market and distribute your product. Also, working with reputable organizations like C2Can can help you navigate the complexities of the Chinese market.
Muellejans product is already manufactured in China and he says he received interest from Chinese distributors while on the trip.
Luckily it wasn’t all business. Muellejans says a highlight for him was having the day off to visit the Great Wall while in Beijing.
“This trip was incredible, it’s such a fascinating country,” he says.
“China is a great market that shouldn’t be ignored.”